“Growth Mindset;” Continuous Learning!

To be safe as pilots, and stay sharp as CFIs, we must embrace the “continuous learning mandate” of lifetime learning. Good pilots (and CFIs) should never leave the “student mode.” To do so means we have succumbed to complacency or arrogance and become a dangerous “know it all.”  Every pilot can always learn more or expand and sharpen their skills. Pilots who stop learning and lose their curiosity are “frozen;” stale, arrogant and dangerous. Constant growth keeps us curious and humble. It is the real fuel for life, which makes waking up and embracing life, motivating and exciting on a daily basis.

“The hand you are dealt is just the starting point for development.” —Carol Dweck

“Growth Mindset” is a term invented by psychologist Carol Dweck at Stanford. It starts with the understanding that no one was born with the innate abilities to fly a plane or perform any other higher-order skill. Though we all have areas we are better at, every complicated skill requires considerable effort to learn and constant maintenance to retain. We all admire excellence in every field and often mistakenly think it is “natural” or “god-given.” A deeper examination always reveals the real effort required to obtain and polish expert performance.  Any proficient performance requires a continuous learning initiative.

Piloting skills are not a fixed skillset that we obtain once and put in a box for safekeeping, they will very quickly get rusty and the pilot becomes dangerous (we have all seen this in action). Hopefully, one benefit of the COVID quarantine was proving the consequences of “rusty skills” to everyone.

The peril of unfocused internet learning should also be apparent to everyone. To be valuable, aviation knowledge must be carefully vetted and incrementally presented in a systematic fashion or there are dangerous gaps. The FAA WINGS program is an excellent repository of the collected wisdom from a diverse collection of educators. Though the clunky FAA web interface will continue to be a challenge, many in the aviation industry have stepped up to optimize this dinosaur and renovated the content. One of the best examples of this is AOPA’s Focused Flight Review. This was the brainchild of a consortium of “alphabets” that worked together to create a more comprehensive review for pilots and a resource center for aviation educators. If an airplane requires an extensive annual every year to remain airworthy, every pilot should also merit much more than the FAA-required (perfunctory) review every two years.

For flight instructors, “stale and frozen” is a serious trap due to the repetitive nature of the daily flight profiles. A lack of challenge and a failure to grow quickly results in a painful pedant instead of an exciting and motivating “flight coach.”. The Master Instructor Program was created to motivate and challenge aviation educators to pursue excellence instead. The 500 “continuing education units” required every two years ensure new skillset, ideas, and challenges, keeping a CFI motivated!

The WINGS Industry Network was created by a consortium of “alphabets” to promote and improve the FAA WINGS system. Since this FAA website seems internally “frozen,” many in the aviation industry have stepped up to improve its functionality expand its popularity. SAFE will present an industry profile and ideas on safety as part of this program this Wednesday at 8PM EST. Please join us with your ideas and comments; fly safely out there (and often)!


Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) YOur membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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