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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, instruments, role-playing, drill, and on and on.

Visual Aids

  • 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 about.


  • 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 can 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 not.


  • 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 the practice.


  • Some potential instructors don't see themselves as being able to carry a whole class by themselves. That's not a problem, as they can always share a class with another (or more) instructors. This sometimes goes by the title of "tag-team teaching". The instructors can either do a block of teaching straight through, or alternate throughout the class. It does make for less work and a bit more comfortable atmosphere for the instructors. There is all the more need, however, for doing the necessary prep work in advance. Its not pretty watching two instructors arguing with each other in front of classroom full of students.


  • 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.


  • 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 pure outline

  • 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

    For Example:

    I. "Marshaling

    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"

    [Topic Sentence]

    "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 to use.


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.

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