Developing Communication Skills (Part One)

Communication skills must be developed; they do not occur automatically. The ability to effectively communicate stems from experience. The experience of instructional communication begins with role playing during the training to be an instructor, continues during the actual instruction, and is enhanced by additional training.


Role Playing

Role playing is a method of learning in which students perform a particular role. In role playing, the learner is provided with a general description of a situation and then applies a new skill or knowledge to perform the role. Experience in instructional communication comes from actually doing it and is learned in the beginning by role playing during the instructor’s initial training. For example, a flight instructor applicant can fly with a CFI who assumes the role of a student pilot. In the role of student pilot, the CFI can duplicate known student responses and then critique the applicant’s role as instructor. A mentor or supervisor can play the student AMT for a maintenance instructor applicant.

It is essential for the flight instructor to develop good ground instruction skills, as well as flight instruction skills to prepare students for what is to transpire in the air. Likewise, the maintenance instructor must develop skills in the classroom to prepare the maintenance student for practical, hands-on tasks. In both cases, effective communication is necessary to reinforce the skills that have been attempted and to assess or critique the results. This development continues as an instructor progresses in experience. What worked early on might be refined or replaced by some other technique as the instructor gains more experience.

A new instructor is more likely to find a comfortable style of communication in an environment that is not threatening. For a prospective maintenance instructor, this might take the form of conducting a class on welding while under the supervision of a maintenance supervisor; the flight instructor applicant usually flies with a CFI who role plays the student.


Current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) training emphasis has moved from a maneuvers-based training standard to what is called scenario-based training (SBT). SBT is a highly effective approach that allows students to learn, then apply their knowledge as they participate in realistic scenarios. This method of instruction and learning allows students to move from theory to practical application of skills during their training. Instructor applicants, flight or maintenance, need to learn to think in terms of SBT while they are students. Not only does it prepare them to react appropriately in the situations they encounter in the workplace, it also helps them as instructors when they are responsible for creating scenarios for their students.

For example, James (the flight instructor applicant) designs a scenario in which Ray (the CFI playing the role of student) is learning to perform stalls to Practical Test Standards (PTS). James briefs Ray on the maneuver before the flight, demonstrates the stall, and then talks Ray through the maneuver. Ray pretends to be an anxious student pilot, replicating several reactions he himself has experienced with flight students. After the flight, James critiques their instruction period. As increased emphasis is placed on SBT, there will be a corresponding increase in the importance of role playing.


Instructional Communication

Instruction has taken place when the instructor has explained a particular procedure and subsequently determined that the desired student response has occurred. The instructor can improve communication by adhering to several techniques of good communication.

One of the basic principles used in public speaking courses is to encourage students to talk about something they understand. It would not be good if an instructor without a maintenance background tried to teach a course for aviation maintenance. Instructors perform better when speaking of something they know very well and for which they have a high level of confidence.

The instructor should not be afraid to use examples of past experiences to illustrate particular points. When teaching the procedures to be used for transitioning from instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) to visual cues during an approach, it would be helpful to be able to tell the student about encountering these same conditions. An instructor’s personal experiences make instruction more valuable than reading the same information in a textbook. The instructor should be cautioned, however, to exercise restraint with this technique of illustration, as these types of discussions frequently degrade into a “war story” or “there I was” discussion.

Communication has not occurred unless desired results of the communication have taken place. The instructor needs some way of determining results, and the method used should be related to the expected outcome. In the case of flight training, the instructor can judge the actual performance of a maneuver. For a maintenance student, the instructor can judge the level of accomplishment of a maintenance procedure. In both cases, the instructor must determine whether the student has actually received and retained the knowledge or if acceptable performance was a one-time event.

The aviation student should know how and why something should be done. For example, a maintenance student may know how to tighten a particular fastener to a specified torque, but it is more important for the student to know that the security and integrity of any fastener depends on proper torque. In this way, the student would be more likely to torque all fasteners properly in the future. For a flight student, simply knowing the different airspeeds for takeoffs and landings is not enough. It is essential to know the reasons for different airspeeds in specific situations to fully understand the importance of proper airspeed control. Normally, the instructor must determine the level of understanding by use of some type of evaluation.