That's right, shadowing is all this and more. But perhaps we take it for granted when we send our New Hires off to shadow their first lesson. After all, we lay all the necessary ground work with clinics on lesson content, teaching methodology, learning theory, class handling, CAP model etc. etc not to mention training on resort & department policies and procedures, but how do we prepare them for their first shadowing experience? Do we outline our expectations when we send them off to shadow? Or do we leave them somewhat "dangling"? Here is an article geared to the New Hire Instructor (that probably won't even read this publication - unless it gets posted) that perhaps everyone can relate to!
Most people have the general concept of what shadowing is just by virtue of its name. Very simply you follow someone around like a shadow while they go about their business. The goal is to learn by watching them in action, listening to their presentation and experiencing their lesson first hand. Yep, the old VAK for those of you on the ball! There are a few things, however, that will help you get the most out of each lesson you shadow and keep the instructor you are shadowing happy at the same time.
10 Guidelines for Successful Shadowing
Watching is obvious, but be sure to watch such things as how the instructor builds rapport with the group as a whole, and with individuals in the group, keeps control of the class physically as well as socially and cognitively, presents him/herself professionally, chunks information, paces the lesson, uses the terrain features, pays attention to traffic patterns, moves the class from place to place, demonstrates movements towards and away from the class, delivers feedback, positions the class, uses run outs, and how these things evolve throughout the lesson.
To the student for cues to underlying emotions and attitude such as tone of voice, inflection etc., questions asked, and comments made to other students.
To the instructor for content, verbiage, analogies, metaphors, jokes, inflection & tone as well as the answers to student questions.
Join in as an active member of the group as the instructor has the class jump, step, walk, quack like a duck, whistle like a train or ski like a lion. Not only will you experience the class as the students do, and therefore understand viscerally why the instructor is teaching it, but you will have more fun and it may just help your own skills!
Do Assist... when asked!
Assist the instructor as much or as little as the instructor indicates, such as demonstrating a movement or skill, helping catch up a late-comer, helping a student with equipment or clothing or even teaching a segment of the class. Just limit your assistance to what is asked of you - unless you clearly believe it is in the interest of Safety to intervene on your own.
Do Ask Questions
Questions are very important to enhance your understanding of the teaching segment, however, be sure that asking them does not interfere in any way with the lesson itself. If possible take notes discreetly (chair ride, aside) and then follow up with the instructor after the lesson. If there is no opportunity to meet with the instructor afterwards you can always direct your question to your training supervisor. If you have an immediate question such as what the instructor sees or is looking for while the student is passing by, then ask if the instructor minds the interruption. You'll find many enjoy being asked for insight into their expertise and willingly involve you in their cognitive processes. Others may feel it is a distraction to their thought processes and takes their focus away from their students. Take your cue from the instructor you're shadowing. A keen eye will soon reveal the answers you are looking for. If you observe something in a lesson that was counter to your understanding of what is expected of you, it may be best to diplomatically ask your trainer for clarification, rather than risk appearing to challenge the instructor. Keep in mind at all times that each instructor is unique, as is each lesson, and judge accordingly. Steal what you like, and can relate to, and take the rest with a grain of salt. The instructor you shadow may have been in your shoes more recently than you think!
One last thought: Everyone appreciates some positive feedback, so if you liked the lesson or gained anything from it at all, say so!
If you have a natural affinity/talent for teaching you will find this guideline the most difficult to follow. You will want to help. You will believe that not only are you giving great guest service to the students by providing extra guidance and feedback (2 for 1) but you are also helping the instructor (especially when the group is large), by providing another set of eyes, ears and lips. (If this is the case and the instructor asks you to help in this way, by all means go for it!) Unfortunately, it is just this second set of eyes, ears and lips that can confuse students and sabotage a good lesson. The problem is threefold. Firstly, you are doing the students a disservice by distracting them from their instructor (with potentially confusing perhaps inappropriate information). Secondly, you are undermining the integrity, cohesion and flow of the lesson for the instructor and thirdly you are not benefiting from the experience yourself by seeing how the instructor handles the group as a whole and as individuals. Remember you are there to learn.
Above all, if those aren't reason enough, consider the potential consequences if you make a suggestion and the student gets hurt. The instructor is ultimately responsible for the well being of the whole group and so you should limit your involvement to that directed by the instructor.
