By Tim Dyer from White Squall Paddling Centre
As an instructor trainer, the debriefing process is one of the most important parts of the entire instructor course. It wraps up the course and provides the student with direct feedback on what it is they have successfully accomplished, along with things to work on after the course.
Some random quick tips:
- Make specific notes in consultation with any fellow instructors prior to the debriefing, and ensure you all agree on every point.
- Take turns doing the debrief. It often helps if you are very familiar with a particular student to let the other instructor take the lead.
- Establish a quiet place away from distractions.
- Let those who must travel furthest, or have some pressing reason to leave the course quickly, go first. You can do that simply by asking the class for what order is ok with them.
- At the beginning of the course, hand out a self-evaluation tool for each student, and encourage them to use it throughout the course. This can be simply a list of required skills/theory with a checklist format. When it comes time to talk about their performance, have them identify for themselves exactly what they felt they did well, and not so well.
- Throughout the course, have specific time set aside each day to “check in” with the entire group, so you can identify early if things are going wrong and remedy them.
- Make sure you “check in” with each student throughout the course, and let them know specifically if there are skills/theory areas that they need to improve and give them clear coaching. When it comes time to wrap up at the end, the student should know already through self assessment and your on-going coaching, exactly where they are. There shouldn’t be any surprises when they sit down at the formal debriefing.
- Candidates often forget what exactly was said in the emotion of the moment, so ensure you make each point clear and given in a neutral tone and body language. If you are offering a conditional pass to the student, be explicit and have the conditions written down for them to take away.
- The hardest thing to learn in debriefing is to shut up and listen. You must listen to what the candidate is saying in the conversation and observe their body language, without imposing your own bias or thoughts over it. Often, they will identify themselves what needs to be done. By listening well, you will know whether your message to them has been received and understood and accepted! Some candidates need very detailed debriefing while others don’t. By listening to them, you’ll know.
- A key to good debriefing is the timing of when you identify and explain your assessment. If you do it too early, some candidates will shut down because all they want to hear was if they passed or failed. Everything you say after that will be hard for them to absorb. On the other hand, it’s painfully unfair to have an instructor go through an entire debrief and keep the candidate waiting in suspense to the very end. This is just power mongering. Be sensitive and listen to each person and try to establish for that individual when is the best time.
- There is nothing worse than making a candidate hang around for hours after a course is finished for a 10 minute debrief. It is not fair on them, and completely unnecessary if you establish a reasonable schedule and stick to it.
- If you have a feeling that the debrief might run long for one student (say they didn’t pass or are argumentative), preemptively announce to the group that debriefs are going to be a max of 10 minutes long and anybody who wants to talk more can do so in a couple of days. That allows everybody to go home at a reasonable hour and gives you a chance to shut down an extended talk without extra hurt feelings. It also allows the emotional student a couple days to get their emotions settled down before you next talk.
- It’s important you save some energy throughout the day so you can project a keen interest in each and every candidate. Greet them at the start of the debrief, shake their hand at the end and demonstrate that you are glad they came to the course and that you wish them well in their paddling adventures. They all deserve equal time with you, and it will be abundantly clear, again by tone and body language, if you do not demonstrate full interest in that.
- Give the candidate opportunity to “debrief” both the course and your instruction. Don’t be defensive, just listen.
- Remember that there are other resources and there is additional support available to you. If a student isn’t happy with your decision, you can always refer them to their local board member or to contact the Paddle Canada office.
Good debriefing technique is as much a learned skill as learning how to roll. When you are done, look back and think about what went well and what went not so well. What will you do differently next time? Talk to other instructors and find out what worked for them. Good luck!