Saturday, April 26, 2014

Teaching is an Opportunity for Leadership by Dr. Jerome Barber

Teaching is an Opportunity for Leadership

Teaching is an Opportunity for Leadership

            Teaching is similar to parenting in that teachers can provide a role model that will be emulated and perpetuated by their students later in their own lives.  Both parenting and teaching are the art of guiding, influencing and shaping the directions that child or student will follow as they proceed through the instructions provided by their parents and/or teachers.  Bad practices in teaching as well as parenting can lead to replications of these behaviors when the students reach a point in their own lives where they are placed in charge of others. 

            Unfortunately, like parenting, most martial arts instructors have not been taught how to instruct nor have they acquired some practical hands-on experiences before they walked on the floor/mat to begin their instructional journey.  They are actually experimenting with live students in an on-the-job learning format.  These instructors are forced to fall back and rely on what the experienced as students.  They are going to channel their own instructor(s) because that is all that they have as a basis for their own instructional format.  And like so many of us, who said as children, that we would never do what our parents did to us, these instructors find themselves repeating the same things that they learned from their instructors.

            When our students see, hear and experience these examples they in turn are being impacted with a behavioral imperative that will be repeated after they leave the confines our schools and open their own martial arts instructional programs.  In a good number of cases the results are closely aligned with the cult-followers syndrome.  The instructor both presents himself as and is observed by his students as being the leading authority figure on the art.  Most other instructors and martial arts styles are seen as being inferior and should be avoided at all costs in order to prevent yourself from becoming ‘contaminated’ with inferior techniques and information.  In many cases this attitude is not consciously and deliberately perpetrated by the instructor.  However, when an instructor does not actively encourage independent thinking and research, the tendency to move in the direction of cultism is virtually inescapable for both the instructor as well as many of his students.  This is particularly true when there is a kids program at the school.  Young dragons are easier to mold in one’s own image than adults who have enrolled in the program for their own individual reasons.

            The Paradigm Eskrima-Kenpo instructional program is grounded in the belief that a student who is taught to observe and think positively will become a better student of the arts and he/she can successfully transfer these concepts to all other aspects of their lives.  In addition these students become positive role models for others in almost every situation that they are participating in.  We strive to provide our students with positive behavioral experiences.  We want our students to learn how to deal with adversity and failure as a springboard for future successes.  Our students are shown how to evaluate themselves and accept responsibility for their own shortcomings, then work to reverse the previous outcome at the next opportunity that becomes available to them.  In short, we want our students to make lemonade after they’ve been handed a batch of lemons.

            Our basic instructional format is based on having a principal instructor and at least 2 assistant instructors.  The assistant instructors are usually 3 to 4 belt ranks higher than the newest student who has joined our training group.  We use a combination of class instruction, small group lessons and 1 on 1 training throughout our program.  The assistant instructors provide the 1 on 1 lesson with specific tasks/goals assigned by the principal instructor.  These lessons are evaluated by the principal instructor at the end of the training hour and corrections, if needed, are recommended at that time for the next training session.  In time the assistant instructors are assigned small groups ranging in size from 2 to 6 people to instruct.  In both cases mentioned above the assistant instructors are acting as tutors and resource people, reviewing the techniques/drills that have previously been taught by the principal instructor in the larger class format.  We believe that the more individualized instruction that our students receive the better they will become and the faster they can progress through the underbelt ranks to black belt.  The more confidence the students have in us as instructors, the more confidence they will have in themselves as students and martial artists.  This confidence is easily transferred to other aspects of their lives because success in one area is the best way to build success in other areas of a person’s life.

            Since our assistant instructors are most often higher ranked under-belts themselves they are actually re-learning their basic skill sets as they instruct the newer students in the 1 on 1 and later small group sessions. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved.  There is a strong bond that extends from the lowest ranked students to the principal instructor and everyone is viewed as being a significant and important person within the training group.  We do not wear belts or use titles in our training group, yet everyone understands where they are within the group.  We also stress ability over time within the Paradigm Escrima-Kenpo Group.  In other words, progress is determined by skills learned and mastered, rather than any concerns for how long someone has been a member of the group. Promotions are based on skill development and are a measure of one’s commitment to study and work.  Anyone can pass another person in rank by simply being better or more skilled than someone else regardless of how much time each person has been a member of the training group.  That potential situation keeps everyone motivated.  The newer people want to move up as quickly as possible and the older students want to remain at a higher grade than the people they might have instructed at an earlier point in time.

            Throughout our training format, we are stressing skill development, cooperation, competition and shared responsibilities.  We are developing communication and instructional skill development.  The PEK format is designed and intended to provide our students with the information and training necessary to make them good instructors if they choose to go into the instructional field in any area of their own personal interest.

            At PEK we believe that leadership skills can be taught.  By giving our students an opportunity to work in an instructional mode very early in their training, we have identified those people who have a knack for instructing. We do not leave instructional skills and leadership development to chance. Our program is very well structured and planned out.  We use a standardized methodology and evaluation process to identify those people who could become excellent instructors both in and outside of the martial arts.  We believe that we can develop leaders and we may very well be the first organizational entity in a student’s life that gives them some definite and specific responsibilities within an organizational structure.   We use both informal and formal evaluation processes to help our assistant instructors.  Each assistant instructor is responsible for monitoring lower ranked assistants and making suggestions to the principal instructor.  Over time the assistant instructors will be asked to discuss their observations with the lower ranked assistants in formal training sessions and demonstrate the areas needing corrections.

            The PEK instructor training program is a by-product of our main mission which is teaching practical and realistic self-defense to all of our students.  We are not focused on retention and getting every single person who enters our program to black belt status.  We take students who come to us with a very specific short term goal as well as people who are interested in a full program agenda.  It is understood that not everyone is seeking a black belt when they enter our program and it is our job to give each student the best training and information that we can provide while they are training with us.  It is equally important to train every student to maximize his/her potential for both the short and long terms.  And for those students who go through the full training curriculum it is important that they leave our program with strong leadership and teaching skills that they can use throughout their lifetime. 

Jerome Barber, Ed.   D.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Grand Master, Principal Teacher,   
Independent Escrima-Kenpo-Arnis Associates