Leaders Must Understand Learning and Teaching

It has long been my belief that the truly effective leader must also be a good instructor.  You need to be able to share knowledge with people in order to generate a proper level of understanding. Without this ability to understand, it will be next to impossible to create a well-trained, cohesive firefighting team. 
 
My research indicates that the three basic ways in which learning occurs are:
 
·                     Cognitive
·                     Psychomotor
·                     Affective
 
It is in the Cognitive domain you find your most commonly understood method of learning. Here you are dealing with recall or recognition of knowledge and the development of intellectual abilities and skills. You will find that the delivery of information in the cognitive domain is handled through the medium technical information lectures.
 
According to Fire Service Instructor, 6th ed, there are six stages of cognitive learning:
 
·                     Knowledge - Recalling and recognizing information
·                     Comprehension - Understanding the meaning of information
·                     Application - Using information learned in specific situations
·                     Analysis - Breaking information into parts to understand the whole
·                     Synthesis - Integrating the parts to invent a new whole
·                     Evaluation - Using standards and criteria to judge the value of information (p. 95-96)
 
By understanding how people learn, you can develop a more effective approach to teaching. You can create bite- sized pieces of learning that can be easily digested by your students.   Some of these might involve discovering new information, facts, and ways of doing things.
 
Once your students know about these things, and can explain them, you can move on to assisting them into translating these facts into new and related situations. The ability to transfer knowledge to new situations is a good sign that relatively permanent learning has happened.
 
Psychomotor, or skill learning, is the range of learning used by those of us who train fire and emergency service workers. This type of learning encompasses those competencies needed to actually maneuver an implement or make a bodily move to do something. I am talking about the combination of brain and brawn to get a job done.
 
According Fire Service Instructor,6th ed.,  the concept of psychomotor refers to the skills involving the senses and the brain as well as the muscles. You can easily see how critical this type of learning is to a physically demanding field like firefighting. How many of you have spoken time and again about how firefighting is such a labor- intensive field of endeavor? If you are to succeed in this aspect of our business, you must understand how we blend the mind and the body to perform firefighting tasks.
 
According to Fire Service Instructor, 6th ed., just as in the cognitive domain, each psychomotor level is progressive, building one upon the other. These levels are listed as follows:
 
·                     Observation - Witnessing a motor activity
·                     Imitation - Copying a motor activity step-by-step
·                     Adaption - Modifying a personalizing a motor activity
·                     Performance - Perfecting the activity until the steps become habitual
·                     Perfection - Improving performance until it is flawless and artful
 
A quick reading of these five steps tells you exactly how we, as a body of people, learn to fight fire. We look, we perform, we perfect. Unfortunately, there are still cases where these five steps are performed in an on-the-job basis. Fortunately the number of people who still throw a new person out into the field to learn-while-doing is shrinking.
 
But be warned. There are still people out there who practice this ancient and costly style of our old friend, "Trial and Error Learning". Avoid these people like the plague. And if you find yourself in such a place, practice an active form of knowledge acquisition. By as many books as you can about firefighting and read them as quickly as is humanly possible. Then pray that you do not get killed or injured in the interim.
 
That part of learning about which we know the least is the Affective domain. This is the touchy feeling part of learning which deals with our attitudes and feelings as they impact on our ability to gain knowledge. Our development as individual human beings bears directly upon our learning capability and capacity. As we discuss this domain of learning, you will begin to see just why it is such an imprecise area of expertise.
 
Once again you will find that the levels of Affective learning are sequential in nature, building one upon the other. They move from basic awareness of something, to making it a part of their chosen attitudes. They then do their job in the newly learned way. Over time, they become proficient at the performance of their new tasks.
 
My research into the appropriate IFSTA-FPP literature has identified the following levels of learning in this domain:
 
·                     Receiving - Becoming aware of a concept
·                     Responding - Indicating that the concept has been received
·                     Valuing - Internalizing and committing to some position
·                     Organizing - Internalizing and adjusting among values
·                     Characterizing - Adopting and personalizing the concept or value
 
As you can imagine, there is no scientific way of measuring this type of learning. The manner in which each individual assimilates knowledge as a result of affective learning is different. These differences occur based upon individual personalities and the influences that impacted upon them during their period of growth and maturation.
 
When I am dealing with the internal aspects of affective learning, it is possible that you may be forced to use clues, rather than measurable performance for your measuring stick. If a person seems to willingly perform the desired task, without threats or coercive measures, then you may infer from these actions that the learning has taken place.
 
Now that I have covered the ways in which people learn, let me personalize it to the realm of the effective leader as a teacher. Let me suggest that you concentrate on remembering that one man or woman who helped you to become the successful fire person you are today.
 
Think of what they did and how they did it. Think of what they demanded from you and what you returned to them as a repayment of their trust. Remember what it was about them that motivated you to succeed. Say a prayer for them, and for the way in which they shared their knowledge with you. After you have done this, pause again. 
 
Now say a prayer for yourself. Ask the Lord for strength sufficient to carry on the important work of training your fellow travelers in the emergency service world. Ask Him to give you the power to motivate just one person; the person who will carry on your work when you are gone. Having done this, I want to move on to a discussion of motivation and its critical importance in the delivery of knowledge.
 
