Fully Engaged: December 2015

Educators learning through teaching
December 07, 2015
Written by Margo Tennant
As public educators we teach, but we are always learning from our audiences. To get our messages across, we need to understand our audiences and determine the best ways to reach them.


Children in kindergarten to Grade 3 are easy to reach: we go visit the school with the big red truck, tell them what it is like to be a firefighter, deliver a fire-safety message, show them the tools, and give out little red helmets or stickers. Right?

But as kids grow up tethered to technology, it’s crucial that we tap into their interests and skills (and, frankly, their knowledge and ideas!).

Brampton’s Fire/Life Safety Education Centre has leaped into the 21st century by creating fire-safety games on smart boards and smart tables. Younger kids, in Grade 1, sort hot and cold items into the appropriate boxes. If an item is placed in the wrong box, the game stalls until it is moved to right spot.

Grade 4 students arrive at our education centre with iPads and tablets in hand, taking pictures and notes, and we learned from them that communication through technology is their preference. We had to step up our game, so to speak; for those students we created a Jeopardy-style fire-safety challenge. The students are very engaged and enjoy competing with their classmates.

Pre-teens start to stay home alone with new responsibilities. We hope they have been educated by their parents about how to use the stove, microwave and other small appliances. But did the parents discuss what to do if the smoke alarm goes off? How do we reach those older teenagers and young adults? Through social media, of course. This generation seems to be tied to their cell phones – all questions, it seems, can be answered instantly by asking Suri. But how do we get people to ask questions about keeping their families and loved ones safe? If a fire or tragedy happens locally, people pay attention for a short period of time and then once media coverage fades, fall back to old habits – having outdated smoke and CO alarm or dead batteries, leaving cooking unattended. How do we keep fire safety in their minds (or on their Twitter or Instagram feeds)?

Education is lifelong learning whether you are a firefighter, fire prevention officer or an education officer. Fire habits change, and we need to change to a modern attitude and embrace Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to help us get fire-safety messages to various age groups and other demographics.

Selfie is now a word in the dictionary – and one we at Brampton Fire and Emergency Services have grown to love. Who hasn’t taken a selfie? In the past we have held contests asking residents to send photos of their families standing at their safe meeting places in front of their homes, another of residents testing their smoke alarms. This year, through Fire Prevention Week, we tweeted a contest to spot Sparky, take a selfie and submit it for a chance to win a prize. We had some selfies submitted, although not as many as we would have liked. But the contest was still a positive for us. People may not take that extra step and submit a photo but we reached new followers through Twitter. Not everyone actively participated by posting their own photos, but they read our messaging and shared it, and now we have more followers who will receive future-safety messages. I have started using Twitter and Instagram; at times it seems foreign to me but I know I must stay fresh by adapting to the times and technology and using the tools so widely coveted by those I want to reach.

Teaching in a diverse community such as Brampton, where Punjabi is the second-most spoken language, requires creative thinking. Our goal is build bridges and partnerships with already-established groups and attend multicultural events. We have been guest speakers on Hindi radio talk shows with the host translating to the audience. As guests on a weekly TV show that broadcast across Canada we were able to use props as visual aides as our messages were translated. We need to reach the younger generation and hope they take the message home. Brampton now provides multilingual pamphlets with fire-safety messages with pictures that match that message and we’re working on social-media messaging for this demographic.

Once you take on the role of an educator, you’re just starting to learn. Invest in your community!


Margo Tennant is a fire and life-safety education officer with Brampton Fire and Emergency Services in Ontario. Email Margo at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow her on Twitter @bramptonFireES


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