Thursday, February 2, 2017

Some Encouraging Words

 After weekly visits in January, some feedback from the teachers...

“It  is great to know that you will come in and join in with whatever is going on that day. I know my students love seeing and petting Chester. It is nice to have you here during math since many kids feel stress during math, it makes it very relaxing. Thank you so much for taking the time to help individual students where they are struggling.

“WE LOVE BOTH YOU AND CHESTER!  I have wonderful writing samples from some of my most reluctant writers when Chester is there to listen to their writing!  Chester is both a fun and calming addition to our class on Wednesdays, and even my am parents love seeing you both.  I have some emotional kiddos and the morning works great for us because Chester changes their disposition and sets them on the right path for the day!   Thank you for being a wonderful part of 1st grade!”

“We just LOVE having you and Chester visit.  Every day I get a, “Is Chester coming today?”

“Would you come everyday? :) ...


A handwritten note from a  first grader (The note came tucked inside a paper airlplane, crayon-colored inside and out with hearts, a rainbow , green green grass, bright blue sky, and a happy golden retriever. ) 
Dear Chester! I really look forword to seeing you. 
You worm my heart.  
I love having you come to my class room.  
With love….

 Chester is gathering a collection of straight-from-the-heart drawings from his kids. Pencil sketched golden retriever masterpieces  ~~  We treasure each one. 

California Earthquake Drills

California Earthquake Drills

We weren't  in 3rd grade for more than 10 minutes...  when the surprise Earthquake Drill began~~ Chester had already enjoyed his "rub my belly and scratch my ears" time  on the floor with Ms. Chase, and we were settling into the classroom schedule for the day.  Oh, and Kai and I had shared our hugs!

Sidenote ~~Ms. Chase is a golden lover, and has been in love with Chester since the day he stepped paw on campus 4 years ago --- and she has been waiting for the day when our grandtreasure, Kai,  would be in her classroom and Chester would perhaps  visit on a regular weekly schedule.  This has been part of the deal each year -- if Kai's teacher would like Chester visits, we would come for regular visits, if not, that was okay too.  Truth be told, Ms. Chase would like Chester to live in 3rd grade furever. 

As I said, we had only been in class a short time, and we were settling in to listen to some "How To" presentations by students....
When……….all of a sudden….. the announcement came over the loud speaker that the school was having an EARTHQUAKE DRILL.  This means duck and cover under the desks until the coast is clear.  Immediately the students stopped what they were doing, scattered, ducked under desks and tables, covered their necks and waited quiet-as-a-mouse.     Chester and I, of course, ducked and covered too, though his hiney and tail stuck out a lil’ bit from beneath his 3rd grade desk. (pretty sure mine did too :) )

It was soooooooooo quiet.  

A minute passed.
And then...
We were instruected via loudspeaker to line up at the door and head out to the track field. Straight lines, no talking.  Chop Chop.
Chester and I pulled up the rear.
There was a pre-schooler visiting 3rd grade.  He and his Mom were helping 3rd-grade big brother with a presentation. Mom and big brother happened to be outside setting up for  a class presentation when Earthquake drill began.  Pre-School brother was inside  with 3rd grade students.  Little Brother was not so much interested in walking in line out to the playground without Mommy and Big Brother.  
However….you know…. Chester was in 3rd grade too.   

And so…. I handed Little Brother Chester’s leash. “Wanna walk Chester?”  I whispered.

He smiled, took the leash. And off we trotted.

The whole school was lined up in their classroom lines out on the track. It took quite some time for everyone to be accounted for.
Chester lay down, waiting patiently in the 3rd grade line-up. He was counted too.
All students, staff, and D.O.G. were safe and sound.
The horn sounded, and we were free to return to class.
I sort of felt like we bonded that day,  and officially became a part of the school :)

PS  ---   Big Brother and Mom reunited with little brother, and finished setting up their presentation.  Presentation was demonstrating how to pitch a baseball into a huge net. Big Brother is a SF Giants' Fan through and through. And an amazing pitcher.     Chester got to watch, chew on a baseball, CHASE baseballs, and hang out with his Kai AND his 3rd graders, not to mention get a belly rub  and ear massage, and lay quiet under a desk for a whole minute. Life is soooo good in 3rd grade, pawsitively!