It is an axiom of the training world that people will learn better if they perceive that it will be in their best interest to do so. One of the great differences between educating young people and educating adults involves the reasons for the learner being in the learning equation.
 
Think about how many things you would do differently back in high school, if only you had known what life expected of you. In my case, I believe that I would have devoted a greater portion of my learning time to our work in English and grammar. I would have spent a lot less time in mathematics and study hall. Why? Because of what I now do in the world of writing.
 
In the same vein, my extracurricular time would have been better spent in the acting and debating world, rather than out on the football field. My work as an educator and speaker would have been better served. And it is possible that I might not now have two bad knees and a bad back. Although there are many reasons for why we do things, we usually end up where we are in spite of where we would like to have been. Heck I was originally headed toward the direction of political science and law school.
 
Now that we are all adults, it is important to explain to the next generation why things are as they are, and how they might be improved upon. But really, what are our chances of success? Let me suggest that we need not search too hard for a tremendous example of the frustrations involved in attempting to pass on wisdom as we have gained it.
 
Just think about the last time you attempted to explain to your teenager why he/she should study harder and do their homework. It would seem as thought we might all have had better success in attempting to discuss non-invasive metal shop and woodworking with a brick wall. Or so it seems in all of our attempts to reason with teenagers.
 
But regardless of how hard our experiences seem to be in passing along knowledge and wisdom, take heart. Historical research data tells us one important thing. We will usually have better results with adults. The reasons for this revolve around the concept of motivation. And at the basis of all motivation is human need.
 
The industrial psychologist Harold Leavitt (1978) said it quite well in his classic text Managerial Psychology, when he stated that "while people are alike, they are also different. They are alike, in that their behavior is caused, motivated and goal directed and their physical equipment is roughly similar. They are different to the extent that they are subject to different kinds of stimulation, ...(and) behave in different ways to achieve ... different goals."
 
The things that we need (and want) in life create goal driven-behaviors on our part. A need has been described by some experts as a deficiency in our personal being at a give time; something that which, if provided, will make us a whole person again. Perhaps the best description of needs and what they are comes from the work of Abraham Maslow. I have used his theories on the concept of needs for many years now. 
 
During his years with the Air University, Maslow developed an excellent analytical frame of reference with regard to what he perceived needs to be. His Hierarchy of Needs is one of our standard starting points in any discussion of human behavior or its effect on education. I would urge you to become a student of Maslow's philosophical approach to human needs analysis. We draw heavily from it for our own training programs.
 
At this point, I would like to draw upon the experience and guidance of the IFSTA text, Fire Service Instructor, 6th ed. to illustrate how the hierarchy of needs can use within the confines of the classroom.
                                                                                                                
                        MASLOW'S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS
 
·                     Self- Actualization: Performing beyond what is required
·                     Esteem: Recognized by peers. Praising in front of peers
·                     Social and Belonging: Being accepted by others determines classroom behavior
·                     Safety and Security: Adequate knowledge base to belong in class
·                     Physiological: Pleasing classroom environment (p. 64-65)
 
Like many other parts of individual human behavior these needs are progressive in nature. That is to say that we may not move on to a higher level until the needs at the lowest level are fulfilled. It is hard to be an active class participant when you are hungry, thirsty or have a need to go to the bathroom. 
 
Further, it is very difficult to reach a high level of self-esteem when you are not accepted by your fellow students. As the leader and teacher, it is up to you to see that these environmental needs are met. In the absence of a proper environment, learning will be stifled. The motivation of the student will be thwarted by the lack attention paid to the environment by the instructor.
 
I have seen cases where an avid learner was confounded by the negative actions of their fellow students. Their need to learn was over come by the harmful manner in which they were treated by their fellow learners.
 
The sad thing about this sort of interaction is that the instructor involved was not sensitive to the parameters of the situation. Either they liked the negative people and let them run rampant, or they were too dense to see what was happening in front of their eyes.
 
The mind is an extremely complex tool. When it is ready and willing, it can do wonders. When it does not want to perform, it is difficult for the person possessing the mind to achieve anything. It is also critical for me to stress the delicate balance involved.
 
There are also influences outside of the classroom that can have a deleterious impact upon the ability of the student to participate actively in the educational experience. Illness, marital stress, family problems, and job-related hassles can all take a toll on the ability of the learner to play their part in the educational interaction.
 
The actual motivation for the student can come from a variety of sources. Whether it is the need for money, recognition, or promotion, the need drives the actions of the learner. It is this desire of the student to learn that must be nurtured by the leader.
 
Over the past several months I have worked to convince you that if you are to succeed as a leader, you must success as a teacher. If your troops cannot look to your for the new skills and knowledge they need to do their job, the will look elsewhere. And your time as a leader will have passed.
 
As I have said, a good leader is a teacher. And a great leader is a great teacher. Keep this thought in your heart and ponder it frequently. Wouldn't it be a really sad thing to arrive at the end of your life and discover how many opportunities to teach and share knowledge you missed along the way?
 
If you are a poor instructor, work to become better. If you are an adequate teacher, work to be good. If you are a good teacher, strive to be great. It is all up to you my friends. Rest assured that your organization will profit from your efforts. The journey to success as a teacher will be well worth the effort.

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