My theory is simple: Everyone I meet knows something I don’t know.
That being the case, the best method for improving myself personally, professionally, emotionally, and intellectually is to engage others in conversation and learn from what they have to tell me.
I can’t say for sure, but it’s likely that basic premise is true for you, too. No matter what business you’re in, no matter what your goals might be, there is someone out there who knows more than you do about the topic. Finding that person and making it a point to learn from them is in our best interest.
This thought is at the back of my mind much of the time. It was certainly at the forefront of my thought process when I arrived at the Aerospace Center for Excellence in Lakeland, Florida, last week to attend the very first NAFI Summit.
It was a gathering of flight instructors, flight school owners, writers, content producers, and managers who all have at least one thing in common — a desire to improve the state of flight instruction for the throngs of students who are flocking to airports across the land.
The National Association of Flight Instructors has been a force in the field for more than half a century. Although it would be fair to say that most flight instructors are either unaware of the organization or choose not to avail themselves of the resources and human interactions NAFI offers. The reasons for this vary although, in my humble opinion, none of them are particularly valid.
Earning the title Certificated Flight Instructor is a proud achievement. Those of us who have reached that lofty goal have demonstrated at least a basic understanding of how the learning process works. There are fewer than 90,000 of us in the United States, most of whom are not actively instructing. This leaves the industry with a fairly anemic supply of active, competent flight instructors who are truly focused on the success of their students.
Incidentally, I am aware the FAA has replaced the traditional term “student” with the more modern but far less appealing “learner.” I just can’t make that switch. Swapping one noun for another does little to improve the process of teaching or learning. The interchange of synonyms is little more than a parlor trick. I’m stubborn. I see no reason to make changes that have no positive effect on the core issue.
Positive change was in the air at the NAFI summit, however. Knowledge was thick in the air. Information on honing one’s technique was rampant. The folks in the main room were so well versed in their respective fields of specialty it was virtually impossible to come away from a lecture or even a casual conversation without being enriched in some way. That process began for me before I was even able to enter the building to register my arrival.
As I sauntered toward the entrance to ACE, a cluster of individuals caught my eye. These folks were preparing to present a panel discussion on the state of the industry. Among them was a familiar face, Frank Gallagher, undeniably the most important mentor of my career.
It was 32 years ago when Frank hired me as a CFI to instruct at Meriden Aviation in central Connecticut. As a dedicated southerner I complained about the cold of winter so much Airport Santa brought me a set of long-johns in company colors, complete with my name over the right breast. That was funny and at least a bit humbling.
But Frank taught me how to actually be a CFI, to serve my students well, to use my time and talents to bolster the business as a whole. He gave me insight into the industry, my place in it, and where my future might take me if I learned to conduct myself as an asset to any business where I might be employed.
It was Frank who taught me to contribute, not just take from my employer. And here he is, more than three decades later, sharing his hard-earned insights with others.
Mentors make all the difference. Thankfully, we don’t have to look long, or hard, or find a summit to attend to find worthwhile advice. Thanks to Gary Reeves for making the process easier and more accessible.
Gary is a CFI who seeks mastery over minimum levels of achievement. One of the ways he has contributed to the industry and those of us who populate it is through a collection of Flight and Ground Instructor Pro Tips that he’s put together. This book shares insights, advice, observations, and anecdotes from a growing list of CFIs who have something to share. You might think of it as mentorship lite or an on-call compendium of ways to become a better flight instructor.
Information has value — whether it comes in book form, ideas taken from presentations and panel discussions, or a light bulb moment of epiphany that arrives as the result of a casual conversation while waiting in line at the coffee urn. Summits like this recent NAFI undertaking have real worth in the real world of flight instruction.
I sincerely hope the NAFI Summit becomes an annual event. I’d certainly buy a ticket, travel to the venue, and soak in as much knowledge as I can cram into my head.
Because even after 32 years as a flight instructor, I still have much to learn from those who ply the craft. Whether they are instructing primary students in elderly airframes, or transition training in taildraggers from short grass strips, or firing up turbine engines with the goal of preparing students for new type ratings, everyone in attendance has something to share that I could benefit from.
You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be listening with intent every chance I get.