Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Working Interdepently

Working Interdependently
Interdepently~Work together, learn together, depend on each other

I'm not sure there is anything cuter than listening to 1st graders pronounce big words with a bazillion syllables.

This is a hard word to say ....   In - ter - de - pen - dent - ly.

We said this word a lot of times today.

And I explained to my students that  this is the only way Chester and I function. We work together, we learn together, and...we depend on each other.

Besides our everyday life as a pet therapy team, a story came to mind, once again from Schreiber Pediatric in PA.  We were working with our little friend Naia.

Naia's Occupational Therapist was helping her to overcome big fears in order to  feel safer in her huge world.

Naia had come to trust Chester, so working with him in OT was not only healing and fun, but groundbreaking for this little one.

On this particular day, Naia was to crawl through an expandable tunnnel.  For some children, this would look incredibley fun.  For Naia, it was overwhelmingly frightening.

 The thought was for Chester to pave the path through the tunnel.  And of course, Chester would loan a bit of his bravery to Naia, and she would follow.

 Chester and Naia both looked through the tunnel together. 

I went to the other end of the tunnel and called Chester.

He looked at me. He did not move a muscle. He would not come. No way Jose. He was frozen.

This was not going as planned.

And so, I brought Chester to the other end of the tunnel. He and Naia looked at one another through the very scary tunnel.

His four paws stayed firmly planted on one end, Naia firmly planted on the other.

Neither budged.

The therapist and I looked at each other.

"Naia," I said.  "Do you think you could help Chester overcome his fear of tunnels?  He's having a really hard time."

I pulled out the peanut butter jar and handed it to Naia.  "If you could just reach into the tunnel a little bit, maybe he will sniff the peanut butter, find his courage, and come to you?"

She pondered this situation, then nodded, and stretched her arm into the tunnel gripping the opened peanut butter jar.

Chester's nose twitched. mmmmmm  

Naia moved a bit further into the tunnel, s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g to Chester.   He could not resist. He came.

 And they met in the middle.

In the middle of the tunnel.

Chester licked the jar, and kissed Naia's outstretched hand.

"Good boy Chester," she whispered.

And  together, in-ter-de-pen-dent-ly, they crawled through the tunnel to the other side.

And then..............they did it again.  And again.   :)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Special Olympics

Yesterday was our  first time to share in the Special Olympics. What a blessing to be there. The day was filled with unexpected surprises, amazing athletes and volunteers, and a million memorable moments.

Chester gave and received SO much love throughout the day, no matter where we roamed there was always time for an athlete or helper to pat this pup and share some lovin'. Each moment was special at these olympics ~~  but, the moment forever etched in my memory is Chester poolside at the Special Olympics.

We were invited to share in this day from one of our favorite athletes at Almond Acres ~~ she is someone who has climbed into Chester's heart, and mine.  Audriana and Chester share a special bond that I can't explain, but, from the moment they met, it was love at first sight.

Our day began with walking into the Opening Ceremonies, Chester was at his friend's side. She proudly held one of his leashes as she marched in, leading the way for her  AACA friends. Uniformed Officers from Law Enforcement and Public Safety lined the walkways, greeting each athlete with encouraging words, a high five or knuckle bump....many with tears.  tears in these eyes too..........

Our plan was to stay in the packed gymnasium with Audriana and friends throughout the entire Opening Ceremonies. Soaking in every magnificent moment. However,  things did not quite work as planned. Imagine ExCiTeMeNt, thunderous applause, cheers & stomping feet on bleachers, exploding from over 2,000 people.  Great for people, not-so-great for my pup.  Thunderous applause sounded a bit too much like real THUNDER to his ears.  Chester gave me the this scares the bejeebers out of me lookwhich meant it was time for me to take my buddy outside to a quieter spot, so outside we stepped. 

After the Ceremonies we met our athlete poolside. Poolside for Chester usually means woohoo and swim time. Fortunately, he did not make the plunge, but greeted his treasured athlete at water's edge with a smooch, wishing her good luck in her swim. He would have joined her if he could!

As soon as she entered her lane for her swim event, Chester and I positioned ourselves at the opposite end of the pool, along with a few other cheerleaders from her family and school. When the race began, our little swimmer was kind of stalled in start position. The crowd cheered for her, and Chester began to bark, I am talking GIANT and LOUD woof woof woof. His eyes were on his girl in the pool, urging her forward. And forward she swam! Chester's tail was swooshing like a propeller. His barking was so loud and incessant that I pulled him back, looked into his eyes and whispered ....Chester, quiet.

He looked right back at me as if to say,  It's the Olympics for cryin' out loud, and our girl is swimming!

You're right.

Back to leaning over pool's edge and barking his brains out. He did not stop barking until his swimmer reached the end of the pool and popped her head out of the water ... and then he gave her a big ole doggie kiss.   .....And then took a serious drink of pool water.

It was the sweetest moment ever.

And then.

When Audriana stood on the podium getting her gold medal, she motioned for Chester to join her. And he did. And he posed with her.  And together they smiled.


