A Meaningful Connection
Last summer, I received a phone call from a student I taught years ago in Monroe. Through a family member and social media, she learned of my involvement in Dogs On Call. She is now a third-grade teacher in Brodhead and is finalizing her Master’s Thesis on “Impacts of a Therapy Dog on Student Achievement and Engagement.” After qualitative research, she needed an actual registered therapy dog team to visit her classroom for several weeks. This would test her hypothesis that “a therapy dog can increase reading motivation, encourage students to have a voice, improve behaviors and incentives, and to identify any barriers to an animal in the classroom.” My Pet Partner, Izzie, and I willingly agreed to participate in her project.
Our visits lasted one hour over a five-week period during the fall of 2018.
During this time, we interacted with students through large and small group activities. Examples include I read to the kids, they read to Izzie, they performed Reader’s Theatre, completed a crossword puzzle about dogs, journaled their reactions and emotions experienced during visits, and composed and read a thank you letter to Izzie. During these visits, school counselors, special education teachers, support staff, the superintendent, and principal all observed students and their interactions with Izzie. Parents were also involved as, they consented for their child’s participation and agreed to provide feedback to the teacher about conversations they had with their children on the days they visited with Izzie.
The following conclusions were reached upon completion of our visits.
- Parents’ surveys stated that their child was excited to be part of the therapy research program, while two students who were apprehensive about interactions with a dog were very eager to visit with Izzie by the end of the experience.
- In the classroom, positive feelings increased (via emotional check-in data) on days that Izzie visited.
- The teacher found smiling faces and readiness to learn significantly increased when kids knew it was “a dog day.” These feelings would continue into following days.
- Pre- and post-visit journals found a willingness to write lengthy reactions compared to a one- or two-sentence summary on previous entries. Some students indicated that the dog helped them to focus better during learning, while some wrote about missing their own dogs and how the therapy dog made them feel better about school and themselves.
- Several shy students gained confidence to speak up in the small group setting and showed no hesitation to read aloud.
- Three at-risk students achieved significant social, emotional, and academic improvements during the visits.
These gains were further substantiated by school counselors and the principal.
I’m sure most of you are not surprised by these findings. However, being part of “the discovery process” and being able to share Izzie for testing purposes was very validating, rewarding, and warmed my heart.
Our classroom connection continues
This experience was to last five weeks, but our classroom connection continues. We now visit the classroom monthly and our relationship deepens. It will be sad to have the school year end, but knowing that Izzie and I played a small part in helping a former student complete her thesis as well as providing positivity to 21 third graders reminds me of why I’m thankful to be part of Dogs On Call. You just never know what kind of connection you and your Pet Partner may experience in your therapy journey.
Article by: Todd & Izzie