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Phi Theta Kappa Offers a Humanities Approach to Public Safety

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The link between history's great thinkers, writers and humanitarians and today's public safety and emergency services personnel may not be obvious; but the men and women working in these fields see the ups and downs of actual humanity every day, as life illustrates art and history and has much offer in lessons on leadership.

"Individuals engaged in public safety are there for the people," said Kevin Brame, executive director of the International Public Safety Leadership and Ethics Institute (IPSLEI). "And so providing them an opportunity to understand different cultures, to see things in a world much broader than what's right there in front of them, helps them to be able to do their job better.

"Ultimately what happens is we gain a much higher level of public safety in our communities."

IPSLEI is a California-based nonprofit corporation providing leadership exploration, the pursuit of lifelong learning and excellence in public safety leadership by and for public safety personnel. The group has integrated Phi Theta Kappa's Leadership Development Studies Curriculum into its own leadership development program and has used the textbook, Leadership Development Studies: A Humanities Approach, as a foundational piece of the program for a number of years.

Brame said the technical components involved with the actual jobs in public safety leaves an evident need for developing soft skills of leadership. It is in this way that Phi Theta Kappa's Leadership Development program has impacted IPSLEI's own program, he said.

"What we've found is that the humanities-based orientation provides us an opportunity to take our public safety folks and expand their horizons, to open their eyes to a different view, so that they're more attuned with the concept of critical thinking through the use of humanities," Brame said. "Regardless of where you go in the world, public safety is public safety. Everybody in the world can take advantage of a humanities-oriented program."

The curriculum integrates writings from the humanities - the Great Books and other historical and literary works - as well as film studies and exercises into a facilitated learning environment that encourages students to apply these humanities as sources of wisdom to their own organizations, creating critical thinkers and problem solvers, said Monika Byrd, Phi Theta Kappa's Dean of Leadership Development.

It is this humanities-based approach that attracted the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) to Phi Theta Kappa's Leadership Development Studies Curriculum as well. The group, which boasts more than 32,000 members and is based in Clinton, Mississippi, represents the professional interests of all EMS practitioners, including paramedics, emergency medical technicians, emergency medical responders and other professionals working in pre-hospital emergency medicine.   

NAEMT Executive Director Pamela Lane said the group had been looking for a leadership development course to offer its members. The group has programs in place for those already in leadership positions but doesn't have any for practitioners hoping to advance in their careers, she said.

"We want to be able to present leadership development to the practitioner so they can perform their job at a professional level and so they can be ready to take on a management position if one is offered to them," Lane said.

NAEMT was in the process of establishing a relationship with IPSLEI when Lane learned of the organization's partnership with Phi Theta Kappa. NAEMT and Phi Theta Kappa collaborated in June to offer a one-day leadership training session using the Leadership Development textbook to the NAEMT Board of Directors, and the two groups are currently working to develop a leadership training module for EMS practitioners, Lane said.

"The content (in Phi Theta Kappa's Leadership Development curriculum) is really a very, very good fit for what we're looking for," Lane said. "We really like that the program IPSLEI and Phi Theta Kappa have is an academic model. It's completely different from anything else offered in our industry."

Byrd said that while it's not all that common for a nonprofit or private business to adopt the Leadership Development curriculum, several nonprofits have, including county and city emerging leadership organizations such as Leadership Tallahassee. Numerous public safety agencies have also adopted the IPSLEI program, including the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the Alexandria, Virginia, Fire Department.

Private businesses in some areas have had access to the program through initiatives of their local community colleges or university, such as Ohio's Enterprise Ohio Network, she said.

"The Phi Theta Kappa Leadership Development Program covers the traditional leadership development topics that will always be important in business, such as goal setting and change," Byrd said. "Phi Theta Kappa's and IPSLEI's approach to leadership development is that it must be personal and individual, so the foundation of the program relates to self-awareness and to creating the environment for the development of a personal philosophy of leadership for each person.

"This creates authentic leadership capacity, which builds confidence and purpose and which can evolve with a person's career."