Learning to be a better instructor

I know what y’all are thinking …. It’s been two days and I wonder what’s been happening in Holden, Massachusetts with the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.  So, I’m glad you asked, and let me share with you how we are progressing.

We’ve been working through the CERT Train-the-Trainer material.  This course prepares participants to deliver the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) CERT Basic Training course focusing on preparing instructors to:

  • Convey the messages and intent of the CERT Program (e.g., safety, teamwork, place in overall community emergency operations plan)
  • Assure that students achieve the objectives of the CERT Basic Training
  • Create a comfortable, yet managed learning environment.

About two-thirds of the class material consists of a review of the Basic CERT class training material and teaching considerations for each unit.  The other third of the class is spent specifically on instructor development issues, including:

  • Your Role as an Instructor – This unit emphasizes that the focus of learning in any training is on the participant. It’s not about the instructor. This unit also stresses the importance of being a good presenter as well as a good instructor. We started out by explaining the goal of every CERT Basic Training class is prepare people to help themselves, their families, and their neighbors, coworkers, and others in the event of a catastrophic disaster.
    Throughout the unit we reviewed the six primary roles of the CERT Basic Training instructor:

    • Subject matter expert
    • Trainer
    • Evaluator
    • Friend and coach
    • Role model
    • Classroom manager

Next we discussed the qualities of a good CERT Basic Training instructor and the importance of how an instructor presents the information.  Finally, we talked about the voice and body language of a good presenter.

  • Maximize Learning– When we cover this unit we start out by asking participants to identify positive learning experiences and we use student input to create a consolidate list.We also addressed how people learn. We share with our students that there are three primary learning styles including auditory, visual, and tactile, and how those learners learn and how it impacts teaching and instructors.  Additionally we discussed what adults need to learn and how instructors need to respond to those needs. Physical, emotional, and intellectual factors are addressed.

Next, we presented three techniques that are critical to learning: motivation, reinforcement, and repetition.  We also explored why instructors need to evaluate – to validate learning.

We reviewed the job of the trainer (to transfer knowledge) and discussed what makes up effective and ineffective trainers.  Effective trainers know that they need to periodically assess to see that learners are learning.  The point was made that instructors need to evaluate whether the training is meeting learners’ physical, emotional, and intellectual needs.

We also spent time talking about both formal and informal ways to evaluate and the guidelines for asking and answering questions.  Our discussion included why we ask questions, the kinds of questions that can be asked, how to ask a question, and how to answer a question.  Finally, we provided some guidelines for when and how to give feedback.

  • Managing the Classroom – This unit proved to be a very interactive unit with the learning happening primarily through discussion and exercise.  It’s always an important unit because many “instructors-to-be” are the most apprehensive about working with “challenging” learners.  I think once we worked through the material students felt reassured that they could handle many situations that might come up in their classes.

In this unit, we talked about working with learners of various ages: older learners, boomers, Gen X (Twenty-Something’s), and Gen Y, or Millennials.  We covered important considerations for working with all learners.

There’s a nice discussion that we lead the students through that addresses the brain and how it receives and processes information through the hippocampus.  Prior to this discussion, I selected three “participants” to act out disruptive behaviors (pencil tapping, side-bar conversations, and a “know-it-all).  Then, as the unit discussion progressed, my “participants” acted out their disruptive behaviors.  When we completed the unit, the class discussed disruptive behaviors and their impact on the class.  We also discussed working with learners that have physical limitations.


One of the benefits of this class is the opportunity for students to practice their teaching skills in a no-risk environment.  We do that through “teach-backs”.  Students are grouped together in pairs and each pair is allowed to select a topic that they will then present to the class,  During the presentation, each person is give a five-minute maximum presentation time.  Instructors and peers critique the student instructors.

Tomorrow is our last day here in Massachusetts.  I hope you’ll come back as we say goodbye to our terrific class.


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