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Gaining the Creative Edge in Critical Situations

Paramedics must think fast and follow procedure in critical situations. But when they return to their stations, a different set of skills are required. No Walls looks at how arts-based learning and the creative process can be used to strengthen agility in professional environments.

Paramedics are trained to handle high intensity situations on a daily basis. Arriving at a location in response to an emergency phone call, they may discover someone having a cardiac arrest, suffering a stab wound or any number of other scenarios. Traditionally, that training is technical and process driven, so that ambulance officers can work together to save a life.

For paramedic team leaders, a new set of challenges awaits them when they arrive back at the station. In an office, being reactive and action-oriented – traits usually respected in their field – can be detrimental to the leadership process.

“A new set of challenges awaits them when they arrive back at the station”

In response to this tension, the Queensland Ambulance Service developed the Classified Officers Development Program (CODP).  Since 2015 the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Creative Industries Faculty‘s Corporate Education team has engaged in the facilitation of the CODP. This leadership education course employs creativity, the arts, self expression and a sense of ‘play’ to address the specific challenges paramedics face and strengthen professional agility.

No Walls’ Grace Kirk spoke with program designer Professor Judith McLean, and program facilitator Dr Georgia Seffrin, in order to understand how using arts-based learning gives them an edge as leadership consultants.

McLean explained that while creativity is a core skill in today’s world, ambulance officers and other professionals haven’t had the opportunity to engage in this way of thinking.

About the CODP Program

CODP facilitators Georgia Seffrin, Judith McLean and Lowanna Dunn

Being a paramedic requires a strong ‘human’ element and clinical training is underpinned by an ability to interact courteously and respectfully with patients. However, a large part of an ambulance officer’s job is procedural and technical, meaning that historically the QAS work environment is command and control based.

To overcome some of the challenges associated with rigid procedures, the CODP was designed as an experiential learning program. The program uses the arts to train ambulance officers in leadership education.

“The program uses the arts to train ambulance officers in leadership education”

This program is designed to build emotional intelligence and self-awareness of the QAS ambulance officers who are in charge of the ambulance stations.

“They are people who are on the truck, as well as running the station and what was identified was that, in the field being reactive and being able to work very quickly is really important, but that’s not a skill that’s useful in managing people,” McLean says.

CODP participants at a facilitated workshop

This program is specifically designed to look at the skills of negotiation, reflection, creativity and having difficult conversations.

Delivered in two parts, the CODP is designed to give participants insight into their strengths and weaknesses as leaders and is very much built around Lev Vygotsky’s idea that “discomfort sits on the edge of learning”.

“You have to experience discomfort in order to learn [because] learning takes place within discomfort. You have to sit in that difficult place – that’s actually where you learn,” program facilitator Georgia Seffrin says.

Designing the CODP  

McLean has developed a four step process to deliver this program of digital case studies, which includes briefing and researching, scenario development, playing the scenario and evaluating the scenario.

“One of the things that we know is that information today is not knowledge. We cannot just talk at people or give examples. We have to design examples and experiences where people will simulate that experience. We use this thing, which we’ve pioneered, called a digital case study,” McLean says.

These digital case studies are underpinned by a number of philosophies, including adult learning, vertical leadership, drama, education and forum theatre.

“We find by actually getting people to talk about, to role play, to prophesise about how this might go, to give advice to each other based on the digital case study – that it becomes very interactive and very participatory,” McLean says.

“We know that any experience that has emotion attached to the cognitive actually stays with the learner after the experience.”

The Value of Creative Based Learning

A CODP participant at a facilitated workshop

McLean explained how there is real thirst and hunger for creativity across all industries.

“The value of using art tools encourages people to think from a very different perspective. It creates an insight space,” Seffrin says.

The program uses a number of creative methodologies such as design-led thinking, storytelling and drama as a way to encourage ideation and thinking outside the box.

It can be difficult for companies to remain relevant in a competitive modern century world, McLean notes. Companies that encourage employees to learn the creative process alongside their core technical skills can help to make staff more agile and adaptable.

“It allows them to think ahead and it allows them to learn how to be more empathetic. These skills are skills which many who grow up in a technical world have little experience with, whereas those of us who have worked in the arts – those are core skills for us,” McLean says.

From talking with the program designers and facilitators I could understand the thinking and the process of this program. What stumped me was how they actually can get adults of different ages, who have never been trained in art practices, to participate in such activities such as drama in front of their colleagues.

“I think initially they are curious about how we are going to work. But what everyone in our team is very skilled at is making people feel at home and we always start our sessions with a form of play. Play, serious fun, is actually critical to our work and once people start to play they just relax so we always begin our sessions with putting people at ease and we don’t move forward until people are at ease. And once they’re at ease you can really take them anywhere,” McLean says.

“Play, serious fun, is actually critical to our work”

Seffrin reiterated how the team doesn’t throw people into lessons, but slowly scaffolds the environment so that participants feel comfortable.

The CODP program’s closing task is to ask participants to create a self-portrait, which may sound unconventional to some.

“If that were the task for day one, it would be unsuccessful. But because the participants have worked very hard to build trust and respect, this kind of sensory and aesthetic activity is hugely successful. It’s a lovely culminating activity – they’ve gone through a process of self-awareness and learning,” Seffrin says.

According to QAS and the QUT team, anecdotal feedback has been positive and encouraging.

“The partnership with QUT has been wonderful, and we’re very happy with the content QUT has developed and the support QUT provides. We continue to receive outstanding feedback,” David Lucas, QAS Program Manager, says.

A CODP participant who completed both phases of the program highlighted the program’s significance in their comments.

“I believe the importance of role modelling is paramount in creating and building an organisational culture that stimulates creativity and innovation,” the  participant states. 

“Therefore, I feel creativity and innovation should always be the strategy for the CODP course.  Thank you for making the CODP course a truly wonderful insight to the spiritual awakening of emotional intelligence.”

About the Corporate Education Team

Creative leadership experts: Paul Makeham, Judith McLean, Kaye Petherick, Georgia Seffrin, Lowanna Dunn, Michelle Grant-Iramu, and Cathryn Lloyd

The team of creative leadership experts is led by Director of Corporate Education (Creative Industries) Paul Makeham. Judith McLean is a Professor of Arts Education and shares her QUT role with the Queensland Performing Arts Centre where she is the Scholar in residence.

Working with Paul and Judith are corporate education designers and learning facilitators Lowana Dunn, Georgia Seffrin Michelle Grant-Iramu, and Cathryn Lloyd, who have backgrounds in the arts and education sectors.

The team is supported by QUT Creative Industries Director of External Relations Kaye Petherick.

Overall, the successful program has received positive feedback, running since September 2015, with plans to continue into the future.

Learn more about QUT Creative Industries Corporate Education through QUT EX.