Group Fitness Management: Instructor assessment

GFMs may not relish the process, but with the right approach, instructor assessments can ensure the consistent delivery of high quality group fitness experiences that meet members, needs, says GFM Kirsty Nield.


THE QUICK READ

  • Instructor assessment ensures the group fitness team is teaching classes to a consistent standard and meeting the requirements of members
  • Assessment should be undertaken every six to twelve months, and in instances where a problem has been identified with a particular instructor
  • Assessments should use forms that address a number of areas, including essential requirements; class connection and care; class format and structure; and teaching technique and use of equipment
  • A number of techniques can be used to help deliver bad news in a sensitive and productive way.

One of the most important – and difficult – tasks of the GFM is instructor assessment. Assessment ensures the group fitness team is teaching classes to a consistent standard and addressing the most recent industry trends and research. This will be reflected in class numbers and member satisfaction.

Instructor assessments should be scheduled into the GFM’s yearly planner, and may also be done if a problem has been identified with a particular instructor. Lots of great things can come out of the assessment process, which can benefit the instructors, the GFM, the members and the club as a whole. This article will look at the benefits associated with the assessment process and help GFM’s develop an approach the undertaking assessment that can be implemented immediately.

Identifying gaps in skillset

One of the outcomes of the assessment process is to identify gaps in the skillset of the team of instructors, and also the individual. Assessments may also result in the discovery of skills possessed by instructors that the GFM wasn’t previously aware of. This could be used to enhance the group fitness timetable, or allocate instructors additional classes, after some specific training. When conducting an instructor skills assessment, the GFM should consider the skills across the timetable, rather than just look at individual instructors. Future requirements for the timetable should be considered, with particular attention being paid to the skills which are the most important to meet the needs of the gym members. For example, if the gym has a healthy senior’s population, the GFM should use assessments to identify instructors who may be well suited to teach classes for the over 50s. The assessment process can be used to encourage the development of the skills needed to fill gaps in the timetable, and to make the most of the existing skillset of the team. When undertaking an assessment, a form should be used to ensure consistency with each assessment. The instructor should see the form prior to the assessment so they know exactly what they are being assessed on.

Creating an assessment form

When designing an assessment for instructors, the GFM needs to ask, what traits, skills and teaching approaches make a great instructor? What is expected of each instructor on the team? What do the members at the gym expect? And, is the latest industry research being used in the class? Using these questions, an assessment form should be developed. This should be easy to understand, not too complicated, and give the instructor a very clear understanding of what is expected of them. When preparing for instructor assessment, it’s important to be clear about what aspects are being evaluated and what conclusions will be drawn. Assessments are an opportunity to identify the weak points of each instructor and to find new ways to improve their skills. Here are some items which should be included on an assessment form:
Essential requirements
At every class, every instructor should:
  • arrive on time, organised with equipment and music
  • greet members as they arrive, identify new people
  • collect tickets, screen members for injuries, pregnancy, newcomers
  • introduce self and class type and format
  • thank members after class, and invite feedback and questions.
Class connection and care
The key to filling classes with happy participants is a good relationship between the instructor and class members. The assessment should identify instructors that are not connecting with participants. The assessor should check that the instructor:
  • is open and approachable
  • makes eye contact
  • gives praise and encouragement and great motivation
  • has great cues and visual techniques to correct and adjust technique.
Class format/structure
It is important that there is consistency across the class timetable. If one instructor teaches a Sculpt class completely differently to another instructor, it can cause confusion and uncertainty for participants. The assessment should look at whether the class:
  • follows the class format and description as advertised on the timetable
  • follows the prescribed Les Mill format, if applicable
  • runs smoothly from warm up through to cool down
  • offers options.
Teaching technique and use of equipment
Instructors should role model great technique and fitness. The GFM should be looking for any issues in relation to how the instructor moves, and also how they are cueing technique for the class. The assessment should assess if the exercises included in each class are safe and whether options are offered. The instructor should demonstrate that they understand the requirements of the participants standing in front of them. In addition to cueing great technique, they should be informing the class of why it is beneficial and the importance of the exercise they are doing. Items assessed could include whether the instructor:
  • is natural and shows confidence in their skills and stage persona
  • thoroughly explains how to use equipment to members
  • uses clear, easy-to-understand vocab
  • uses appropriate voice tone and contrast to match music and activity
  • selects appropriate music and mic volume
  • demonstrates knowledge of subject
  • looks fit and capable to demonstrate good technique
  • displays an appealing persona and personality appropriate to the class and participant type.
At the end of an assessment, the instructor should be marked as ‘competent’ or ‘not yet competent’ for each item.

