Let’s face it, teachers, and those of us in education in general, are master “complicators”. I don’t think I have seen a profession where so many good ideas die before they are given a chance to live. Education is a static beast. There is a lot of fear and overthinking in this field which stops a lot good ideas from ever taking flight. Many have the belief the system should not be changed.
“How will this be assessed?”
“How does this match (insert curricular goal here)?”
“What will the parents think if you teach this way? Try this project?”
Once all of the questions have been answered or asked and the dust has settled, many good ideas just simply die off because they are, quite frankly, beat to death. Enter dogs! Dogs do not overthink anything; they just do! Go back to that walk outside. At no point in my life would I ever go for a casual stroll in -20 weather. I would think about cold it was outside. Is my coat thick enough? Do I need gloves? The list goes on, but I would take that simple task and complicate it to death, where the end result would be not doing it at all.
On that fateful day when Moose was begging to go outside, he didn’t allow me to overthink it. He jumped up, wagged his tail furiously and barked. He demanded that in that moment we go for a walk because in that moment it is what he wanted. This is a powerful lesson for teachers. So many times, you, yes I’m talking to you, have a great idea for an activity or a lesson in your classroom but you overthink it. The process of second guessing oneself rarely occurs in dogs. When they feel it should happen, they go for it. Keep that in mind when your next great idea arises. Think of my little Moose and go for it! Stop being a “mast complicator” and move to become a “master creator!” No part of me wanted to go for that walk at all but in the end, it was awesome and I’m glad I did it. It lead me down a new path. A path I will regularly be taking.
Being a teacher is hard work. There is nothing more frustrating or disheartening then when a student falls back after making so much forward progress. Sometimes, it makes you want to give up. To just throw your hands in the air and walk away. This is the easy way out but once again, dogs possess a hugely valuable lesson for us here.
Dogs love us unconditionally. Once they grow to accept/know you, you become a part of their pack. Every day they come back and support you and love you - without fail. More importantly, without condition. Even when we screw up, when we shout at them or put them in their kennel when they become too much they welcome us back with open paws. They give you a clean slate every single time you screw up. They are the definition of love, acceptance and forgiveness. They light up and explode with joy when they see you. Every morning and every day, when I arrive home from work, Moose greets me as if I haven’t seen him in years. His pure joy and happiness with simply seeing me in that moment always makes me happy. It makes me feel wanted.
This is another powerful lessons for us as teachers. So many times our students will push us to the edge. We will want so badly to yell at them and put them in their own proverbial kennels so we can escape them for a moment. We sometimes dread seeing them after a confrontation but we know they will be there waiting for us. When you are ready to give up and at the end of your rope, remember how dogs see us. No matter what wrongs we do, they are there for us the next time we see them. Excited, tail wagging and jumping around with joy. They light up for us and they make us feel happy, wanted and loved. Remember to light up and be joyful for your students. Even when they damn near break you, wipe the slate clean, give it a fresh start the next time they see you. Show them unconditional love and assure them you will pick them up when you fall. I always tell my students…
“If you fall 10 times, I’ll still be there the 11th time to pick you.
You are getting heavier each time but I won’t abandon you.”
Note: someone will read this and argue that conditions are good. Just as a side note, we can have conditions and boundaries and goals and expectations, that’s all good and fine with work and projects. When it comes to feeling welcome and accepted in my classroom, I want students to come as they are. Their incomplete, messy, confused, emotional selves. More importantly, I want them to know it is OK, I’ll be there for them, unconditionally.
So remember, pets of any sort can teach us a lot of lessons. Remember these lessons and lean into them for guidance. Dogs want nothing but to please us, feel safe and the occasional treat. Our students are not too far off. If they feel safe, secure, trusted and valued (and if you sneak them a treat or two) they will flourish.
So to all my teacher friends and colleagues, be like my Moose. Don’t over complicate things, love unconditionally and let others see your tail wag.
Stay awesome everyone!
- Master Heebs