FMM 8 7 15 Being and Knowing

Set a better example (Better set an example)~Alton Ellis.

Teaching and learning are two completely different concepts.  Ask any teacher!  You may teach your heart out, but if learning has not taken place, you were ineffective.  When I think of the image of a college professor standing in a large auditorium, expounding at great length on a subject for hours on end, I wonder how anyone manages to learn in that setting.  Teaching nursing is quite different, as you have to learn both theory and practice.  There is knowledge which you need to absorb, skills you have to be competent to perform, and a whole set of attitudes that you need to be able to demonstrate.  And you certainly cannot teach attitudes through a lecture.

Children learn through observation.  They study us adults, and model themselves after us.  Saying ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ doesn’t really work with young kids.  They see right through your artifice, and learn directly from your actions.  Sadly, children who are abused grow up to abuse and the cycle continues.  We learn to parent from our parents, not through books handed down, but by direct observation.  Hopefully with education and maturity we discerned between good habits and bad habits, and threw out some of the more barbarous forms of lesson teaching!  Some of those old-fashioned beatings were borderline abuse!

Since returning to school myself I have had to grapple with concepts that I had never dwelled much on before.  In philosophy they talk about knowing and being, two different things.  What do you have to know to be a nurse (but of course it could be any other career I suppose)?  But on the other hand, what does it mean to be a nurse?  In the classroom we can teach the theory of the human body systems, try to make sense of the chapters on medications, how they work, what we need to know to give medications safely.  We can teach about the way the body manages to keep us in balance, with hormones and neurotransmitters that ebb and flow without our knowledge.  We can use mnemonics to help facts stick.  We can try to be amusing, to sing or dance if necessary to get points across.

But how do you teach what it means to be a nurse?  If you have ever had an encounter with a person who got into nursing for the wrong reasons, it may be easier to say what a nurse should not be.  Cold, uncaring, disinterested, distracted, mean, unfortunately we have heard stories of people with the qualifications of a nurse, who have failed to grasp what is truly needed to be a nurse.  Attributes of compassion, caring, empathy, and conscience; the ability to listen, to be attentive, to advocate on behalf of, and to not be judgmental.  Can these be taught?  This is the special challenge for those who teach nursing.

We talk about modeling, we must demonstrate the attributes we wish our students to emulate.  And trust me, the students are watching.  In the clinical setting we have the opportunity to expose students to the true healthcare environment.  The students get the chance to have hands on experiences, and here the clinical instructor gets the chance to teach the ‘being’ of nursing.

But we can do it in the classroom too.  After an exam, students have a hard time bringing their attention to new information.  How can they learn when they don’t know how they did?  They ask little questions, to try to figure out what they got right.  Since our weekly exams are not computerized, there is no instant feedback (something that Millenials cannot comprehend!), they have to wait.  In order to bring them back to the present I teach them about a very important talent a nurse must have.  She (or he!) must be able to compartmentalize, to be able to come into a patient’s room and address their needs, not tell them about the dying patient in the next room.  We have to be totally present for each patient, not thinking about our own troubles at home.  Forgetting about the exam you just took is practice for this talent.  One student pointed out that all of the nursing instructors were so calm.  As students were ‘freaking out’ about an upcoming exam, each instructor that encountered them calmly encouraged, gave words of wisdom, and refused to buy into the panic.  I asked the student how would she feel, if as she panicked and screamed in labor, the nurse joined in “OMG!!! You’re having contractions!  OMG!!!! You’re going to have a baby!!!” and ran around like a chicken without a head!  It became very clear to her that being (or at least appearing) to be calm is a crucial component of being a nurse! To be effective in an emergency, you have to be focused and accurate, not hysterical and confused.  That can come later, after the crisis is averted!

So this weekend, I hope you can think of what kind of example you set in your life.  How many people are learning by watching you?  And can you do better?  It is a challenge for all of us, to do our best even when no one is watching.

Have a wonderful weekend Family!

One Love!


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