Article by Silvia Risetti | 1 August 2020

Every now and then I find myself asking the following question: “Where should I be tomorrow?“

Of course, I’m not thinking of a physical place. My question is more related to the hyperspace of the field of education.

It may be due to my hyperactive nature, maybe it’s because of my restless brain, or just my impatient character, but after a while in one specific role, I start to feel constrained and I crave to move on. And so, professionally speaking, I moved from a legal background to an HR role and then into the field of education. I became a teacher, a trainer and eventually a language and communication coach.

I have to admit, that I’ve been very lucky as I have had the opportunity to continuously develop myself further and I hope it never stops but for the moment I have landed in a place where I feel I could stay and maybe where I actually should be.

It’s been almost five years since I got involved in the field of aviation. I had always been interested in flying but never imagined it would become one of my areas of expertise.

It was a surprise when I was first asked to do some Aviation English lessons and even more so when later on, I was recruited as an ESP coach at the flying Academy of an airline partner of an important German group. My “language coach” title was changed into TKI (Theoretical Knowledge Instructor) but the substance didn’t change. I was asked to teach English and to coach their cadets to perform better in non-routine situations using a lingua franca.

Since then, I have had an annual recurring assignment with newly recruited ab-initio pilot but this year, due to the contingent situation, our routine had to be totally revisited. So, the scenario called “distance learning” that had never been applicable to this kind of courses became more and more real.

In a turmoil of rescheduling, familiarising myself with new technologies, planning new lessons, uploading and downloading, copy and paste activities, there wasn’t much time left to take care of my existential dilemma, although it had been always there in my subconscious brain.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as everything had finished, it came up again, stronger than ever.
Where should I be tomorrow? Should I be here amongst my learner pilots or should I be looking for the next step on my journey?

I’m not sure if it has been because of tiredness, the calm after the storm or simply because of the overload of introspection that the pandemic lock-down has caused, but one day, I found myself looking at this specific assignment as a metaphor of my coaching role.

While imagining my learner cadets in the cockpit, I realised that my role is the same as the role played by the instruments they have in front of them when flying.The pilot represents the perfect state in which a learner should be during the long haul journey to a memorable destination called professional language mastery. And during that journey, I’m nothing more than the instruments they use and which they rely on. I provide information, trigger alertness, give guidance, direct them if necessary; but if they are not in the right state of mind, there’s no way they’ll be able to fly.

Any journey starts with a pre-flight check, then there is a take-off and finally a landing; all critical phases of the flight, when the pilot is in full control of the aircraft and the instruments are vital. This is the same for any learning cycle, when we diagnose that the basics are there, we set the goals and we eventually get our learner to reach them safely. And we also have to get all those stages right or we may not reach the destination.

As for any journey, it can be a bumpy ride or a smooth glide, and once en-route, the pilot can relax and let the instruments take some control off them. But they must keep focused as hazards and accidents can always happen and then, the pilot and the instruments together work towards the most appropriate solution to overcome the issue. One in support of the other, exactly like the coach and their coachee working together to overcome obstacles such as lack of motivation, frustration and emotional barriers.

Focus is key, concentration is mandatory. Only an executive brain fully functioning can ensure the right control of any single action. But their flying wouldn’t be possible without the instruments, and the instruments are there to help and support them, not to “tell them” what they have to do. The pilot is the one sitting on the driving seat.

This is the image stuck in my head now each time I’m back in a classroom (although virtual): I’m an instrument in my learners hands. I’m there for them, I’m there to support them, I’m there, knowing that they are autonomous enough to drive the whole process and land safely.

I believe, therefore, that each time we are invited to sit in the cockpit, we should not choose the captain nor the first officer’s seat but instead, we should look at the wide array of controls in there, think we’re one of them, let our learners focus on the journey and assist them throughout it. Only in this way ,it will be a memorable journey together.

Now I know where I should be tomorrow!