As a fire instructor, you are aware of the importance of being fully prepared for each class that you teach. Whether you are teaching alone or as a member of a teaching team, you recognize that success in our profession comes from thorough preparation before each and every class.
In your first class in instructional techniques or educational methodology, you learned that preparation is the first step or activity in the Four-Step Teaching Model. This preparation involves: (1)preparing yourself to teach the class, (2)preparing or motivating your students, and(3) making the necessary preparations for all things logistical.
Most educational institutions expect their faculty members to be on time and to start their classes promptly at the appointed hour. In order to do this, you need to arrive early to ensure that everything is in readiness for your teaching pilgrimage of the day. Many fire and emergency service training academies expect their instructors to be on-site at least half an hour before the scheduled starting time of a class.
You may be thinking that I have not told you anything new or anything that you did not know already. Fair enough. The time has come for me to present the new insight that I would like to share with you this month.
Several months ago, I arrived at the fire academy over an hour before my class was scheduled to begin. I spent about 20 minutes making sure that my classroom, instructional materials, and other resources were in a state of readiness. Then I found myself with time on my hands and began a pilgrimage of wandering around the fire academy.
I observed all of the same old things. The buildings hadn’t moved. The apparatus and equipment had. But things were the same as usual. I noticed groups of two or three students congregating various places in the buildings and on the drill grounds. This was not unusual. But my response upon observing them was.
Rather than just continuing to wander around and size-up things, I stopped to talk with several of the students. They were engaged in a lively conversation about the many things, fire service and non-fire service related, that were going on in their lives. It turns out that fire instructors are not the only busy people; the students had just as many activities, interests, and distractions in their lives as we do, perhaps even more.
After a few minutes of dialogue with the first group of students, I continued my pilgrimage and came across a second impromptu student group, which was once again actively engaged in dialogue. As I joined their conversation, I discovered that they were comparing notes about why each student was taking this basic firefighting course. Several were there because their fire departments required it to either: (1) get off probation, (2) begin
riding the apparatus, or (3) be retained as a member of the fire department.
As I wandered back to my classroom, I found myself counting my blessings in that my students certainly wanted to be there. After all, they were fire instructors or fire officers or preparing to be one.
At lunchtime, I broke my routine of sitting with the other instructors or with my class and pulled a chair up next to another group of students. It turns out that these students had substantially more time and grade in their departments than the students taking the basic firefighting course. Their discussion at one point gravitated to the fact that they knew much of what was being covered in the class and wanted to learn something new.
It became apparent to me that there was a recurring theme. All three groups were discussing different issues regarding their time at the fire academy. One group was discussing just how busy life can be, while another was debating the fact that they were required to take a class, and the last was critiquing how much of the class material they already knew.
Each conversation addressed a different subject, but as I reflected on each of them, I found a common theme. It was obvious, but I had honestly never thought about things in this way. Each of the students was actually talking about a basic concept in the contemporary world of business, a concept that is central to customer service, quality management, and ultimately to organizational success.
The underlying theme in each of the short vignettes was that the students expected an added value from attending the class. Simply stated, they wanted to benefit from the time that they were spending in a class at the fire academy. What was the value added from taking this class rather than doing all of the many other things that they could be doing?
In our officer development classes, we teach time management. We point out that time is a limited resource and once it is gone you cannot recapture it. Our students must be able to expect that we will be good stewards of their time. What does that mean? It probably means many things, but let me share just a few.
We offer value to our students when we fully cover the course material. Value is created when we equip students with the mission-critical survival knowledge and skills of their profession. We enhance value to our students when we are meticulous stewards of the precious time that we are entrusted to teach them.
The value of our classes should be evident to anyone remotely connected to them. It should be absolutely clear to our students. If it is not, we are not fulfilling the great commission of being a fire instructor.
When a student makes the pilgrimage to our fire training academies, regardless of whether they walk two blocks or drive 50 miles, they should be provided superior instruction. The teaching should be high quality and the results they walk or drive away with in terms of learning outcomes should be undisputable.
There must be a value added to the training and educational experiences that we offer. Otherwise, we should be encouraging the students to simply read a book or magazine rather than journeying to our training facilities. It’s that simple. We must ensure that we offer significant added value to each and every student who walks through our classroom doors or onto our drill grounds.
I would challenge you to reflect upon this concept of value added. Talk to those you teach with about how you can enhance the value of the learning experience for each and every one of your students. If you are really brave, talk to your students about the value that they expect and should demand from the courses that you offer. Unless you understand their expectations, it will be extremely difficult to fulfill them.
The concept of added value that I am suggesting that you consider is not about the knowledge, training, experience, or certifications of the fire instructor. While each of these qualifying factors prepares afire instructor to deliver added value to his or her students, the bottom line is the bottom line. It all comes down to results or outcomes. Please consider this issue and step up to the plate and take the necessary actions to ensure and enhance the value that your classes and programs provide for your students.
Fleming, Robert S. “It’s All About Value-Added.”
The Voice 32, no. 4 (April 2003): 21–22.