Thursday, March 5, 2009

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From My Browndog

It’s funny how life works out sometimes. I grew up in wonderful family and was blessed with two loving parents and three fantastic siblings. I am the youngest of four and have a sister for a best friend and two great brothers. For as far back as I can remember, we always had dogs in our family. My dad, a hunter and fisher extraordinaire, had a saying about dogs: "If it can't hunt, it can't stay." As a result, we usually had a retriever or a setter. So when I grew up, got a teaching job, and bought my own house, I also bought my best browndog; a wonderfully friendly and spirited chocolate lab named Bailey (officially named Kate's Mudsplash Bailey Girl).

As I reflect on my life as an educator, as I often do, I can say that everything I ever needed to know about life I learned from my browndog. Here are some lasting life lessons that I've learned from my furry and brown best friend:

1. Greet everyone enthusiastically, be happy to see them, and show them how much you care about what they do. In other words, build lasting relationships. Dogs have this wonderful connection to people and, as an administrator, I can't say enough about how important it is to build relationships with those with whom you live and work closely. There is always a common goal to strive toward in education and there's no better way to get people to follow you as a leader but through building relationships and appreciating what they do every day. Take time to appreciate those important people in your life and show them how much you care about them and what they do. It is the single most important thing you can do for your teachers, who do the most important work in the world...inspiring the next generation to do great things.

2. Work hard and play hard. My browndog will be turning ten in a few weeks and she is still all puppy. She loves to work hard and please me, her leader, and she loves to play even more. We need to take time to do the same things. Being an educator or an educational leader is hard work; we face obstacles every day and do our best to inspire and motivate others to do their best work as well. But the job can be taxing, both physically and emotionally; so it is ever so important that after working hard we reward ourselves with a little bit of fun. This is true not only for us, but for our students as well. We need to remember to reward hard work with some fun. It will pay dividends that are everlasting. Kids and teachers alike will become more connected to their schools and they will become leaders in their own right.

3. Take a walk every day. In other words, take time out to get some physical activity every day. I have a teacher in my UPK program that is seeing the rewards of this idea in real time. Each day, after her normal routine of calendar, weather, the pledge, etc., she has the kids count to 100 doing combinations of ten reps of some sort of physical activity...jumping, push-ups, squatting, jumping jacks...anything she can think of. The kids love it and are building strength and so are she and her aide. I visit each classroom every day and I can see the kids making progress! But what I really love is that the kids make me join in too. It's fun, we see progress in others and praise each other, and we expend some energy which helps us to focus on our work afterward.

4. Rest as needed. My browndog is a power napper. As she is approaching her ten year mark, she naps more frequently and tuckers out more easily. However, she recuperates quickly because she rests as needed throughout the day. As adults, we need to remember to do the same. Of course, we cannot nap while on the job but we can be proactive by planning accordingly so that we are able to organize and manage our work in meaningful and effective ways. Teachers need to learn be ever-mindful of their weekly and report card deadlines so that they are not spending their personal family or home time grading papers or projects to calculate grades. There must be a clearly defined line of work and life. Educational leaders need to find and share strategies and tools to help teachers monitor their time more effectively.

5. Praise good deeds. I will admit that the browndog was not always the best pet. As a pup, she chewed every rung on my dining room chairs until they were toothpicks, she ate my favorite and original Birkenstocks my sister brought me from Germany, and she often shredded magazines or books for me to find when I got home from work. Rather than spanking or punishing her, I found that a much more effective way of stopping the bad behaviors occurred when simply praising her for being a good girl each day. Although she has not done anything like that since she was a pup, I still greet her each day upon my return home from work by asking if she was a good girl. Each day, she takes me through every room in the house to show me what a good girl she was or to "brag" in her own way about what she had done that day. As a result, I take time to shower her with praise for her deeds (or lack thereof) and she is so receptive to that praise that she is inspired to do good work each and every time I leave her. People, or students and teachers, are no different. Taking time to praise them for the work that they do each day goes a long way.

6. Play well with others. Dogs and people are social beings, so why aren't teachers? Many teachers operate as islands; they close their doors, plan their own things, and rarely collaborate unless required to do so by their leaders. A teacher can do wonderful things, but teachers, together, can do AWESOME things. Teachers need time to work together to plan meaningful learning experiences for children. In addition, teachers must be granted time together to ensure that what they are teaching is aligned to state standards. Further, teachers need time together to discuss the different strategies and ways they implemented their content and instruction in order to compare with one another which ways were more effective for kids. This is the most powerful conversation that is worth having in our field.

7. Take time to smell (the roses). Dogs, especially my labbie, are led by their noses. Those of us dedicated to the profession of educating kids need to take time out to appreciate the good things we do and the progress that we reap. We must make time to reflect on the things in life and work that we do well in order to find inspiration and motivation to continue to grow as people and professionals. Reflection is the key to inspiring growth and ensuring that we do not enter into a "rut." We cannot continue to do things the way we've always done them. Our students and teachers deserve much more than that. We must be open and willing to grow professionally and continually in order to inspire the best in others.

So take time to look for life lessons in the little things that we take for granted. My browndog has certainly inspired me to do so. Your teachers and your students deserve the same.


Sheri said...

Thank you for writing this, its just what I need to hear. I just finished reading an article about teachers and paraprofessionals working together. There were some similar ideas in the article. I'm struggling beyond belief with my classroom aide and it has turned ugly. I know I'm the only one that can turn it around, but I don't know where to begin. I think your list might be it. I'm going to print this out and read it every day and try to make a positive change in my classroom. Eventually I may even give it to my aide!
Thank you!

Theresa G said...

Hi Kate! What an inspirational piece for me to read on a rainy Friday afternoon! I would add one courtesy of my own darling dog - When something bothers you - BARK!
Whenever Stanley is irritated, he barks up a storm to get my attention and get it resolved. Whether it is the silly squirrel that torments him daily or a strange person at the door, his bark alerts me that he is bothered. Perhaps if more people stood up and barked about the things we need to pay attention to, more change would happen!

Kate said...

Thanks Sheri and Theresa for your comments! Sheri, I'm glad you found this piece helpful and wish you the best in finding some middle ground with your aide. Theresa, I agree with adding barking to the list. You're right, maybe if we barked more about the things that bother us, people would take action to stop the barking.

Angela said...

This is fantastic! I like Theresa's add on about the bark too. I think it's important. My dog isn't afraid to get a little dirty either, and he doesn't shrink away when other dogs snarl at him. He knows how to stand his ground. Very neat perspective Kate!

Linda704 said...

Aren't our furry friends the best! Here's a lesson from my Abbey: Focus on the positive in any situation. When it's time to go in her crate, she doesn't pout about being confined, but wiggles her whole body in anticipation of the treat.