Recess for Chester

Last year Chester met a special friend. There are times , and there’s no explainin’ it, when Chester and a special someone have this unique friendship connection.

This special someone happens to be a little treasure with Downs Syndrome. And from the moment these two met, it was love at first site.  It doesn’t matter what Chester is doing, whenever this sweet girl walks through the doorway, he stops what he's doing and trots over to his friend. The two are like magnets. Hugs and kisses abound.  And the way this little blonde cutie pie  says “Tester”…..melts my heart (and his) every time.

During our school day, we have built in recess times for Chester.  In between classes he gets 15 minutes to play and recharge. A little alone time is important for him, when he gives out all morning long inside classrooms.  We do this outside, away from the playgrounds and crowds.
Guess who gets to be my helper on one of Chester’s recess breaks? You guessed right.   It's built right into her Education Plan.  Sooo, two mornings a week Chester and i have a wonderful little helper  ~~ she walks Chester, throws the tennis ball for him, takes him for a short run, gives him a snack, encourages him with kind words,  of course makes sure he has a potty break, and on rainy days wipes his paws, and dries the wetness. She is a superstar at caring for her furry friend.

Today, when it was time for recess, we went to meet our helper.
 She and her Aide were swaying and singing....
“WHO LET THE DOGS OUT??? Woof Woof Woof.”  
Cracked me up. 

This recess time is joy in our day  ~~   No doubt about it.

Habit of the Week - Observation, Gathering Data Through All Senses

As Principal, Mr. B says ---- BE SENSATIONAL LEARNERS!!!
Because some of the best learning takes place when we incorporate all... or most... of our 5 senses,  IT MAKES PAWSITIVELY PERFECT SENSE that Chester's presence in  a classroom can bring increased opportunity to learn.  And a whole lot of fun.

From 1st to 4th grade this week, The Sensational AACA Students learned some amazing facts about Chester.  I did too :) 

Chester's 5 Senses
SMELL: A dog’s strongest sense is his sense of SMELL.  
He  can SMELL 1,000 to 10,000 times better than humans?!   
Wowser Bowser!   

HEARING: Dogs have a great sense of HEARING.  They hear sounds that are too quiet, too high, too low, for people to hear.  (That's why Chester is calmest in a quiet classroom.  That's why Chester can hear fireworks and thunder from far far far away)

TASTE:  To my surprise, this is a dog’s least developed sense. The sense of taste and smell are closely related , this is why foods that are SMELLY taste the very best to them!

TOUCH: This is the first sense a dog develops.  A mommy dog licks her pups and nuzzles them as soon as they are born.  Because a pup is born with eyes and ears closed, touch is their first way of communicating   (Chester likes ear massages and neck rubs the very best!).

SIGHT: A dog’s eyes are made differently than the human eye. Dogs  do not see color as humans do, they see shades of colors in black, white, and gray.  Dogs have great night vision, and side vision~~ much better than humans!  And, humans see distance much better than dogs.

Chester learns best and fastest when I integrate ALL of his senses into the learning process.   
When I use: 
·         My voice – he hears
·         My hand signals – he sees
·         A treat to reward – he smells and tastes  (peanut butter, bacon, fish, are his FAVORITES!)
·         A neck rub and ear rub to encourage and reward –  touch

In each classroom I demonstrated a few command, such as....sit and come. The students watched closely, making sure Chester used all 5 senses in the learning process. 

In one 4th grade classroom, two very brave students made human-bridges so Chester could demonstrate Over and Under.  It took a few tries and a lot of laughter, but Chester eventually remembered these commands like a champ (after incoporating all of his senses)!   (Take a peek at the post 4th Grade Moments  if you'd like to hear the rest of the story in 4th grade...and learn about a flattened cubscout :)  )

The teachers  had some SENSATIONAL writing prompts for their students.  Such as....
·       +  Close your eyes and pet Chester.  Describe how he feels.  Describe how he smells.
·       +Use your 5 senses to describe Chester. 
·       +  Describe a situation in which Chester would need to use his 5 senses.
     It was my delight to listen in as students enjoyed reading their discoveries and ideas to their soft-as-bunny furry friend, Chester.

