(This is part one of a two part series on the 10 commandents for public safety educators.)
1) Thou shall not try to make another human being exactly like thyself. One is enough.
One of the key concepts in adult education is recognizing that each of our students brings a unique background and skill set to the table. Adult learners like having this fact acknowledged and respected. Adult learners thrive when they are treated like peers, rather than subordinates. To try to make a firefighter or EMT in our likeness is actually an insult. We want them to still be themselves, but with the extra knowledge, skills and abilities that we can help them attain.
2) Thou shall not refuse your consideration solely on the trouble a student causes.
We’ve all been there, teaching a class with that learner who feels that he must comment on everything that is said. Maybe it’s the side conversations, the jokes or the texting, but we all have these students who like to cause trouble. This commandment speaks to one of the most difficult jobs that we have as educators. Even the trouble makers have a reason for being in our class. One reason may be that they are genuinely seeking knowledge. If this is the case, we need to figure out what needs that we, as educators, are not meeting. If we meet their needs, they will re-engage in the class. This requires us to talk and interact with our students. Ideally we talk to them on a break, but in any event, if we want to reach them (or maybe just keep them from distracting others) we need to find out what they are looking for and how we can draw them in. Another situation in which we encounter the “troublemaker”is when students are required to attend a class. Anyone who has administered an in-service program knows what I am talking about here. In this case, we still have to consider these students because somebody (the state, the NREMT, their department, hopefully you) thinks it is important for them to be in class. To re-engage these students, we have to show them why what we are saying is relevant. If we can demonstrate why it is important for them to focus, it will be much easier to present our material. If the governing bodies think it is important, and if we think it is important, we must find a way for the distracting student to think that it is important. Don’t just write them off —find something to tie them in.
3) Thou shall not blame heredity, nor the environment in general. People can overcome their environments.
Let’s face it, as public safety educators (and as human beings) we tend to stereotype folks based on where they are from, what station they are assigned to or who their father was (among other things). We often make assumptions about how a student will perform and what their background knowledge is based on these prejudices. This is a fatal flaw that will let our students down. While it is true that these things play a part in who the student is, they don’t make up the student as a whole. Adults are driven by their own motivations, goals and desires and not just those of the group. It is not fair or safe to assume that just because “everyone”from a given department does it “wrong,”that this student wants to continue to do it wrong. It is not fair to say, “Well, you guys down there have always done xyz, therefore I am not going to waste my time on this concept.”How many times, have we looked at the “old-timer”and assumed that he wasn’t interested in something different? In order to institute true change in the fire and rescue services, we must shy away from these stereotypes.
4) Thou shall never give a person up as hopeless, or cast him out.
This concept is related closely to number three. As a public safety instructor, you may recall a time where you felt this way about a student. There is a fundamental problem with this kind of thinking. We are talking about the very person that we expect to be able to save us (or our family) in the event of a mayday or other emergency. We can not cast anyone out as hopeless, EVER. We can find other ways for them to complete the task or gain the knowledge. We can reassign them (thus giving them hope), or better yet, don’t assign them to a critical area until they have grasped the proper knowledge, skills and abilities. If someone is in a mission critical, life safety role, we MUST make sure that they get it or make sure that they are not responsible for doing it. Students are never hopeless, if we correctly associate their abilities with their roles. Give them hope.
5a) Thou shall try to help everyone become sensitive and compassionate.
This is another difficult challenge that we face as public safety educators. While many providers are very compassionate, many formal complaints are focused on us being rude, disrespectful or not seeming to care. This topic is not well covered in most curricula and it is difficult to know how to “teach”someone to have compassion. We can however teach someone how to exhibit compassionate BEHAVIORS. I’m going to give you a valuable tool for reinforcing these concepts. Some of you may be familiar with the concept of video debriefing. This is where an encounter (usually a megacode or something like that) is videoed in a training environment. At the end of the scenario, the video is played back for the learners to see what they did well, and not so well, through the use of instructor guided discussion. Apply this to teaching compassionate behaviors. Arrange a mock patient/family encounter as part of a larger scenario. Make the situation as realistic as possible. This may work even better if the students believe you are only looking at their patient care. At the end of the scenario (five to10 minutes tops) you can play the video back, asking your students to focus only on their behaviors concerning patient, family or bystander interaction. This is the kind of training that I do on a daily basis, please contact me if I can help you with this in any way. By making students aware of situations where they could have communicated more clearly or more compassionately, we begin to at least teach caring and compassionate behaviors, if not true compassion. Regardless of whether or not we actually HAVE compassion for that person with foot pain at two a.m., our customers will (and do) respond to our BEHAVIORS that show compassion. This results in fewer complaints, higher customer trust and maybe even improved funding. These behaviors can be taught.
5b) Thou shall try to help everyone also become tough minded.
This commandment goes along with an interesting thought I had a while back about the nature of paramedics. Some of the better paramedics often get accused of being hard-headed or stubborn. These accusations come from our supervisors, medical control physicians and sometimes even our patients, and definitely our partners. When thinking about why some of the best medics have the hardest headed personalities, it occurred to me that in order to be a good medic, you have to KNOW that you are right. In saying that, I mean you must have confidence in your decisions. You can not manage a critical call without confidence. The same can be said of our best incident commanders and firefighters. These positions require confidence for the survival of our customers and our careers. Confidence leads to tough-mindedness which is not always bad. The trick here is to make sure that our students have the correct knowledge, skills and abilities so that their confidence doesn’t get someone killed.
Remember, it’s not that “practice makes perfect, ”it’s that “PERFECT practice makes perfect.”Your EMS providers and firefighter students are tough minded by nature and confidence can get them killed. Give them the tools to be tough minded AND right.
In this issue, we looked at the first five commandents for public safety educators. Remember, if we needed another “you,”there would be no students. Even the trouble makers have a reason for being in the class. People can overcome their backgrounds, station assignments and even their genes. Compassionate behaviors can be taught and confidence, incorrectly applied, can get your students killed.
My goal is to give you, the educator, the tools and motivation that you need to usher in the next generation. If there is anything I can do to help you with that, or if you have any questions or comments about this month’s article, please contact me.
Tim Wojcik works as an educator for the Palmetto Health/University of South Carolina School of Medicine Simulation Center in Columbia, SC. With 20 years of public safety experience behind him, Wojcik’s major focus is the use of high tech/high fidelity simulation to train pre-hospital providers. He continues to serve as a Firefighter/Paramedic with the Lexington County (SC) Department of Public Safety. For more information visit http://tawojcik.tripod.com.