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In the Beginning, Part 2


In the previous blogpost, you were introduced to our little puppy, Murphy, as well as to the chaos caused by this new addition! I also shared with you how the lessons I am relearning on puppy-rearing have reminded me of some of the beginning-of-the-year practices I implemented in my classroom each Fall. Previously we discussed:

1. Build a Relationship; and 2. Translate Behavior into a Needs Assessment.

In this post, I will share with you the final lessons I am learning this summer with our puppy.


3. Supply Plenty of Positive Reinforcements

If we said it once, we said it a thousand times: “No, Murphy!” We soon realized that those words of English may be the only ones he would learn if we didn’t change strategies. So, we broke out the toys and the food he loved! He was motivated by both, and any time we caught him doing what he was supposed to, we gave him a treat. Now he is indulged well and often with the hope to gradually decrease the amount of treating until only the positive behaviors remains. (Of course, this will take some time. He is, after all, a puppy!)


This lesson was the first one that stood out to me as one I have used in my classroom. With the belief that all kids are inherently good, positively reinforcing students when the desired behavior occurs is a tried-and-true strategy. As you get to know your students, be sure to take note of what motivates them. These could range from verbal praise to a sticker for our younger learners to accumulated points for a special event. (Once again, this is where the Student Interest Inventory is worth its weight in gold.) Here is an article that shares the basics of positive reinforcement as well as specific examples that work! (Teachers of older students will have to tweak some of these to make them age appropriate for their students.)


4. PROVIDE PLENTY OF MENTAL AND PHYSICAL EXERCISE

One thing we did differently with Murphy than with our other rescue dogs is send in a DNA test, and it was very revealing! He is equal parts Border Collie and German Shepherd (25% each) as well as Lab and Mountain Cur (15% each) plus several other assorted breeds in at 5% each. This confirmed two things…he is extremely intelligent as well as energetic. Knowing this about him, we redoubled our efforts to give him plenty of exercise and bought more toys that challenged his mind. Keeping him active and thinking has kept him from getting bored and in trouble! It’s great that we know more about his temperament so we can try and stay ahead of his needs!


Much like the DNA testing, beginning of the year assessments as well as the Student Interest Inventory helped to give me knowledge about my students that I could use to individualize plans for their needs. By learning how they learn, I could more effectively pace and differentiate lessons for them. Getting students active is also important in your classroom. You may want to read this article which provides more information regarding movement and learning as well as ideas for incorporating activity in your lessons. What is true for Murphy is also true for students: Keeping them active and thinking can keep them from getting bored and in trouble!


5. OFFER OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALONE TIME

In the previous post, I mentioned how Murphy would sometimes take a flying leap at me as I sat on the couch. This action came from overstimulation and fatigue, and once he was rested that behavior was not present. Much like toddlers, puppies need lots of rest in-between activity times in order for their minds and bodies to keep growing. The inappropriate behavior was the only way he knew how to tell us he just couldn’t keep it together. As important as training time and togetherness is, alone time is just as important so that the mind and body get the rest they need.


As teachers, we are trying to make every precious moment we have with our students fruitful and filled with opportunities to learn. But just like little Murphy, students need time to reflect on their lessons and decompress in order to optimize their learning. I found this article that shared activities that can reduce stress and increase productivity, and this one on brain break exercises. You may wish to introduce some of your preferred brain break exercises individually at the beginning of the year, and then call upon them frequently throughout it.


This summer refreshed my memory on the important lessons in properly training a puppy. Building a relationship, translating behavior into an understanding of his needs, rewarding him often, providing both mental and physical exercises, and allowing for alone time are all game changers and supply opportunities to more easily teach Murphy the rules of road. These are also concepts that, if incorporated into the beginning of the year plans, can set your students up for outstanding learning experiences.


I hope your summer has been a good one and allowed you to reset your energy meter. It is my wish that these lessons I relearned this summer with Murphy act as reminders to you as you plan for those first days of the school year. May this be your best year yet!

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