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CMC / Denver Group

TechnicalClimbingSchoolInstructors

Pedagogy

Safety

Keep in mind that Safety is the key principle underpinning our instruction. Students should know that this is why we ask them to do things in a certain way. It is more than teaching a precise series of steps, though; it is also the environment. Have you, as instructors, made the environment a safe classroom? Are the Anchors solid and redundant? Are the snow conditions safe? Are the roads safe?

If you could boil down student safety to one simple principle, it might be 'what is the stance of the student'? Always be aware of where the student is standing or is about to stand. They should never get closer than a body length to the edge of a cliff without being safetied to an anchor. They should never remove their safety leash on rappel without applying a solid brake hand. Do they have a solid three-point stance on a steep snow slope?

Consistency in Curriculum

One of our chief goals in the Technical Climbing School is to eliminate redundancy and establish consistency in our classes. That has been impossible for a long time because the various school directors have different agendas. But we at least have an opportunity to that with the classes we administer. That is why we have arranged the classes in the way we have.

To establish consistency we need to have all the instructors on the same page. The details of the class curriculum will be posted on the web site for each class. Instructors should read the details of the exercises on the Student pages and then look at the Instructor pages for more information on how to teach. We want to stick to this script. If you are an instructor in a group with another instructor who has not read the pages and did not attend this workshop and you hear him say something along the lines of "This is the way I like to do it" when that method is not on the site, ask him to refrain. If someone wants to know more, let them know in which classes they can learn more. We cover just about everything someone can learn in one or more of our classes.

There are a number of reasons why we want to do this. Safety is the first reason. We have had instructors in the old days teaching methods that are not as safe as we prefer. A method or procedure not listed on the web site can certainly be considered for inclusion in the curriculum by the Committee. But the Field Day at hand is not the proper forum in which to introduce an unvetted method. Consistency also reduces confusion with students. There may indeed be multiple ways to achieve an end, but we don't want to overwhelm them; so we teach the basics. And we don't want students from one group learning that some friends in another group were taught differently.

Constructive Instruction

Keep in mind that students are fairly highly motivated to learn nav, rock, snow, ice, and alpine skills. You don't need to yell at them like a drill sergeant to motivate them. Best is to have the students read the assignments on the web and in FOTH. But some might not have been able to. Or maybe some do not retain well. Some might need to see a visual demo (maybe more than once) before it sinks in. Be aware that, even in a small group, students will learn at different paces. If you see that there is a fairly wide disparity in how quickly the students are absorbing the lesson, you might want to consider breaking into even smaller groups for more finely tuned instruction. And it does not have to be the 'slower' students in one group and the 'faster' students in another group. You could help build teamwork by having one of the faster students help you work with one of the slower students. Fast and Slow are simplistic terms with unfortunate connotations. It is usually the case that 'fast' students simply have a more experienced background and pick things up more quickly.

Best is to demo and practice skills on the wall first. An effective way to demo is to have one instructor demo the motions while another instructor talks through the motions. Do this in slow motion, explaining why we are doing it this way. Ask if the students want to see another demo or if they want to give it a try while we talk them through it; they usually choose the latter. On the Field Day, ask them again if they want to see another demo or if they want to give it a try with prompts from us. Ask them to let you know when they are ready to go 'live'. When they go 'live' they need to be able to go through the steps without prompting from us. If they correct their own mistakes, that is fine. But if they make a mistake that compromises their safety, they must repeat. Obviously you won't let them commit to an action if they are not safe.

If a student is anxious about a certain action, ask them to tell you specifically what they are anxious about. Usually it is something along the lines of 'this is the first time for me'. You can follow up: are you worried about the anchor? are you worried about your harness? are you worried about the rope? You can explain in more detail why the system is solid. Show them the anchor, if necessary, and explain why there is no possibility of it failing. Tell them that their goal is to overcome unreasonable fear. It is okay to be afraid. But they don't want to let an unreasonable fear paralyze them. Then let them watch other students do the exercise. Take them through baby steps. Have them rappel on the flat ground, for example, putting all their weight on the rope. Then go down a gentle slab. Work your way up to the final exercise.

Sometimes a student is resistant to instruction, for one reason or another. Maybe they learned different methods from another source. Maybe they need to be persuaded why they must learn the way we teach. We want to be sure to let students know that there are indeed usually many different ways to achieve a certain climbing goal. And we don't want to tell them that their way is wrong. We want to let them know about our goals of safety and consistency. And the instructor materials will usually explain why we choose to things the way we do. Much of the time, we take our cue from the AMGA.

We want everyone to participate equally. We do grant requests for students to be included in the same group. And they are told that they must resist buddying up with their friends to the exclusion of other students in the group. We want to make sure no cliques develop.

Gear

This year we are offering to lend students pretty much all the gear they need. They might have even less time to familiarize themselves with gear than if they purchsed it. So you should be preapared to help them with even the most basic functions. As for logistics, we cannot afford to allow everyone to take their gear home. So the students who wish to borrow gear will also receive a stuff sack in which they stow their gear. We need to collect that sack at the end of each lecture/field day. Then hand it back out next field day. Then return to the Director or Equipment Officer or CMC office at the end of class. So we also need to be careful to dry out wet materials and get them back in the sack.