Speaking of Gravity & Falling Leaves

In his book The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Gary Zukav states, “He begins from the center and not from the fringe. He imparts an understanding of the basic principles of the art before going on to the meticulous details....The master does not speak of gravity until the student stands in wonder at the flower petal falling to the ground.”

Zukav speaks to the importance of beginning a lesson with a discussion of its meaning. Far too often students start at the fringe, without a clear idea of what the lesson’s real purpose is. For instance, it’s not unusual to find students who think of stalls as maneuvers to pass checkrides instead of defensive flying skills to master. To them, the clearing turn is as significant as the stall itself.

One of the most memorable instructors I’ve ever met began each training session by saying, “Before we start, let’s talk about the meaning behind today’s lesson.”

To his students, the aviation world made more sense. Slow flight wasn’t something practiced to make Hobbs meters run longer. It became an opportunity to explore the backside of the power curve. S-turns across a road wasn’t a maneuver used to read automobile license plates (in case you’re lost and need to identify the state you’re in). It was a chance to improve reflexive flying skills and learn more about how wind blows an airplane.

You can identify a lesson’s meaning by asking yourself the following two very important questions:

1. What’s important to you about (fill in this blank)?

2. What will having (the response to #1) do for you?

Help Your Student Plan Their Cross Country FlightFor instance, what’s important to you about (preflighting an airplane)? The answer is: it allows you to assess an airplane’s airworthiness. What will having knowledge of the airplane’s airworthiness do for you? The answer is: it allows you to minimize the risk of mechanical problems affecting your flight. Begin your lesson on preflight with the answers to these questions.

You can also use these questions to determine your student’s values. You might ask, “What’s important to you about learning to fly? What will having (their response) do for you?” Imagine how much easier it is to motivate a student when you know the reason they’re at the airport in the first place.

So, begin from the center and not the fringe. Start every lesson with a presentation of its meaning and speak in terms of your student’s values. Do not speak of gravity until the student stands in wonder of the falling leaf.

By Rod Machado | | CFI Resource Center | 2 comments
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Comments

  • Damiana - December 22, 2015

    Supigisrnrly well-written and informative for a free online article.

  • Tashi Sammi - December 14, 2014

    Dear Mr. Machado,
    Excellent point. In my PPL journey, I have found the instructors that preface a lesson as to “why do we have to know or do X” are the most effective. The best teachers paint the big picture first and then fill in the details in a systematic, logical fashion. I really believe this skill, and it is a skill, should be taught to every instructor. On the students side, it is the students responsibility to speak up and ask that the bigger picture and meaning be discussed at the outset. I, personally feel there is no shame in saying “I don’t understand or I don’t know.” It shows maturity and awareness, which are always appreciated in aviation and life.
    On another note, The Dancing Wu Li Masters is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in the past.

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