War College - Guidelines for Instructors
By Baron Eadric of Mansfield.
These guidelines are designed to help the instructors of War College
classes prepare their material, present it, and hopefully document
it for future generations. I don't claim to be an expert at this
business, but I have noticed a few things class attendees are looking
for, and I also have some goals for the War College curriculum.
The mission of the War College of Caid is to not only train attendees
in the art of SCA war fighting, as practiced in Caid, but also to
help them teach others the same skills. So teaching ways to teach
is also part of our program. Students pay to attend, and consequently
are there to learn. Student experience levels vary, from those who
have never seen a war, to the oldest of Caidan warhorses.
Our typical War College class is taught at a Collegium session
(a two-day event held twice a year). Classes typically run two hours
long from 9 AM to 6 PM, with a one-hour lunch break on Saturday
and 9 AM to 1 PM Sunday. Classes longer than two hours can be scheduled
if necessary. It is usually desirable to include a 5 or 10 minute
break every hour. Classes are taught in a classroom setting, but
it would be wise to be sure than any requirement for equipment be
discussed in advance just to be sure. And classes can often be held
outdoors, weather permitting. The War College may be asked to teach
anywhere, so flexibility in planning is a plus.
The War College requires no credentials to teach a class. It takes
preparation and interest on the part of the instructor, but true
skill only comes with practice. Anyone interested should contact
the Dean of the War College for the appropriate arm-twisting, and
scheduling information. Classes are usually planned six months in
advance of each Collegium session. We do limit our material in some
ways based on the SCA time limits, but not totally.
For instance, our basic strategy and tactics classes rely on works
and theories post-1600. But our classes that deal with historical
material per se are indeed pre-1600 (i.e. no classes on the Campaigns
of Napoleon). The War College offers degree programs and so classes
taught need to fit into that structure, but that shouldn't be a
limitation. Typical class attendance runs from 10 to 20 students.
There is no one right way to teach a class, but what I mention
below are some basic ideas.
Good preparation is the key to a successful class. "Winging
it" is workable for the very few but teaching, like war fighting,
is better with a plan and some practice. One of the most difficult
parts of class planning is choosing the right amount of material.
Surprisingly, usually an instructor chooses too much material
rather than too little.
It is amazing how fast two hours will disappear. You really
don't have two hours, in any case, what with breaks, getting started
late, class survey forms, and so on. As embarrassing as it may
feel, giving the class several times in practice to the weeds
in your backyard will give you a good feel for whether or not
you have the right amount of material. Based on my experience
I would suggest planning less material than more, and including
exercises and material 'in reserve' in case things should happen
to move faster than you planned. Typically you will find yourself
short on time rather than long.
Part of the equation for amount of material to include is that
of class participation (planned and unplanned). I would strongly
suggest considering ways to bring members of the class into analysis
or discussion of the material. Not only is it a better and more
interesting way to learn the material, but war fighting is a thinking
art, and our leaders should also learn how to analyze material
on their own. In-class projects (more formally called instruments)
can take theory and put it into practice, at the same time putting
a good break in lecture material. And if done right they can be
a lot of fun as well.
The downside of participation is what I'll call 'war-stories'.
Many of the students have extensive experiences that are applicable
to the class, but sometimes the delivery of war stories (even
from the instructor) will bog down the class markedly. In some
classes that can be good: a seminar type setting can rely heavily
on interaction within the group for learning. But it would be
wise to have a plan for dealing with war-stories, so that you
don't lose time or focus when you don't want to.
Show and Tell
Another aspect of preparation is the "show and tell" goodies.
These can be hardware, wall-size charts and maps, handouts,
role-playing, drill, and on and on.
Visual aids and display material can be a tremendous help in
teaching complex ideas. Such aids can be in the form of diagrams,
acted out examples, hand-outs, exercises, and so on. In general,
we will have access to at least a blackboard, and maybe AV equipment,
but you never can tell. Check well in advance to see if what you
need will be available. Do some contingency planning, just in
case the site can't support your needs exactly. Think carefully
about your display material. Can someone in the back of the room
see what you're showing? Will someone who is colorblind be unable
to understand? Is there too much clutter on the chart? Do you
mention some battlefield that is not on the map? There are few
things more frustrating than not seeing what someone is talking
Handouts are very important to the long-term (and I do mean
long) success of the class. Of course they are handy for reference
when the class is being taught. But they also help to refresh
the memory of the student long after the class is gone. They
also be use as the centerpiece of passing along the information
to a new "generation" of instructors and fighters. If a lesson
plan for the class is not on file, the handout may be the only
hard piece of evidence of what was taught.
