Safety Through A ‘Skills Before Knowledge’ Approach

Why ‘People Safety’ Should Be Taught Like Water Safety

Written by Cornelia Baumgartner, New Zealand Programme Director and Center Co-Director

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Cornelia Author Photo

Author Cornelia Baumgartner is Kidpower’s New Zealand Programme Director and Centre Co-Director.

People are more likely to do in real life what they have practiced than what they have been told to do. As American Philosopher and Statesman Ben Franklin once wrote, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

In addition, people are often more motivated to learn and more likely to remember what they’ve learned, when they are having fun rather than when they are feeling anxious. In Kidpower, we make violence prevention and personal safety programmes more fun, and much more effective, by taking a ‘Skills before Knowledge’ approach.

Why does a “Skills Before Knowledge” approach work?

  • Knowledge and/or fears do not automatically produce behaviour change. For example, all of us know that exercise and eating less and healthier is good for you. How many actually put that into practice?
  • Evidence shows the positive effect of experiential skills practice on behaviour change – As Early Childhood Educator and Author Bev Bos wrote, “Experience is not the best teacher, it is the only teacher.”
  • In all other safety programmes (i.e. water safety, fire safety, car safety etc.), an extra step – the experiential drill of the prevention skills in age appropriate ways – comes right at the start. Violence primary prevention programmes are essentially a potentially life saving SAFETY programme.
  • Adding coached experiential ‘Skill Drills’ at the start of the programme and throughout each session, and ensuring the delivery uses non-intrusive situations and affirms everyone including former victims (to prevent victim-blaming pitfalls), the benefits include:
    • Emotional safety, buy-in, and trust as everyone (from potential victims to potential perpetrators) focuses on new possibilities and solutions right from the start.
    • Participants feel more capable.
    • Participants feel less vulnerable.
    • Participants are more motivated to participate more and sooner in the exchanges and discussions that follow.
    • Participants who grew up in dysfunctional families and environments see and experience what develops a healthy relationship. This is crucial for primary prevention, as they need to have an experience of what is healthy, safe and positive.
    • Participants become more resilient. Since the practice has helped prepare them to deal with an assault instead of being completely shocked by it, they are able to react more effectively and recover more quickly.
  •  Looking at Grimley and Prochaska’s Behaviour Change model below, practising the desired behaviour happens at stage 4 only. By adding skills practice at an earlier stage, the later practices can focus individualising and tailoring the skills that were rehearsed at the start of the programme.

Steps of Behavior Change - diagram JPEG

  • We need to keep in mind that preparing people to take charge of safety is different from normal school learning. By giving students successful practice in using the skills right away, they will be better able to develop understanding.

Kidpower implements the ‘skills before knowledge’ approach in its programmes by using a carefully developed, strength-based step-by-step method that empowers people to be confident and act assertively in everyday and challenging situations, using the powers they already have.

Steps of Behavior Change - Body to Head JPEG-1

Rehearsing what to do to develop understanding (left) vs. trying to learn skills by merely thinking or talking about the problem (right).

We do this by coaching people through different kinds of scenarios, ranging from setting boundaries with someone you like who is doing something you don’t like to protecting yourself from a physical assault. These are sets of simple skills that can be applied to handling all kinds of difficult and potentially dangerous problems with people.

In other words, Kidpower teaches people what to do through rehearsing how to take effective action, whereas most other programmes try to teach people what to do mostly by talking and reading about the problems.

Many of our over 3 million people served through our workshops and educational resources say that this approach to learning safety skills has changed their lives; that it made them feel capable, valuable and in peace with themselves and the world. Many thousands have reported using the skills in everyday life and in emergencies to prevent bullying, violence and abuse.



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About the Author

Cornelia Baumgartner, New Zealand Programme Director and Center Co-Director
Cornelia Baumgartner is the New Zealand Programme Director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower Trust; member of Kidpower International’s Programme Leader advisory group and two national advisory groups - ACC’s Sexual Violence Prevention Project and TOAH-NNEST (Te Ohaakii a Hine – National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together); and creator of the Healthy Relationships programme for people with learning disabilities and the Teenpower Violence Prevention Project, both based on the Teenpower curriculum.
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