Identifying need for assessment

Assessment should be undertaken every six to twelve months. However, there may be times when a one-off assessment is required. This may be necessary when:
  • bad feedback has been received about an instructor from a number of different members
  • an instructor is frequently late or badly organised
  • the instructor is not teaching the correct class format
  • the instructor has some issues with bad technique
  • the GFM believes some things being taught are unsafe.
When assessing an instructor in these instances, the GFM should be open and honest with the instructor. They should let them know why the assessment is being done, and that it will help them develop and get better as an instructor. If the outcome of the assessment is not great, this feedback should be given to the instructor. In principle, negative feedback has the potential to help people. In the case of group fitness, it’s vitally important, as it can prevent participants from getting injured and help them get the fitness results they seek. Unfortunately, delivering negative feedback is very difficult, and can cause more harm than good. Like the delivery of any bad news, timing and the way in which the delivery is structured is important. The GFM shouldn’t just rush in and give the instructor the bad news. If starting with the bad news, the instructor will react with anger, be closed to any further discussion and be unreceptive to advice. The following tactics will help with delivering bad news in a productive and sensitive way.
1. Build positive relationships over time
Start with a question: How did you think you went? Are you enjoying teaching at this gym? If the GFM has done the ground work with instructors and built trust with them, it makes it a lot easier to deliver feedback. The GFM needs to put themself in the instructor’s shoes and ask whether they would be more receptive to receiving negative feedback from a close friend they trust, or a manager they only interact with once a month. You’re more likely to accept negative feedback from someone you trust.
2. Don’t bury it
When delivering bad feedback, there is always the temptation to screen or hide the bad comment with a compliment in an effort to soften the blow. However, this sometimes can create confusion and often all they will hear is the compliment. Therefore, it is better to give some encouragement and discuss some of their successes, but make it clear that there are areas which need work and improvement. If the GFM has spent time building a positive relationship with the individual, it won’t be necessary to concoct a raft of compliments just to soften the blow. Rather, give them suggestions of how to improve their instructing, and things to work on before their next assessment.
3. Seize the moment
Because giving negative feedback is an uncomfortable task, many people will put it off. The problem with this is that they may end up psyching themselves out and making a bigger deal of the endeavor than it is. The best feedback surfaces when you’re in the moment. The more timely and relevant the feedback, the more it will resonate. If the GFM waits for too long, the instructor might have trouble remembering what the issue was.
4. Never make it personal
There’s a big difference between negative feedback and a personal attack. You should never confuse the two. When delivering negative feedback, try to remove the person from the matter as much as possible. Address the actual problem and how it can be fixed, rather than what the instructor is doing wrong. The GFM should let the instructor know that they believe he or she is fully capable of fixing the problem, but that it must be addressed immediately. If the delivery of the feedback is personal, the individual will get defensive. This diverts attention from the actual problem and creates a ‘me versus you’ dynamic, which defeats the purpose and creates an entirely new problem. Avoid terms like ‘you did it like this…’ ‘it was wrong because you…’. Rather, use terms like ‘the best way to do it is...’ and ‘an effective approach is…’
5. Offer positive reinforcement
Don’t only give negative feedback. You should also be giving instructors regular encouragement when they do things right. This helps build good relations and means you are not always the ‘bad guy’.
6. Only give out what you can take yourself
If the GFM is going to dish out negative feedback, they must be willing to also take on feedback from their instructors. Employees are much more engaged when their managers ask for feedback on their own performance. This makes sense, but it’s easy to forget. If the GFM shows their instructors that they are willing to accept feedback from them, it makes it easier to deliver negative feedback.
7. Put it in writing
Face-to-face communication is the best way to provide feedback to your instructors. However, if the outcome of this discussion has not been productive or became heated, the GFM should consider following it up with an email. By writing down the feedback and emailing it to the employee, time is given to gather thoughts. In addition, the instructor should be asked to make face-to-face contact to follow up on the issues identified.

The assessment process

The following steps in the assessment process will assist in a quick and effective assessment process:
1. Be prepared
In order to ensure the instructors know exactly what they are being assessed on, and what criteria will be used, the assessment form should be sent to the instructors prior to the assessment taking place. This will send the message to the instructors that they are all being assessed equally and will all go through the same process.
2. Specificity and transparency
When preparing the assessment forms and criteria, the GFM should be as clear as possible about what they are expecting; abstract and general criteria don’t help to accurately assess each of the instructor’s competencies. It’s also appropriate to be transparent about the motives and objectives of the assessment; if the instructors are uncertain about why the assessment is being done, they will feel overwhelmed and nervous, and the class they teach will not be indicative of how they usually perform.
3. Self-assessment
Delivering the results of assessments to the instructor is a delicate and sometimes difficult task. It takes practice. It is useful for the GFM to video themself when providing feedback to the instructor. This way they can judge the success of the feedback provided and the way it is received by the instructor, and can adjust their approach if things don’t work out as expected.
4. Look for feedback
In addition to assessing the skills of the instructor, it’s also important to seek feedback about the instructor’s views of the gym and the gym culture. The instructor can also be asked for proposals or ideas they might have for the development of the timetable. In this way, the GFM can have a more accurate impression of the mood and general attitude of the team. After obtaining this feedback, the GFM may be able to make improvement to the timetable and also the gym culture.
5. Videos
Often, people do not realise they are doing certain things incorrectly, particularly in the case of technique issues once bad habits have set in. The GFM should always be prepared to video sections of the class which can then be used to explain what the instructor is doing wrong and how they can correct it. This video should only be used by you and the instructor, unless the instructor has given permission for you to show others. The feedback from the assessment should be provided face-to-face as soon as possible after the class, while it is fresh in both GFM and instructor’s minds. We are often our own harshest critics, so encouraging instructors to undertake self-assessment of them teaching from time to time is a quick way of identifying problems and fixing them without any input from the GFM. The GFM should also always be available to offer advice and provide feedback if the instructor requests it.
6. Delegation
If the GFM finds it difficult to see all of the instructors teaching, one of the senior instructors could be used to undertake assessments. If doing this, the GFM should ensure the assessor understands what they are looking for and how the assessment should be done. The GFM should be made aware of the outcome of the assessment before any feedback is given. Assessment is one of the most important parts of the GFM’s role. These tips can help all GFMs get through this difficult task and achieve great results from their team of instructors.

Kirsty Nield

Over the past 20 years Kirsty has established herself as one of Australia’s leading group fitness instructors and educators. A GFM for the past decade and a fitness presenter since 2012, she is passionate about mentoring and educating fellow fitness profession