All things I’ve blogged about in the past as traits being important to a great coach or instructor.

For this Action Blog Day though I want to really dig into the single most important thing for a GREAT agility instructor or coach to understand. (It is also critical to the handler when looking at their dog – because after all aren’t each of us humans our dog’s coach?)

It’s the concept of differentiation. Every dog, every student, every team is different and deserves that recognition. In fact the best instructors know that learners change through time so what worked last year may not be the best approach now.  Without recognizing the need for differentiation an instructor; no matter how well intentioned, no matter how capable with the type of student who thrives with their brand of instruction is, will not be able to be truly great helping a wide variety of teams meet their own goals.

Some hallmarks of effective differentiation in education are flexible groupings, ongoing assessment and feedback, and a willingness to try new ways to help ALL learners. It shouldn’t matter the breed or temperament, or play style of dog a great instructor or coach will keep the team moving forward.

Process, Product and/or Content can all be differentiated. Let’s look at some concrete examples of how a GREAT agility instructor could do each.

Content: what the student should know, understand, and be able to do as a result of a lesson.

Do all students and all dogs need to know the exact same things? Likely not, for example: one human may be confused by terminology and do better if just allowed to “do it” ; another may not to be able to master the most basic thing without an understanding of the reason it’s being done and definitions of the terms.  Of course there is content in common to all agility  – jumping, tunnels, equipment seem the most obvious – the need to change sides is pretty common too! The way to teach it may be varied, the details of what one needs to know may vary … another example – if a student is only going to do CPE and is quite sure that is what they are going to do (perhaps it’s a second or third dog) the ideal table behaviour is quite different to a venue like AAC.
Good instructors plan their content and their groupings to maximize learning, a great instructor I work with when I can is very aware of class dynamics and spends a lot of time sorting out who fits where.

(Will Sam ever do more than lawn agility? unlikely but he certainly enjoys it!)

Process: the actual doing of the thing.

A simple example – there is more than one way to teach a teeter- a huge and tiny dog would appreciate (and be able to learn) different methods. If an instructor is a rear cross junkie there is nothing wrong with explaining the hows and whys but it is critical that they understand that another team might be best served by front crosses, or even blind crosses!

Or consider the great tugging debate. Can your instructor understand that while all dogs can learn to tug, just because your dog does tug may not mean it’s rewarding for them? Will your great instructor help you find ways to aid your dog (and you) with a reward structure that really make sure there is solid comprehension of the process?  Another great facility I love to work at has lessons where folks are actively learning their own way all the time.

Product: the way a student shows, applies, or extends what he or she has come to understand and can do as a result of a lesson. So, for many instructors the product they want to see is  regular trialing and winning of placements and Qs. If a student is not training for these goals there can be great  frustration for all parties.

(Sally likes her perfect snooker prize  too much to share with Sam)

While a great coach* may insist on trials (or specific classes at a trial – did I mention Webb forced me to do standard classes in July?) an instructor needs to understand that the path of learning is not the same across the board. 

Great instructors will have varied ways for students to appreciate what they have learned. Fun nights, matches, house leagues, an occasional game, video, trials are varied ways to test product and are appreciated by any student.

Truly embracing the differences, in each team in front of them,  takes an instructor from good to inspiring.

*An agility coach, to my mind takes the excellent work of an instructor and bumps it up a level. A coach is working with the team on long term planning and goals. They take information from whatever source (lesson/trial/training) and work with the team to enhance and maximize performance.