Steve Crothers: Growing as an instructor

By Steve Crothers

Constant self-improvement as an instructor is imperative. How do you become a better instructor? How do you challenge yourself? What tools should you use? As instructors, we should focus on elevating our teaching to a higher level by engaging with the students and maximizing the traits that go beyond becoming a subject-matter expert. Whether you are new to teaching or have years of experience, there is always room for improvement and growth so that your classroom teaching experience can be impactful and dynamic.

As you develop your teaching and presentation skills, you learn to overcome the common pitfalls  instructors encounter–lack of organization, poor communication habits, inadequate subject matter, involuntary distractions, lack of variety in instruction, death-by-PowerPoint®, and teaching without clear learning objectives, for example. Do you incorporate motivational, interactive videos or visual aids? Are you effective at reading the audience? Is your presentation structured? Do you fully engage the participant, and does your presentation make a lasting impression on the students? Do you recognize the importance of self-assessment/accountability and the critical role that “rehearsal” plays in preparation? Each of these points is critical to a good instructor.

Increasing Your Teaching Effectiveness

Following are some suggestions for enhancing your effectiveness as a teacher.

Master and examine different teaching styles and techniques. For example, the Inductive Teaching Method encourages participation and reinforces student observations. By incorporating questions in your presentation, you can evaluate the students’ understanding of the concepts, help the students to develop their observational skills, and make the learning experience more interesting. Deploying this technique takes practice and skill: Learn when to ask questions, which questions to ask, and frame the questions so that the student cannot answer with a simple yes or no. The answer should reveal whether the students comprehend the subject and enable them to demonstrate their knowledge of the matter. The Inductive Teaching Method is an interactive teaching strategy that increases learning for the student and the instructor.

So much more goes into being a successful teacher than knowing the material. A subject-matter expert builds credibility with students; however, a good instructor must pull in the students by building a connection within the classroom. This occurs when instructors can passionately demonstrate why the subject matter is meaningful to them. This type of teaching resonates with the students and demonstrates the instructors’ belief in the concepts being taught. Students recognize and respect authenticity. Even the most mundane topic can come alive if the instructor gives students a reason to listen.

Instructors can show that they care about the subject in many ways. Humor, entertainment, videos, and stories are some techniques that can hold students’ attention and connect them to the topic being taught. These techniques add significance to the lecture, which helps keep the class alive and engaged. A word of caution: Do not use these methods to replace content. Well-placed and appropriate humor can help make a point or enhance a concept. Learning does not have to be boring. However, it’s important not to force humor so that you might come off as inauthentic.  

Stories can be extremely effective in helping you to communicate a point. They add a visual element and a connection to a concept. Students are much more likely to remember an idea if they can associate with it an example of how it worked out in a story. A story can add interest and help to illuminate facts.

How do you know if you are hitting the mark when using techniques? Improving your teaching performance depends on self-evaluation and feedback from students. Open yourself up to having your peers evaluate and critique your teaching style and effectiveness. You will miss a chance to reach your full potential unless you engage in self-assessment and allow others to identify areas in which you may need improvement. One way to obtain feedback and advance your instructor skills through self-assessment is to use the “Teach-Back” technique, which involves having other instructors take turns in role-playing as the student, mimicking those issues students have observed in their critiques. This creates a real-life classroom environment. Peers can quickly evaluate an instructor’s effectiveness and the instructor’s knowledge and understanding of the curriculum. It is difficult to fool or bluff a fellow instructor who is also a subject-matter expert in the curriculum. You will get real-time feedback on the proper use of definitions, concepts, and technical information, for example. The “Teach-Back” technique provides real-life scenarios that build confidence as instructors gain experience and face the trials of teaching. Teaching to peers can be challenging, but it presents a great opportunity for improvement.  

Developing your skills as an instructor is hard work, but it can be incredibly rewarding. All instructors, should strive to foster a positive learning environment and encourage success by delivering informative and appealing information with a multimedia approach. Being qualified and effective instructors will encourage the students to participate and interact. Self-improvement must continuously be a part of the process regardless of how many years you have been teaching. You have to be open to learning to become a stronger, more impactful instructor.


Steve Crothers, a 19-year veteran of the fire service, has been a member of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 16 years, where he is officer of Ladder Company 9 and has served as a training officer and founded the tiller program. He has been involved in training for many years and has designed and developed training curriculum and instructed in fire departments in the United States and Canada. He owns Tractordrawnaerial.com and lectures on how to be a dynamic instructor and tiller training. He is an FDIC instructor and was selected Officer of the Year for his department. He was the lead in developing the Raleigh/Seattle Accident Prevention video.