 The Special Olympics --- beyond Special :)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Habit of the Week ~ Responding With Wonder & Awe

Responding with Wonder and Awe
Absolute Ahh-mazement, Jaw dropping Moments

This week I asked the students to say Ahhhhhhhhh. And freeze. That is Wonder and Awe, I explained. It's the moment when your jaw drops open and you are amazed at something....  Or someone. Or a thought or discovery. An idea. Or beauty.

I encouraged them to NOT pass these moments by, but to stop. Stop and step into the moment of Wonder and Awe to see what is there.  "You don't want to miss it," I said.

Which reminded me of a Chester story... of course it did :) . 

We were walking down the hallway at Schreiber Pediatric, on our way to visit Melissa, (our Girl Scout Cookie Friend!), when I heard someone call me. "Excuse me, you with the dog :)."

I turned around. The woman quickly explained to me that she was a Speech Therapist and her patient, who had never spoken a full sentence, was able to put words together for the first time, asking  "Can I pet the dog?"  

Talk about jaw-dropping moments.

The Speech Therapist continued, "I know you are on your way to an appointment, but would you mind letting my patient pet your dog?"    Oh my goodness, OF COURSE!   About face!

We stepped into her office and there we found a smiling little girl, about 6 or 7 years old, who sat quietly & eagerly waiting to pet the dog.  

"I hear you would like to pet my dog, Chester." I gently smiled.

She nodded, touching his soft fur. Then out came the words,  "I have a dog."

The Speech Therapist, with tears in her eyes, held up 2 fingers, "Sentence # 2", she whispered.

"You have a dog too?" I asked.

The little girl unzipped her backpack, pulling out a stuffed doggy. "This is my dog." she said.

 Sentence #3.

Sometimes the most magnificent Wonder and Awe Moments happen when you are on your way...
I'm so thankful we pawsed and stepped into the moment. 
It was a miracle moment indeed.

Habit of the Week ~ Compassion

A feeling that comes when you want to help someone who is 
hurting, sad, lonely, hungry, afraid.

As I pondered the habit of the week, "compassion", I read Mr. B's blog. Something that he wrote especially jumped off the page and landed in my thoughts.  He said,  ~~ We don’t need bullying policies in schools - we need compassionate behaviors.    ~~  True that.

A story came to mind.  Another Chester moment. Chester's specialty is compassion and this compassionate story took place many years ago on a Sunday morning.  

As I often do, I take my four legged buddy to church with me. During the service he usually nestles quietly at my feet, and after the service he warmly greets whomever would enjoy some puppy time. 

Of course this particular Sunday morning did not go as usual. 

While I was worshiping and singing, I was not paying much attention to my buddy and his whereabouts, assuming as usual he was right at my feet.  At some point though, I thought to look down and reached to give him a pat. However, there was no Chester.  Usually his leash is in my handand I do know this is the correct place for his leash to be :), however on this day for whatever reason I had just set it by my feet.  As I said ... usually, he just nestles in and snoozes. 

Chester MIA was either the perfect storm or the perfect opportunity for something wonderful. I looked left and right and down the aisle.  No Chester. Rut-roh.     

And then I turned around.


My furry friend was sitting in the middle of the aisle snuggled up close to a man in a wheel chair. A man whom I'd never met.  The man's hand rested atop Chester's head.  Chester looked right into my eyes as if to say,  it's all good, you can start breathing again. 

I quietly asked the man if this was okay with him. He gently smiled and nodded yes.  

A few moments later,  I introduced myself and Chester saying, "My friend here usually likes to sit with me, but apparently he wants to be with you today. :)  "

As we shook hands, he told me his name, and then went on to explain how it was his first time to visit this church,  and he more than welcomed Chester at his side.  And by his side is where Chester stayed the entire service, either sitting glued to the side of the wheelchair where our new friend could easily touch Chester's head, or laying down, Chester's head resting atop his feet.  

Each time I glanced back, tears welled in my eyes and heart, as I saw Chester reaching out to touch this man with kindness and compassion.

Chester's compassion birthed a sweet friendship, and many more moments together throughout the years to follow.

I'll always be grateful for that day ~~ you just never know the surprise blessings that might come from "compassionate behaviors"...... 




Habit of the Week ~ Inventiveness

 Having or showing an ability to think of new ideas and methods:
creative or imaginative

While  training my buddy Chester to heal, I learned he LOVED to pull, which of course is pretty dog-gone natural. However, beyond normal pulling, Chester was a super-strong and gifted puller.  Do I sound like a Dog-Mom?

Yes, it was vital he learned the art of 'heal'.  But, why not invent a way to let him enjoy something he was gifted to do?  Since he love love loved to pull, then let's create a way for him to do this.

And so we did.  I say "we" because I needed help with my inventive idea.