When designing a handout be sure that it covers at least the
core of the class material. This can be in outline form (and the
students can take notes as they go along), or more narrative.
Charts and maps can help communicate more complex subjects and
can also take the place of a blackboard in a pinch. If you can,
put sections into the handout showing some good reference sources
and additional reading. Instructors typically have a far greater
grasp than students as to what material is worth reading and what's
Lab classes are in great demand but are a bit tricky to do.
Labs usually require more space, special set-ups, student or instructor-furnished
equipment, and the like. These requirements need to be determined
early (Maybe 6 months in advance) so the proper space can be made
available and students informed of what they will need to bring.
And you'll be dealing with a broad variety of students, so you
can't expect them all to be able to carry fifty pound packs or
practice intense spear work for an hour. Be sure that there is
something for all levels of students to do (and remember you can't
watch them all, all the time), and that there are enough breaks
and/or some variety scheduled. If there is to be any full contact
or full speed combat, arrange to have enough marshals to cover
Some potential instructors don't see themselves as being able
to carry a whole class by themselves. That's not a problem,
they can always share a class with another (or more) instructors.
This sometimes goes by the title of "tag-team teaching". The
can either do a block of teaching straight through, or alternate
throughout the class. It does make for less work and a bit
comfortable atmosphere for the instructors. There is all the
need, however, for doing the necessary prep work in advance.
not pretty watching two instructors arguing with each other in
front of classroom full of students.
CLASS SURVEY FORMS
The War College is always interested in improving the curriculum
and we want to know
What the students feel about the classes being taught. There
is a standard survey form that we ask all students to fill out
at the end of each class. There is a place for questions the instructor
might wish to ask, if desired. Be sure to reserve a few minutes
at the end of the class to allow students to complete the form,
and then the instructor should return the completed forms to the
Dean. The Dean will summarize the results and pass the information
back to the instructor.
CLASS LESSON PLANS
One of the long-term goals of the War College is to have a lesson
plan for each of the classes taught. It often happens that an
instructor cannot return to teach a class, and that experience
and material is lost to the army. So we ask the instructor to
give this goal some thought. It is a great deal of work to do
a lesson plan, but depending on the depth of the instructor's
preparation, much of that same work can be used twice.
There is no standard format for the lesson plan, but let me
give an example of a most developed plan. I'll arbitrarily establish
four levels of depth for the material being taught: Level 1: the
Level 2: a topic sentence for each outline line item
Level 3: a brief discussion of the topic sentence
Level 4: a detailed discussion of the topic
A. Rules of the Lists
1. Corkscrewing [Outline item]
"Corkscrewing is forcing a kneeling opponent to turn to face
a standing fighter who is attempting to step around to the side
of the kneeling fighter"
"The rule against corkscrewing is designed to prevent a standing
fighter from taking unfair advantage of a kneeling opponent.
Exactly what constitutes corkscrewing is debatable" [Brief discussion]
"Certainly corkscrewing includes flanking movements by a standing
fighter outside the range of a kneeling opponent. The debatable
aspects are flanking movements while a standing fighter is well
within range of the kneeling opponent's blows. If the two fighters
are shield-to-shield, even a short step by the standing fighter
can place him well-around his opponent's flank. This is difficult
to enforce and in some ways becomes more an issue of chivalry
than rules enforcement." [Detailed discussion]
With a computer it is easy to make each level a different print
font or style (or even color). Something this fully detailed makes
it easier for a replacement instructor to teach the class from
scratch, with only minimal preparation. I don't want to imply
that anything less is unacceptable. Any level of detail is valuable;
it just takes a more experienced instructor and more prep work
So that's all there is to teaching a War College class. OK, there
is more, but hopefully this overview will make the process less
intimating for the first time instructor. Of course, the War College
is always ready to be of assistance, so feel free to contact
the Dean for any of your needs.