Friday, 17 July 2015

Why Teach a New Dog Old Tricks?

Like millions of others, I am a dog person. We had a couple of different dogs when I was a kid and my parents got a black Labrador retriever when I was just starting university.   A couple of my siblings have had labs and a year ago we welcomed a second black lab to our family (I have written previously about the impact our first lab had on all of our lives).  

Dogs of all breeds share many characteristics and follow similar timelines for learning new things and this is especially true of dogs raised in structured, nurturing environments.  However, like children, every dog is an individual who will learn at their own rate and needs to be loved and appreciated for who they are. 

Unlike his calm and mellow predecessor, the newest member of our family has proven to be a rambunctious, rowdy, stubborn and mischievous boy named "Hockey" or "Hock". He can be a very selective listener and a gifted escape artist who barks and jumps up on people and seems incapable of understanding his own name.  Yet, at other times, he is a remarkably focused, intelligent, clever, athletic and agile ball and Frisbee catching super dog.  At all times, he is incredibly lovable.

At nine months old, we had him work with a trainer and she sent home a note saying, "he was disrespectful of personal space."  Early on in the "new puppy" phase we had to accept that he is not our other dog.  He is Hockey.  As a black Lab, he looks like other Labs, but he is unique.  As soon as we came to terms with this, the more we were able to accept and adapt to help him learn and grow to be who he will be.  As an educator, there is a great message in this discovery.  Every student is unique (and sending home unconstructive notes are not helpful).  Kids are not their older brothers and sisters and should never be compared to them.  It is unfair and maybe even unkind. Similarly, we should not compare one class with the next, even in the same grade and subject area.  Each class we teach is a different collection of unique learners and, as such, students cannot be expected to arrive equally prepared to write the same unit test at the same time.  The fundamental expression of a teacher’s professional expertise is the way in which he or she adapts curriculum and designs learning experiences so that the diverse group of learners in his or her charge can be successful.  Since classrooms today are more diverse than ever, educators must recognize that students learn in different ways and at different rates and allow students opportunities to represent their knowledge and learning in a wide variety of ways.  Hockey has taught me that it is foolish to teach old tricks to new dogs and expect the same results.

Even on a bad day, our dog is trying to teach me how to live with incredible love, joy and enthusiasm.  I have given up trying to teach him how to be a different dog and instead spend my energy helping him become the best version of himself. We are both much happier.

Hockey.   Swims, chases & retrieves with enthusiasm!

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