The Art of Preparation: Strategies for Fire Instructor Success


There’s nothing like being unprepared as an instructor and causing an unsatisfactory learning experience. There is something to be said for having the luxury of preparing for a presentation, training course, or meeting. However, based on your experience as an instructor, many factors come into play. If you’ve instructed a certain class a million times then, arguably, you can get away with preparing a little bit or sometimes not at all. Often, we present new material that requires preparation even for the seasoned instructor. The key to the art of preparation in ensuring instructor success lies within the planning. As instructors, we learned the four-step method of instruction—preparation, presentation, application, and evaluation. The basis for all begins and ends with the planning process.


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Planning and Preparation Categories

During my years as a training officer and an evaluator of instructors, I have found that an instructor falls into one of the following four categories as it relates to planning and preparation.

Unprepared with Discretionary Time

An instructor is scheduled to instruct a course or on a given topic and has ample time to prepare. The instructor has the necessary time to prepare but may not have used that time to review lesson plans, ensure availability of resources, or set up the classroom. The result is an inconsistent delivery of content and an overall less-than-desirable learning experience for students. Indications in this category are perhaps related to the lack of passion or desire or being too complacent to ensure maximizing student success.

Unprepared with No Discretionary Time

An instructor is directed to instruct a course or on a given topic with no time to prepare. This may be a result of a last-minute change in instructors, a content change, or a lack of total planning by the program manager. Many variables can affect this category and, like being unprepared with discretionary time, can lead to a less-than-optimal learning environment for students.

Prepared with No Discretionary Time

An instructor is directed to instruct a course or on a given topic without a significant window to plan but is prepared by using the time given to ensure the best possible learning experience. This category, typically, is made up of seasoned instructors with experience who are able to make the necessary adjustments as time allows and still be able to produce an effective learning environment. On the fly, in this case, the instructor pulls from a cache of relatable experiences from within an internal brain database. The minimal time in this instance is not a significant factor. In these situations, training sessions usually meet the objectives.

Prepared with Discretionary Time

An instructor is directed to instruct a course or on a given topic and has sufficient time to plan and prepare. This category should be the benchmark for experienced, dedicated instructors and aspiring instructors alike. Having the necessary time to plan and prepare helps ensure the most effective, efficient, and optimal learning experience for students. These are our “best in the business” fire service visionaries. You do not have to write a book or publish an article to be the best. The formula for success always comes from the inside out—bettering yourself to better others through continuous improvement, growth, and development.

Undoubtedly, even though many variables and factors affect each category, it should be the goal for every training officer and instructor to plan and prepare for each course and associated lesson plans. Proper planning and preparation create a culture that drives and facilitates a learning environment based on student success and progression.

Instructor Strategies

Strategies for instructor success hinge on planning and preparation. As such, there are critical instrumental and guiding principles that ensure development and continuous quality improvement for the instructor as well as for the student.

New or Aspiring Instructors

  • Assign a mentor or a coach to oversee the instructor’s preparation.
  • Determine what subject-matter preparation the instructor will require—reading curriculum manuals or hands-on equipment training, for example.
  • Explain the details of the course the instructor will deliver.
  • Have the instructor attend and observe a workshop being taught by a lead instructor.
  • Have the instructor observe a video recording of the course and write a lesson plan.
  • Have the instructor prepare a list of questions about facilitating the course.
  • Assign background reading to help the instructor understand and consolidate course content.
  • Have the instructor conduct a dry run with the mentor or coach that focuses on tempo and delivery technique.
  • Have the instructor revise the personal lesson plan based on suggestions given by the mentor or coach.
  • Have the mentor or coach assess the instructor’s readiness to teach the course.

Seasoned and Experienced Instructors

  • Research tips or facts not easily found to add value to student learning.
  • Cultivate a welcoming environment that focuses on the students’ aspiration to be the best they can be.
  • Engage students in an approachable and a professional manner to foster personalized attention in the classroom.
  • Encourage student innovation by thinking outside the box about ways to continuously improve the learning experience through interaction and participation.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and passion for teaching and material content.
  • Reiterate course goals, objectives, and desired learning outcomes.
  • Set the tone for an atmosphere conducive to learning through communication of expectations.
  • Interject personal experiences to tie learning content into mutual and related understanding.
  • Set up the classroom to support, enable, and foster a learning environment that enriches the student knowledge base.
  • Consider 360° evaluations to gain perspectives from supervisors and other instructors.
  • Recognize opportunities for the mentoring process.
  • Practice humility. Understand that you may not always have the answers and that it is okay to admit when you are wrong. Humility creates trust.

Find the Right Balance

The art of preparation is centered around finding the right balance of planning, preparation, and exhibiting the traits of a quality, passionate, and innovative instructor. From training program administrators to training officers to instructors, it is equally important to practice these principles and realize that not everything happens as planned and that we must make mid-course corrections and stay laser-focused on keeping ourselves polished and sharp and blaze the trail for our students.

“When you prepare well, you convey confidence and trust to people.”—John Maxwell


Thomas D. Kuglin Jr. is a 17-year fire service veteran, having worked through the ranks to battalion chief. He is the university manager for the Center for Public Safety Excellence. He has the Chief Fire Officer and Chief Training Officer designations through the Center for Public Safety Excellence and is a nationally certified fire officer IV, fire instructor III, and paramedic. He has an associate degree in business administration from Keiser University and a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Fort Hays State University and is an MBA student at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. Kuglin has presented at national and state fire service conferences; has been published in several fire service publications; is a board member of the IAFC Industrial Fire & Safety Section; and is a certified John Maxwell team speaker, trainer, and coach.

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