Habit of the Week ~~ Striving for Accuracy

Strive: to make great efforts to achieve something 
Accuracy: correct, precise, hitting the target

Striving for accuracy is working hard to accomplish my personal best.  Striving for accuracy takes patience, persistence, hard work ~~ as well as a willingness & humility to receive instruction from someone who knows more than I do. 
I thought back to when I was learning to train Chester.  I told the students about my friend named Jill, a dear friend, and superstar dog trainer. 

I clearly remember the day Jill was giving me some tips on how to train Chester to ‘heal’ close by my side.  I had given Chester the  heal command  and obediently my buddy scooted in pretty dog-gone close to me. He had made a good effort and was about  12 inches from my side    I told him “good boy!!!” and started to treat him.

Jill interrupted me, and in a very firm AND calm voice said,  "Wait a minute!" ………”Is that really what you want?  Is he really close enough to you?”

I shook my head, and showed her where I really wanted him.  I really wanted him so close to me that his fur almost touched my leg.  

“Then don’t settle for anything less,” she said, “ask him for his very best….he can do it.”

And so, I patted my leg and told him, “Closer!” After a few trys, and a few failed attempts, Chester at last got it and scooted right next to me in dazzling heal position.

“Yes!” I told him, and treated him.  It was a proud moment for both of us. Actually all 3 of us --Jill included.

I learned much in that moment. About myself. About training Chester. 

Expecting the very best of Chester  has served us both well. It’s definitely harder than taking the 'settle for less' path.  Takes incredible patience, persistence, and hard work, extra time, but, worth it. 

In fact, Learning to Strive for Accuracy  while training Chester to “come” actually saved his life on one occasion.  There was the time Chester saw an –oh-so-tempting- squirrel across the street. He began to chase squirrel.  I saw mini van coming on fast approach. I yelled, "CHESTER COME!!!"  He took a nano-second to look at squirrel and look at me. Thankfully, he chose me. Had we not put in hours of hard work, teamwork, consistency, training   ~~ he probably would not be here today to tell you this success story!

In the classrooms...we talked together how learning for Chester can be such hard work, takes lots of practice, and how he has to try  over and over to get good at something. It isn't always easy for him. We also talked about how Chester's best, does not look like another dog's best --- because dogs are all made differently, so unique, with different strengths and weaknesses! A Basset Hound can not run as fast as Chester --- but both dogs can run their personal best and feel proud of running a great race!

These stories opened the door for students to be courageous, sharing and writing  about things that were hard for them, areas where they needed to Strive for Accuracy.  From math to reading, from riding a bike to ice skating ~~ students shared with Chester how they struggled too....and how they would work hard and practice just like he does.

PS....Just gotta add this 1st grade story.  So, I brought Chester's favorite stuffed squirrel to class. I put the squirrel on one side of the classroom, placing it in a spot where we all could see fuzzy gray squirrel. Chester and I went to the other side of the room.  I began to tell the story..... when I got to the part about Chester seeing the wonderful, amazing, furry, and dazzling, squirrel on the other side of the busy street.....  I kid you not, Chester let out this big ole bark, looked at me, then started trotting across the classroom to get his squirrel.  He is such a silly boy, and a ham. And the kids just love him. Laughter is good for the soul :)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Habit of the Week: Listening with Understanding and Empathy

Listening with Understanding and Empathy ... one of Chester's specialties.

Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Understanding: sympathetic awareness
Listening: Give one's attention to a sound

I thought back to the first time I noticed this incredibly sensitive side to Chester.  How he could sense how people were feeling and be so present with them. 

I told the students about when Chester was just a little pup. Lapsize, probably 12 weeks old, a little bundle of fur! We went to visit our friends who lived down the street from us, Sherm and Jackie.   We walked into their home, and before I knew it Chester had nestled in, right next to Sherm’s chair, leaning into his knee.   Then… Chester  placed his big puppy paws on Sherm’s leg, wanting a boost up onto his lap.  I asked my friend, who was almost 80 years old, how he was feeling.

“Actually, I’m not feeling so well," he explained, " I am having back surgery tomorrow and I am in a lot of pain.”  

Somehow, it seemed that Chester knew……. and remained close to Sherm's side for our entire visit. Often, no words are needed to convey kindness, understanding, and empathy.

