Witnessing magic in a garden

June 1, 2003
I recently traveled to Ohio to speak with a group of Cuyahoga Community College alums spanning 37 years.

By Kristine A. Hodson

I recently traveled to Ohio to speak with a group of Cuyahoga Community College alums spanning 37 years. Prior to my arrival, Donna F. Homenko, RDH, PhD, who is a professor of dental hygiene at the college, kept referring to the meeting's location as the "Garden Center." As a brown-thumbed hygienist, I kept envisioning a solarium within a hotel.

On the morning of the program, Donna graciously picked me up at the airport and drove me to Petitti's Garden Center in Strongsville, Ohio. This 14-acre garden center is a Victorian conservatory and is one of the largest and first of its kind in the United States.

I can honestly say that, after 10 years of lecturing, I no longer experience a lot of "firsts" during my trips. But on this day I had many.

We were warmly welcomed at the Garden Center by Andria Petitti, marketing manager and daughter of the owner, Angelo Petitti. She took the time to share with me the story behind the success of the family business. It is a timeless quest for the America dream and well worth inquiring about the next time you visit, in person or on the Web (www.petitti.com).

Before the seminar participants arrived, Donna and her team — the additional faculty members at CCC — began to show up. I met them and watched them spring into action. They were inspirational. This faculty knows the truths of team magic, and it lives within them whether they are inside college or not.

"None of us is as smart as all of us." This quote is one of my favorite team quotes. It is from the book, "High Five," written by Ken Blanchard, Sheldon Bowles, Don Carew, and Eunice Parisi-Carew.

Throughout the book, the authors use the P.U.C.K. acronym as a guide for team building.

• P is for providing clear purpose and values
• U is for unleashing and developing skills
• C is for creating team power
• K is for keeping the accent on the positive

I know that a successful business book, dental hygiene instructors, and a continuing education event, overall, may not seem to have a lot in common. Please bear with me as I explore these tangents; there are a few team lessons we can learn.

P is for providing...

I first met the vivacious and energetic Michelle Florencki, RDH, MEd. She is an assistant professor of dental hygiene. She was certainly glad to see that I was healthy and ready to go. If for whatever reason I could not go on, she was designated to take the lead and provide a stellar continuing education program.

The preparation and goals of the day were clear. The arriving alumni were to have a professional educational experience, no matter what unplanned hiccups occurred. The "behind-the-scenes" team made sure that the refreshments were coordinated with the breaks, as well as that samples and materials were available for each registrant, including name tags. No matter what needed to be done that day, I never heard "Oh, I'm not doing that. Ask so and so." The clear, collective objective was: Value for the alumni. In order to educate students about dental hygiene, our teachers have to create an environment that is conducive to learning. Along those same lines, the atmosphere must set and support clear goals and strategies that create team commitment to each other. This is a slam dunk for the instructors at CCC.

U is for unleashing...

Dental hygiene school has a "high learning curve" and it starts with the basics. Examples of the knowledge and skills that each school builds include competency in ethics, health promotion, accountability, critical thinking, assessment, implementing plans, evaluation, and patient care. The faculty uses their individual and collective skills to support our growth from hygiene "preemies" to confident care professionals.

At the alumni day, more than 100 graduates, faculty, and current students attended. They represented the many faces of dental hygiene. The various occupations represented were clinical hygienists, public health, educators, some with expanded function certificates (placing restorations), and business owners. It was painfully obvious how fortunate and blessed the participants were to be able to share with their instructors their professional progress and friendship.

Ponder where you would be if it weren't for your educators. Take the time to acknowledge your instructors. Send them a note, e-mail, or just call them. Without their tenacious dedication, there would be no shoulders on which to build our careers. (P.S. I want to extend my thanks, acknowledgments, and gratitude to the NHTI faculty, 1986-1988. And yes, Mrs. B., I am still chewing gum.)

C is for creating ...

Creating synergistic harmony or a "game plan" for a team is similar to a dental hygiene curriculum. It builds mental and tactile skills, and has core proficiencies and advanced studies.

Team power is not having the cream of the crop or the best of the best rise to the top despite all of the others. It is rotating the leadership and building flexibility using everyone's shining moments and expertise. It is sharing an individual's skills and successes to create team empowerment.

Again, during each of my conversations with the ladies of CCC, the one statement that I heard over and over was "We support each other." Wow! What an example of building confidence and sharing leadership with fellow members of your team. The faculty encourages each other to expand as individuals with confidence and support. Such an expansion builds up the entire team. No negativity, no envy, just outward support of each other. Can you imagine the meaning to a student who hears cheers from a teacher acknowledging another teacher or, better yet, a self-assured teacher encouraging a student to achieve?

K is for keeping...

Any faculty at a dental hygiene school must search within the students for behaviors that reflect the professional values and ethics of dental hygiene. When they recognize appropriate skill development, they often provide recognition and positive feedback.

If, at times, they find a student not progressing, they often redirect the student toward the goal. Sometimes that means a lesser grade or a failed proficiency. But mainly it means sharing their clinical skills chairside or pushing us to re-do a task or re-take a radiograph. At the time, it may seem overwhelming to the student; however, the teacher is attempting to figure out what stumbling blocks are preventing the student from achieving the desired goal — graduation!

When speaking with Donna, she shared one challenge often felt between instructors and students — the clinic and time management. As any former student can attest, the clinic is often just above organized chaos. So some students may express that they do not feel enough attention is devoted to them because of all of the necessary steps and details that need to be addressed during clinic. Rest assured that on those same "time-crunched" days, the teachers are sharing your frustrations.

The team at CCC fondly refers to themselves as Lucy, Ethel, Laverne, Shirley, Thelma, and Louise. The reasons for the nicknames have to do with their personalities and logistics, and some of them share offices. I will leave you with a hygiene teaser and not divulge who is who. My purpose here is to applaud their spirit and commitment to the students of dental hygiene:

• Jane Durocher-Jones, RDH, MS, Assistant Professor of Dental Hygiene

• Michelle Florencki, RDH, MEd, Assistant Professor of Dental Hygiene

• Mary Lou Gerosky, RDH, MEd, Director and Interim Assistant Dean of Health Careers

• Donna F. Homenko, RDH, PhD, Professor of Dental Hygiene

• Barbara Ringle, RDH, MEd, Assistant Professor of Dental Hygiene

• Madeleine Wensink, RDH, BS, Adjunct Part-time Clinical Instructor

• Kristin Wolf, RDH, BA, Clinic Coordinator

The day at Petitti Garden Center in Ohio inspired me to take a look back at my school experiences and savor a valued perspective of the process. I hope these team lessons lead to more successes for your personal and professional teams. In closing, I'll share one last quote from the book, "High Five": "The road to success and teamwork is paved with repeated rewards and recognition."

Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS, is an international speaker, author, and software developer. She is the author of Demystifying Smiles: Strategies for the Dental Team. The book is available online at www.pennwell-store.com. She can be contacted about speaking or coaching at [email protected]. Visit her on the Web at www.reachhygiene.com.