It is summery and hot. You have started your vacation with your loved ones and casually stroll to the beach ready for a day of sunshine, salt water, sandy goodness and fun. But when you get there you see this sign. You put down your boogie board and take a moment to consider the options. If you have others with you, especially children or plan to surf, maybe this will deter you. If you are just going to run or paddle then maybe you’ll go ahead. The sign has text, is in a good location and has a shark in plain sight. You could consider this a good public service message to find to allow you to take action.
But what if you arrive at the beach knowing there was no shark and the water was blue and amazing and the group you are with are ready to go for some beach fun. How would you know about some of the things that should be important to make your day as awesome as it can be? What life skills do you need?
I have had to think a lot and reflect on this after an accidental drowning that occurred at my family go-to beach in December 2016 during our Christmas break. I helped to pull an unresponsive man from beyond the surf and to get him onto the beach. We then (there was a group of 4-5 of us) began emergency response procedure. I had stopped some people on the beach to ask them to call for help (the beach we were at is not close to emergency services, I knew we would have to wait probably 45 minutes for them to arrive) and then I ran the situation with people taking turns to give CPR until a nurse arrived and took over. While I was running this scene, my husband ran to the nearest office for an AED and my cousin and brother took our collection of children home. My cousin returned to help with Chinese translation as best she could, as the casualty was Chinese (as was his family who were on the beach) and they needed someone to help them with what was going on.
This whole situation could have been avoided, the man was not from our beach or area and was not a good swimmer. The beach has no patrolling life guards and on this day there was some strong under currents and dumpy surfy. After the AED arrived, we continued to provide assistance until 45 minutes later an ambulance and police personnel arrived and took over the scene. The man did not survive even after all our good intentions and the best medical knowledge we have.
I have had to really process this and his face still comes to me in my sleep and in quiet moments as I zone out of one collective thought to another, I am not sure it will ever go away. I still don’t know his name. I take reassurance that I did the best I could in this situation and environment and don’t question what I did during this time. I worked to resuscitate him, to help others who were clearly distressed and to have information on hand for the next more educated person to take over. I then went home to talk to my family about what had happened and we counseled through together.
I am not writing this post for any reassurance but the thoughts I return to are – what could have been done to stop this from happening? and also a well done to those who did know what to do, as the skills and collaboration as well as personal action was all there when it came to an emergency that saw 5 complete strangers called on to make some tough decisions.
What could we do in PE?
What life skills are we teaching in PE? This is not a new question and I have read some great posts and engaged in discussion with strong educator’s and data driven people who look at what makes an excellent PE student. I guess my thinking has been tainted by recent experiences, and I would like to look at what is in our power to ensure that students walk away with the life skills they need to deal with new environments and conditions as well as the ability to offer assistance and then to work with others to provide it, even when the situation is far from ideal.
The list of ‘student as a learner’ or ‘approaches to learning‘ or 21st Century skills or other chart or school system is evolving with time and the articles we read about the 10 things employers want in graduates all add to the lists that schools are looking at when they are focused on the best and well-rounded young people we can educate. But I wonder what are the main things that you would like to see your PE students be able to do so that they can have quality life skills? What are the non-negotiables? (as a side here, do your non-negotiables align with the Goals of your PE program? Or the Philosophy? And with your department and school? Is this important and could you be a part of a shift to make it more so?)
I started to write up a list of what I think my MS graduating students should have as they move into High school but I am not sure that is helpful for others. But what I do wonder about is: What was this man thinking? and How could he have evaluated and made better choices on that day? What will I do to help my own children and the students I teach to make effective decisions for their lives to be awesome? I intend to keep sharing and reflecting and seeking more information to make really informed teaching and learning decisions as I grow to be (hopefully) a wiser educator, mother and person. I hope that it will be enough to instill life skills in my students that will enable them to make effective decisions and to collaborate with others in case of an emergency.
The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia has put out a lot of data recently due to the high number of drowning cases that have happened over the summer holidays – if you are interested in either reading it or donating to their efforts and causes, please go to their website.