By Joey LaNeve, City of Mesa
Swim lessons are a big part of many organizations’ portfolio of programming. Teaching swim lessons all summer can leave many instructors feeling burnt out and exhausted and this can decrease the overall quality of our lessons and discourage our veteran instructors from coming back next summer. Here are some tips and tricks to take your swim instructors from good to great and keep them motivated all summer long!
- Evaluate Your Instructors Regularly
Many swim instructor certification courses use practice teachings or teach-backs to offer instructor candidates a chance to receive feedback on their lesson planning and teaching skills. If you stop the feedback there, you are missing a chance to continually reinforce teaching ability. Evaluating your instructors during their lessons with the public allow you to provide regular constructive feedback on their lessons so that the instructors can improve over time. It also gives you a good idea of things to work on in instructor in-services (see below!)
- Instructor In-services
Lifeguards are not the only pool staff that need regular training. Providing your instructors with regular training opportunities give you a chance to do skill-building activities with your entire instructor staff. If most of your lifeguards are swim instructors too then you may even consider building in swim instructor activities in as a rotation during your already scheduled lifeguard in-service. One of my favorite swim instructor in-service activities is to pull an instructor’s name from one hat and a swim lesson skill from another and have that instructor teach that skill to the group and facilitating a group feedback session.
- Utilize Experienced Instructors as Mentors
If you are lucky enough to have a group of experienced instructors, be sure to utilize their experience. Pair experienced instructors and new instructors for the first session of lessons so that new instructors can teach with the support of an experienced instructor by their side. The extra benefit is that it helps your experienced instructors learn important leadership skills.
- Use Games as Teaching Tools
No one likes a repetitive training so finding ways to engage your instructors in learning through team-building games can be a great tool to utilize during in-services or trainings. I love the Back-To-Back Drawing activity that really reinforces how important differences in communication styles are to teaching effectively. Games like this build comradery while also engage your instructors in experiential learning. Another one I have had success with is ‘progression towers’ where we use large toy building blocks and write swim lesson skills on each one. Instructors need to build towers showing progressions of skills.
- Connect with Parents
Talking to parents seems to be one of the biggest challenges our young instructors have. Find ways to empower your instructors to connect with parents because not only does it teach them important communication skills, it can also help your instructors better teach their lessons because it helps them learn more about their swimmers and the ways they learn best. Parents know their kids best and can provide important insight into what motivates their little ones.
- Recognize Your Instructors Hard Work
Teaching hundreds of kids over the summer can be exhausting. It is important to keep your swim instructor morale high throughout the season to prevent burnout and a decrease in the quality of your lessons. Be sure to build in some kind of staff recognition program among your instructors. We nominate instructors of the week who receive a bead for their whistle lanyard that is shaped like a fish (AKA Fishy Beads) these beads can be worn like a badge of honor in front of their co-workers to motivate everyone to do better. We have also done “instructor spotlights” on our organizations social media page both to recognize our hard-working instructors and promote our programs.
- Don’t Forget to Reinforce Water Safety
If you have swim instructors who are also competitive swimmers you may notice that they tend to teach their swim lessons with the purpose of improving stroke technique instead of connecting with the main purpose behind swim lessons which is water safety. When your instructors can recognize the ‘why’ behind the skills we teach in lessons as getting young children to be competent and safe around water it can completely change the way your instructors lesson plan and approach their teaching.
- Pre-Season Training
If you have the availability and budget to hold a pre-season instructor training it can be a great tool to get your instructor staff ready and energized for the season of teaching. We ran our pre-season training this year utilizing our veteran instructors as station leaders. Each station ran for 15 minutes and represented a different level. The leaders of each station taught a sample lesson using creative teaching activities, songs, and games so that our new instructors could learn new ideas and ways of teaching. It was a huge success!
- Free/Reduced Swim Lessons as Training Opportunities
Certifying a 16-year-old as a swim instructor where they do practice teachings with their peers is one thing but having them work with children can be a completely different experience. Consider offering free or reduced fee lessons to your community in conjunction with your certification course so that new instructors leave the class with hands-on experience working with children. It also serves as marketing for your programs and a great safety outreach opportunity for the community! We have had huge success with our new instructors by adding this to their certification course.
- Use Outside Resources to Continue Education
There are a ton of learning opportunities out there that can benefit your swim instructors and the lessons they teach. Consider training in Autism awareness, sign language, foreign languages, etc. to help your instructors learn ways to engage a wider range of students and accommodate individuals that learn, behave and communicate differently. We have a large Spanish speaking population in our community so we teach our instructors common instructional phrases in Spanish that they can use during their lessons. We also have all of our staff go through autism training during their pre-season onboarding. All of these things help us better serve our community!
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