Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Of Puppies and Kids

On April 21 my life turned a little upside down when we decided to adopt a puppy. Now, I've rescued dogs before, but I've never done the puppy thing. I've always rescued older dogs. Since I kind of looked at him like a fresh slate, I decided that if I was going to do a puppy, I was going to start right away with training so that eventually we could become part of KPETS.

Seriously..... how cute is this little dude?? He'll be 6 months old tomorrow, in case you were wondering.

Crosby and I signed up for our beginning manners program at a local pet food store, and began our classes at the beginning of June. The instructor was a wonderful lady named Kaye (seriously - anybody in the Lancaster, PA area looking for a dog trainer -- she has got to be your go to person!), and I loved the fact that she doesn't call what she does puppy training; she calls it people training for dogs.

We have been working hard to master many skills over the past two months: sit, down, stand, place, stay, wait, look, come, and tag were all included. Using what we learned Crosby is also, almost, sleeping on his own bed at night now. We did so well learning all of these new skills that we graduated on Monday night and are all signed up for our advanced class that begins in September!

I went into class expecting to come out with a puppy who could do some different skills, but what surprised me was how *I* came out with more of a growth mindset, my thinking challenged, and some ideas about how I need to do things differently in my classroom. You might be asking yourself how that could possibly happen, so let me share some of thing things that happened in our puppy class to help me grow this summer.

First you need to know that Kaye is an incredibly calm, even-tempered person. No matter how many dogs were barking or what she was doing to help a dog, she used a quiet voice, she moved slowly and calmly, and she always had a happy voice. She is also persistent. It didn't matter how many times it took, if there was a dog having trouble with something, she would work on that skill over and over and over, praising the dog for what it did do, until the dog actually demonstrated the skill.

Second, she was extremely organized and well planned. Each class we left with a homework paper that reviewed exactly what we did in class and what she wanted us to do at home. It was great to have a reference sheet when things just weren't going well.

Then there were some of the things she said (obviously these are exact quotes, but they're how I remember her words from class):

  • Your puppy doesn't want to be around you when you're angry or upset. Really, nobody does. Use a happy voice, and you'll get results.
  • Make it a game. Have fun with your puppy!
  • Praise, praise, praise! People always want to tell our dogs what they're doing wrong. Why don't we focus on what they do right?
  • Your puppy just wants to know you love him or her. Remember to always show them you do.
  • If your puppy is doing something you don't want him to do, you better make darn sure that YOU are more interesting than what you expect the dog to walk away from. How are you going to do that?
  • Keep at it. Puppies are just growing and learning. Some days you'll take 4 steps forward, and other days you'll take 10 steps back. That doesn't mean you're doing something wrong, your puppy is bad, or either of you can't do it. It just means it's not going to happen that day. 
  • Take a deep breath. Puppies can be frustrating, and some days you just have to forget about it and get ready to try another day or get ready to try another way.

So now, take a minute and go back and reread those bullets. But instead of puppies, put in the word student or students. Go ahead --- do it.

Pretty impactful, isn't it.

I thought a lot this summer about the times I got frustrated, lost my temper, raised my voice, gave up, and felt like a failure. Sometimes these thoughts made me sad, and other times I felt hopeful because now that I recognize it I hope that I can be different with my kids. Sure there are days when I still yell at Crosby or give him a swat on the nose for ripping the grass out of the yard, but I always catch myself and turn it around so he knows I love him and that I know we'll figure it out because he's still learning.

I thought a lot about how I worked differently with my puppy than I did with my students. Perhaps it's because there's no pressure. Yes, Crosby and I do have "assessments" we'll have to complete in order to meet our goal, but there's no time table; we take the assessments when we are ready. And if we don't get it the first time, we can always take them again. While I sort of have that chance with my students, I can work harder to offer opportunities to help them see that nothing is ever final, and we can always keep learning and working.

So thank you, Kaye. Thank you for training me to not only be a good mommy to Crosby but to also be a better teacher for my students.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Seven Months Later

And just like that, the school year is over. To say it was my toughest in 19 years is an understatement, but in a way the year was a very weird juxtaposition. Because, in a way, it was also one of the best years I've ever had.

On one hand, my new position as a professional learning leader allow me opportunities to lead professional development sessions for my colleagues in my building and talk about topics like helping students develop a growth mindset, trying out a genius hour, and incorporating creativity by connect with our special area teachers. The discussions that came out of these sessions were very powerful, as were the questions, so I'm hoping to move forward next year with a bi-weekly newsletter with tips and tricks and co-teaching with different people who are interested in giving some new things a try. I'm also starting to think that maybe being an instructional coach may be the next thing for me. Still not sure on that, but I truly have enjoyed working with the other teachers to change how they do things in their classrooms. I also really enjoyed changing how *I* did things in my classroom. It certainly was hard to turn my back on the PVAAS scores and all of that, but I feel like the opportunities for creativity and problem solving that I integrated in my classroom benefitted my kids way more than any test score ever will. I'm really hoping the think more about how I can do that and more closely connect the activities with my curriculum this year.

So, after reading all of that awesomeness, you might be wondering how I had such an awful year. I guess the easiest way to explain it is that I'm a bit of a sensitive soul. I know how hard I work for my kids, and I know everything I try to do to make sure they're learning the best they can. So to repeatedly hear that you aren't good enough, that you don't know what you're doing, and maybe somebody needs to teach you what to do for certain kids.... well, that can be a hard pill to swallow. Mental illness is also a very difficult pill to swallow. And when you're working with kids who are struggling with mental illness, every day feels like tiptoeing around a mine field. Every. Single. Day. And every single day it feels like you aren't getting through, you're not doing enough, and you're having to protect yourself and the other kids you care about from whatever words or actions come might come your way. It drains you when you get bombarded all the time.

But the good news is that it's over, and I'm looking forward to a restful and relaxing summer with all kinds of things planned to rebuild me and who I am as a person and a teacher.