From puppyhood to last week.

Last week, Chester and I were in the office, ready to head to 1st grade.  As I often say,  the most meaningful moments can happen while you're on your way....     In walks the school secretary, gently holding the hand of a little kindergartner who was having a very rough start to his day.  We’ve all been there :( . Big ole tears were streaming down his little face, giant sobs erupting.  You know those gasping sounds that leak out when you're crying so hard that you can hardly find a breath...well that's where this little guy was stuck.  

No words seemed to help. No hugs seemed to quiet his pain.

“Would you like to pet Chester?” asked the kind woman holding his hand.

He shook his head, NO...but did not take his eyes off of Chester.

Chester waited. Patiently.  Very close by.     
…..I knelt down next to Chester, and waited.

Slowly the  boy drew closer and placed his little hand atop Chester’s soft furry head.  Giant tears were sliding down his face. Deep sobbing breaths.   He looked so little. And so sad.  He wasn’t much taller than Chester.

 “I ……. h-h-h-a-v-e……a……..d-d-d-o-g-g-g," he sobbed. (It is hard to talk when you are sobbing)

“You do?”  I answered softly.

Chester stood, not moving a muscle…. Except for a gently swishing tail.  

Slowly the tears subsided, breathing calmed.  Whatever was the source of the great sadness, began to fade. Chester's love became bigger. And for the next few minutes, while the entire office staff watched jaw-dropped at this unfolding miracle,  a little boy gently massaged Chester’s head and whispered tales of his own dog at home into soft listening ears.

The sun came out………… tears were dried …… and off we trotted to first grade.

A New Season ~~ School Days

A New Season ~~ School Days
Chester and I have a new assignment. As of January 2017, we are a part of the staff at Almond Acres Charter Academy.  How fun is that?!  We’ve been volunteering in Kai's (granddaughter's) class  since she was in kindergarten. Now here she is in 3rd grade…..where oh where does the time go….and it really is amazing to think we’ve been getting to know students and staff at AACA for almost 4 school years.  Chester is definitely most popular dog on campus --- a kid magnet.

Long story short.  In the fall I met with the Principal, Mr. B.  He invited Chester and me to come on board, and pilot a new program with Chester (registered therapy dog), and me (teacher/ therapy dog handler), working in classrooms on a regular basis, and just being on campus for those unexpected moments where Chester can work his doggie love in a child’s heart.  Mr. B’s vision for his school is honoring the whole child: heart, mind, body, soul.  He thought Chester and I would fit in perfectly. What an honor and privilege for us to be given this opportunity at Almond Acres.

Of course….we felt this was rather like a dream come true. Not only do I get grandtreasure hugs 2 days a week in 3rd grade,  we also are blessed to visit 4 different classrooms each day, from 1st to 4th grade.  What takes place in each classroom looks a little different, but my desire is always to come alongside & support the teacher, enhance learning for the students, and bring a whole lot of joy and tail wags.

Each week Mr. B chooses a Habit of the Week for students and staff to focus on.  Habits such as….integrity, kindness, sacrifice, patience, persistence….   One of the super-fun things Chester and I often do is to teach about these character- building-habits. I tell a Chester story relating to the habit, Chester is the best visual aide ever,  giving an unforgettable-hands-on learning experience.  Students journal about our visit, then read to their furry friend about their thoughts and ideas.  I call it a For Chester, for me, and for the students.

So, that’s our latest news.  Pretty exciting.  As time goes on…I’ll be writing about our school days, and the Habit of the Week as it relates to Chester Tails, I mean Tales.  As always, the teacher learns the most……..and I will be keeping up here, journaling about the nuggets I’m learning, and my days at school. Honestly, mostly, I write so I won’t forget the moments  ~~ but if you’d like to peek in from time to time and keep up with our school days, you are most welcome.

Pet Therapy Information--- I am  registered with my dog, Chester, as a pet therapy team through Alliance of Therapy Dogs,  ATD.   The purpose of ATD visits is to provide service in a volunteer capacity. While under the employment of AACA, I am not volunteering through ATD.  I continue to do volunteer visits in the community and test/observe other pet therapy teams for ATD.