Thursday, February 3, 2011

Have you hugged your Intructor today?

Ok, perhaps not hugged, but how about a handshake and a sincere "Thank You"?
 Every year I get my Officer assignments from my Chief and I usually add a pet project or two of my own that I set as personal goals to accomplish and help the Department improve over the course of the year.
 This year is no different, but at our New Officers meeting the other week I noticed the Chief raising the expectations of the newer Officers to provide formal training for our members and thereby spread out the teaching 'burden'.
 Now we've all heard the old expression "Those that can, DO, and those that can't TEACH", but we all know that in the Life Safety business this is just not the case. I am not going to trust my crew's safety to an instructor who doesn't know what he is talking about and doesn't use those skills on a regular basis. We always look for someone with demonstrated skills and expertise. We look for the SME (Subject Matter Expert) to prepare our people because they deserve the best training we can supply, whether it comes directly from us, or someone we chose.
 Now just because somebody is an expert does not mean they can teach. Teaching is a very separate and unique skill set. Each of our Officers, new and old, has some very strong skills and knowledge in one area or another, or even many areas. Most of them are excellent instructors given a 'one on one' situation. However, only a few of them handle groups or classroom situations well. This isn't a failing on their part, it is simply that they don't have the proper training to arrange and execute a comprehensive learning deployment. They are not familiar with lesson plans, teaching adults, managing class time, planning ahead for how a class will 'feel' to the students and anticipate what will work best for a given group. Also, most lack good computer skills that will help them put together interesting classroom presentations that will foster interest in the psycho-motor skills (hands on) portion of the class.
 Putting it all together into a kick-ass presentation is a tall order. Getting participants to leave a class saying "wow, that was a great drill" is really hard to do, even for a good instructor. Good men and women dedicate their careers to finding the magic formula to pull this type of class off. How can we expect a volunteer Officer to make it happen with little or no educational training?
 So my little project this year is to create some tools to help our newly ordained skills instructors put their lesson plans together in a 'fill-in-the-blanks' format and show them how to use it. Simple forms that they can fill out with their class goals, and when they have all the blanks filled in, they will know that they have basically met all the teaching requirements. They will also have the documentation of what they have taught for the training files.
 Last Saturday I was at a full day OSHA 8 hour refresher class as part of the Instructor Cadre. I have about an hour and a half section I have developed for this year's classes. Every year I come up with a completely new section and I strive to have something totally different. The subject and format I came up with this year was a bit of a reach. We've never done anything like this before and if not presented with care and clarity, it could be taken to be a bashing of a small volunteer department at the worst call in their history. It is, of course, no such thing. The point is that what happened to this small department could have happened to anyone given the same circumstances. My point is to make people think about their decisions, lest they make the same errors this Department made, and I stress that what they did at each critical step was something we could have done in the same circumstances. Each time I present this, I have to get on my game face and get my head in the right frame. This year has been tough, because if I have a bad night I will completely blow this presentation and the wrong message might be perceived. It's not easy, at least for me, and I make my intentions clear to the students. I also tell them that if they didn't like the presentation, they need to let me know how I can make it better. I have no illusions about how good I might be, or not.
 This particular day I had a student come up to me after the class and reach out his hand and say "Thanks, that was really well done and it will make me think a lot harder next time things don't feel right." Then he started to talk about stuff he had followed up on from my session last year and showed me some new things he had found and learned. I got out my notebook and took some notes.
 Instructors (good Instructors) put a lot of effort into their classes and their craft. They learn from, and work WITH their students if they are any good. They share tricks and pointers with other Instructors and they steal good ideas like a raccoon in a chicken coop. (I have no shame in telling you that the format I use in my latest class is brazenly stolen from a format I saw Chief Billy Goldfeder present a couple of years back. His approach grabbed me, it grabbed everybody else in the room, and I spent as much time watching the participants in that class as I did watching the Chief. I don't have his charisma, but I did find good content for my program.) (OH, and if you ever want to see what an inspiring instructor can do with a well done presentation, go buy a copy of "The Beat Goes On" (proceeds go to the NFFF).)
 So the next time you sit through a class or a drill and find yourself thinking you'd rather be somewhere else, take a nanosecond of your brain time and ask yourself if the instructor is thinking the same thing, or if he/she is trying to teach you something that will help you do your job better or perhaps keep you from killing yourself and/or your crew. Maybe you could thank him/her by participating in the session, or at least acknowledging his/her effort.
 Here's a small clip from Chief Billy at FDIC in 2007 as a teaser:

Get the full video, it is timeless.

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