flight instructor taking a selfie on a flight

Staying Organized as a CFI

I'm going to start this off by saying that yes, maybe I'm doing too much.

I've done "too much" my entire life, so we're just gonna go with it and let it happen.

When it comes to staying organized and keeping track of my students and their progress, it's taken me some trial and error. I tried the whole rigid syllabus thing, but it's just not my teaching style and frankly, most students need more flexibility in their learning. The learning environment changes depending on multiple factors.

Maybe you have to take up a different plane, the weather isn't what you were expecting, the student is having an off day, you're having an off day, etc.

Sometimes, the student brings up a great question or idea about a specific maneuver that you weren't planning on reviewing that day, but it would make so much more sense for their learning if you did. I'm all about those "learning opportunity" moments and I chase them down anytime I see one. So yes, I will deviate from a syllabus in order to tailor it to the student.

That being said, it's easy to lose track of a student's progress and remember what you did last or what you're planning to do next. 

So here's what I did:

Honestly, this started out as a blank Google Doc sheet with bare minimum formatting. It listed the date, flight time, ground time, flight activities, debrief, and homework.


During the debrief with my student, I'd type on this document in front of them as we discussed everything we did and the objectives that were met and the ones that weren't. I also shared this document with them so that there were no secrets and no questions about their progress.

If the flight activities were steep turns and stalls, I'd put that down under flight activities and in the debrief section I'd list how they maintained their altitude, airspeed, and bank angle. I use the ACS parameters in my notes so that my observations are objective yet specific. Instead of saying that steep turns were "good", I would write that they maintained airspeed within 5 knots and altitude within 100 feet.

I created this ✨pretty✨ PDF because I have a tendency to do "too much".

It works for me, it might not work for you. That's okay.

This method suits me and my teaching style in several ways:

1. It allows for lesson plan flexibility. I am not anchored to a syllabus and neither are my students. I can tailor the lesson to what will best serve the student on that day with the circumstances that we're given. If I have to deviate from a syllabus lesson plan, I can do it in an organized way.

2. I can still keep track of progress. Yes, I may have skipped Lesson 14 from the syllabus, but I at least know what we did that day and how my student performed. With that information, I can either find our spot in the syllabus lesson plans, or I can continue moving forward on a customized schedule while still allowing my student to see how they've been doing. If I have to tailor the next month's lessons to this specific student, I can do that.

3. My students get the big picture. As a student, it's easy to feel like you're not doing as well as you "should be". It's easy to overlook how far you've come! I share these notes with my students so that they can see what I see: progress. They can read my notes from their 2nd lesson compared to lesson 21 and get the big picture of how much they've accomplished. They can also see what they need to work on!

My method is not for everyone. Some people thrive by sticking to a syllabus, some people have their own unique way of teaching that involves none of this paperwork. My first CFI was very good with paperwork and keeping track of my progress with a checklist. My second CFI did everything in his head. I think both were equally great mentors that helped me get to where I am. They just did it differently.

As a flight instructor, I think the best method is the one that helps your students. This has helped mine, but it might not help yours. Keep trying new things until you find what makes everyone as successful as they can be, including yourself.

I'll have a PDF digital download of my Student Monthly Plan, Student Debrief Sheet, and Student Progress Report available for purchase under Products for anyone interested in trying them out!

Happy flying!~


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