A trainer friend of mine taught a class in wagon pulling. We signed up. We started small, first just putting a harness and straps on my buddy. He began learning new commands such as left and right and easy and whoa. (These commands work especially well when I remember my right from my left!). From getting used to a harness and dragging straps behind him, we progressed to Chester pulling an empty gallon milk jug. After he became comfortable with the noisy, wiggly-jiggly plastic clunking jug trailing behind him, we progressed to a small wagon.  And eventually a little red wagon. With kids!

Ta-Da!  Inventiveness!!!  Happy dog!  Happy kids in the wagon!

As I shared pictures and this inventive story with the students, they  noticed so many inventive-moments....   from me wanting to invent a way for Chester to PULL, to the trainer, and harness maker, and wagon converter.  It took a village of inventors. Which is often how inventions go...   And it took time. And patience.  Which is often how inventions go.  With dreams and creativity, time and patience, sprinkle in a lot of help along the way....inventive dreams can become reality.  And change a life, or the world!

One of my greatest desires as a teacher, was, is,  to discover the gift(s) tucked inside each student --- and to invent ways to help each one shine.  
                        Inventiveness inspires....or is it the other way around :)  

P.S.  A most memorable moment of the day ~~ When I called on a student & expecting a dazzling comment about inventions, he said, "I think you kinda look like Hillary Clinton in that picture!"      

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Habit of the Week ~ Metacognition

The ability to think about your thoughts with the aim of improving learning.

What in the world?  Meta-what?  

Before pondering Chester stories to find that match-of-a-story to connect  this week's habit to the heart ... Well, first I had to visit Google, Mr. B's AACA Blog, and Mrs. Webster, (yes, she still has an honored place on my shelf), for meaning and understanding. Seriously, I had not a clue.

Here, are a few of my metacognition thoughts ~~ Metacognition is a million dollar word, that in my simple language simply means taking time to think about what I am thinking about. Being present in my brain, in the moment, not bouncing around in a kazillion directions &  being tugged by a bazillion distractions.  Truly, being purposeful to take to heart what I am thinking about.

And let me tell you ~~ When Chester is in the classroom, the students ARE
meta-cognitting :).  To the max.  It just happens.  It's one of the reasons we are in the classroom. METACOGNTION!  Who gnu?

Each week, when Chester and I walk through the classroom door, students instantly connect to their furry lovable buddy. When I tell Chester habit-of-the-week-stories, students are with me.  Whether talking about Chester's empathy, or Chester and his 5 senses.  Or Chester and humor. Chester and patience....or not. Chester and concentration. You get the picture. Students from 1st-5th grade, can tell you in d.e.T.A.I.L. each Chester story and how it relates to each habit.

I tested it out this week. The metacognition thing.  I was ahhh-mazed. The memory and connection and heartfelt responses from students in each classroom.

When Chester is in the room. He's just a kid magnet. And a brain magnet. A thought magnet. A learning magnet.

Metacognition!  Woof Woof!

Habit of the Week - Finding Humor

Humor - A quality that makes something laughable or amusing.

Why did Chester cross the road?  To get to the barking lot!      hahahahaha

What part of the tree does Chester like the most?   The bark!!!!!      hahahahahaha

What is Chester's favorite type of story?   A Furry Tail!   hahahahahahaha

What is Chester's favorite vegetable?  Bark-olli  of course!   hahahahahaha

What do Chester and Justin Beiber have in common?  They are both pawpular!   hahahahahaha

Why does Chester always wag his tail?  Because he has such a paws-itive attidude!  hahahahaha

 How long does Chester want to stay at school?   Furrrrrrr-eh-ver!

These riddles are compliments of AACA students....with 2 from me. And my lips are sealed for which is which.


Laughter and humor can certainly lighten a load and brighten a day. One classroom especially needed an extra dose of humor, laughter, and joy this week. Chester and I could feel the sadness and heaviness coming from these little hearts as soon as we walked into the room. Sudden loss and change are so hard. At any age.

Though we've visited this classroom regularly all school year long, I've never told the students Chester stories..... usually we've wandered the room helping with math or writing or projects.

 Today was different .

 Today what was needed was simply Chester, and Chester Stories.  And so we gathered on the reading rug for story time.

After we all groaned and giggled  through some of the above Chester jokes....I began telling warm-hearted Chester Tales. In great detail I shared about Chester and  the chickens in 1st grade.   I explained Chester's silliness and how he went absolutely bonkers each time he heard a tiny chicken peep. BARK peep. BARK peep. Bark peep.

Laughter filled the room.

I recounted the story of  Chester's LOVE for Peanut Butter Girl Scout Cookies and the day he went c.r.a.z.y. after his first taste.  How instead of helping Melissa with her balance and physical therapy, he was obsessed with cookies --- I told them how Melissa literally fell over laughing every time Chester escaped to find the cookies.

Smiles and giggles erupted.

It was time for me to go....one boy raised his hand. "Please Gigi, tell us another story!"  There were echoes of  'please just one more'  like popcorn popping up all over the reading corner.

Okay, one more :).

Laughter IS the best medicine.   ....and happiness is a warm puppy.