by Eric Stearley
As Metropolitan School District of Wabash County students enjoyed a day of technology based learning at home on March 27, every employee of the district spent their morning learning the communication techniques used by the Cleveland Clinic’s 44,000 employees.
The course, known as “Communicate with Heart,” was designed to teach Cleveland Clinic employees how to deal with difficult situations. The program began in 2002 with “Respond with Heart.”
“It’s a service recovery model,” said Rita Spirko, an Outreach and External Partnership Program Manager in the Cleveland Clinic’s Office of Patient Experience.
Rita explained that when something doesn’t go well at the clinic, they use this program to deescalate the situation. In a hospital more than most other places, tensions run high and some outcomes are very difficult for doctors, patients, and families to deal with. The clinic, which was the first hospital in the country to have an office of patient experience and a chief experience officer, found that if the hospital responded to these difficult situations at the service point, the patients and their families left feeling better about their time at the clinic and the any difficult outcome they may have to deal with.
In 2009, the clinic added a “Start with Heart” program.
“Start with Heart developed, because if we start with heart, we don’t have to respond as often,” said Spirko.
Since implementing these two programs under the banner “Communicate with Heart,” the hospital has seen complaints decline sharply and their hospital survey rating improve dramatically.
Superintendent Sandra Weaver took note of the way her family was treated during a particularly difficult experience at the Cleveland Clinic. Her husband passed away following brain cancer surgery performed at the hospital. She took note of the patient and family care the clinic offered and knew there must be something behind it.
“I was treated very well, and I knew school systems could use it,” Weaver explained. “Their style of communication helps resolve issues while using empathy.”
On Nov. 5 of last year, the district’s first scheduled e-Learning day, Spirko and colleague Sandra Vince traveled to the district’s central office and taught the program to 15 district employees. Those trained ranged from teachers and administrators to bus drivers and custodians. On the district’s third scheduled e-Learning day, these individuals shared the program with the rest of the district’s employees.
“People noticed our outstanding scores,” said Vince during a break in the Nov. 5 training. “People wondered what we were doing there and why everyone was so nice.”
Vince travels around the world teaching the program to hospitals and other organizations. During her ten years in the position, she has trained many medical professionals, hospitality workers in Las Vegas, employees of local governments, and had just returned from training a group in Ireland the week before. This was, however, the first time she or any other trainer had worked with educators.
“Communicate with heart was developed for healthcare, but we found it provides basic principles that are transferable to other disciplines,” said Spirko. “We change and customize it for the partner. We make it theirs. That’s how we build and sustain a culture is by creating ownership.”
“We want students, parents, and guardians to have a great, positive experience with the school district,” said Vince. “It’s about being respectful and kind. I know this will be successful here.”
Following the district-wide training last Thursday, Weaver was optimistic about the training and the program’s implementation.
“It went very well,” she said. “I’ve gotten some very good feedback today, and of course, that was very emotional for me.”
One thing Weaver particularly liked was the diversity of district employees who provided the training. One example she mentioned was Michelle Dupont a kindergarten aide at Southwood Elementary, training a group which included Assistant Superintendent Brian Dawson.
“That’s what part of it is all about,” said Weaver. “We’re bigger than our job descriptions. We are all educators. A lot of what we did today was common sense, but a lot of it was developing empathy and realizing, we don’t know what’s going on in everyone’s lives. The students, the parents, and the community still expect a world-class education.”
These words echoed those of trainer Sandra Vince months before as she wrapped up her training.
“At the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do,” said Vince. “It’s what we learned in Kindergarten, but we all need to be reminded.”