Almost every group class will have some degree of skill variation referred to as a "split". When the split is significant it is very common for the shadower to end up with the "slow" students, too often ending up completely out of sight of the instructor who has the "fast" students. Sometimes this is because the shadower gravitates to the individuals having more difficulty while the instructor is engaged with the group as a whole. As per the above, resist this temptation. Many times this happens at the request of the student if they are feeling left behind or neglected by the instructor. If the instructor is too far away to help the struggling student(s), do as much as you can to help them reunite with the group and then blend back into the group yourself. Other times however, the instructor will actually "hand off" the struggling students on you. This is a dirty trick. Make every attempt to avoid this situation if you can but if you can't, you may as well take advantage of your opportunity to put your teaching skills to work and prove what a rock star you are by sky rocketing the confidence of your flock. They will love you for it! And maybe you'll see them again, soon.
Remember this, 88% *of all complaints from students in group lessons, and 92% *of complaints from group lesson instructors relate either directly or indirectly to the existence of a split. 100%* of lessons involving more than one student can be found to have a split by 9%* of the instructor population, and 98%* of supervisors cited complaints about splits as their number 1 complaint.
What does all this mean? Who knows?! If you see a split developing gradually back away, make no eye contact and heel. If you stick close to the instructor you will learn from, rather than get in the center of, a sticky split situation.
The bottom line: A large split in a group lesson in the hands of a competent and experienced instructor can be one of the most valuable learning opportunities you will ever experience.
* Please note: It has been found that 64% of all statistics have been made up on the spot. I repeat: 73% of all statistics have been found to be made up on the spot.
For basically the same reasons already mentioned, avoid getting in a situation where you are asked to interpret what the instructor has said. Avoid it by staying within earshot of the instructor if possible. That way you can defer to the instructor. If you can't avoid being asked for clarification by the students, do your best to convey your understanding of what the instructor is asking for, but preface it with the qualification that you will check to be sure( even if you are sure) just in case. This will not only ensure that you are indeed communicating accurately, but it will reinforce the fact that you are only shadowing the class and the instructor is the ultimate authority. Also, learn from it by noting the cause for the confusion and consider how you will communicate differently to minimize confusion in your future lessons.
Now, you may be the funniest, most charismatic character on the slopes, and you will inevitably be sent out to shadow "Mr. Monotone", but resist the temptation to prove it. Unless of course the instructor you shadow embraces it. The last thing you need to do is upstage the instructor. So keep conversation etc. to the light and social and redirect attention back to the instructor when appropriate, otherwise you'll both be missing out on those gems of wisdom. If you are wearing a uniform jacket you will automatically be viewed as an authority and so attract questions. Take every opportunity to reinforce the leadership of the instructor you are shadowing. This is not because the instructor necessarily knows more than you (you may in fact be his/her trainer), but in the interest of continuity and consistency for the students (in such a subjective venue as a lesson) leadership is imperative.
What may help to follow the last 4 guidelines is to remember that the students are the responsibility of the instructor you are shadowing, legally, physically, socially, professionally and relative to what they learn. So, although your presence will automatically change the group dynamic, be conscious of minimizing any interfering effect you may have on the overall lesson experience. Remind yourself that the instructor would be handling this group alone if you were not shadowing it.
Don't be Late and Don't Leave Early
As with all lessons and clinics, don't consider you've attended unless you have been there from the very beginning to the very end. Like great movies, great lessons begin and end with purpose. Often the middle will make little sense on its own relative to the desired outcome. Imagine missing the last 5 minutes of "The Usual Suspects"!
But unlike movie-making, ski instruction is transient art. So don't miss out on the creation of a masterpiece because once it is over it only exists in the minds of those who participated.
Is shadowing just for rookies? By no means! Shadowing is a valuable way to continue your professional development. The beauty of snow sports is that there is always room for growth. The winter environment provides ever-changing conditions to challenge enthusiasts on even their most familiar terrain. And so too do lessons. There is an ever-changing dynamic of instructor, student, terrain, level and condition so don't stop at just one! And don't limit yourself to shadowing just veterans. Some of the most creative stuff comes from those rookies who've not yet worked themselves into a teaching rut.
So whether you are a brand new instructor trying it for the first time, a confirmed user going for higher certification, or a certified junkie looking for better stuff, hone your skills, expand your bag of tricks, and keep your rut as wide as the Yangtze! Don't dangle, SHADOW!