One of my main beliefs about education is that we need to be providing authentic “real-world” experiences for our students and to satisfy this idea, I try to have guest speakers visit my classroom on a regular basis. I often think about how someone from the “field” can provide so much more insight and explanation than I ever could. I truly believe that no matter how much research a person can do, personal experiences can trump research as human beings love to listen to stories. Personal stories evoke emotion and can have so much more of a profound impact.

In my ENG 2PI course, we spent a couple of weeks learning about mental health and the variety of treatments available. As this happened over Remembrance Day, we focused on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and veterans. Through our research, we learned that a treatment that is proving to be quite beneficial is that of using therapy dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD. We did some further research and discovered that organizations here in Ontario were on the forefront of this initiative. We invited Elizabeth Baker from Thames Centre Service Dogs and this morning she came to talk to our class about their work.

What unfolded was more than I could have expected. From the moment she and Oliver (her personal therapy dog) arrived, my students were engaged. They asked deep and thoughtful questions, were an amazing audience, and showed such respect. I was so proud as so often applied level students are seen as the ones who don’t possess these qualities but my students yet again broke the stereotype. She described the roles her dogs play in helping people and in many cases, the dogs are used to help people in extremely heart-wrenching situations. For the whole class, everyone (including me) sat with our jaws on the ground as her stories truly touched our hearts.

The transformation in my students was also amazing. Students who often don’t say anything were smiling and laughing, students who are often quiet and reserved were sharing stories about their own lives and feelings, and students who I can tell have a lot of pain in their lives were comforted and relaxed. I wish I could say the reason for this was something I did, but the truth is that it was Oliver who gave these wonderful feelings to the students. What he gave to my students as human beings was more than I could ever have done in class today.

It speaks volumes as to why it’s crucial to give these students authentic experiences that are about life…

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4 thoughts on “Authentic Experiences

  1. This is a wonderful post, Jamie! In a world of carefully crafted and assessed “expectations” it is wonderful to read, “What unfolded was more than I expected.” Isn’t that a wonderful feeling?

    I would like to push on your story a little bit more and wonder aloud how we might challenge the assumption that our classrooms can not be “real” and “authentic” places every single day that students and teachers cross the threshold.

    You have spoken about students that are normally quiet and reserved becoming animated and talkative—sharing their own stories of who they are—authentically.

    So what conditions did this experience create in your learning environment that aren’t usually there? Other than the obvious addition of Elizabeth and Oliver, what was different about today? Was it just the presence of your visitors? I suspect that you were successful in opening up this space in a different way. But how?

    Stephen

    1. Hi Stephen,

      I like that you are pushing my thinking.

      In many ways, I try to make my classroom a “real” and “authentic” learning space, but I’m not confident that it happens in other classrooms. I also feel that this is a culture shift in terms of thinking and there are many times that I get push back from the students because I’m not “doing school” like the other teachers.

      In terms of the learning environment, I feel that much of the change was from their visit. I try to make my classroom a place where students feel comfortable to share and learn, but I think the fact that they were able to cuddle with Oliver was a key factor. I think that my students tend to share a lot more since we talk about issues that are relevant to them, but I’m not sure that I could evoke the same feelings as Oliver did. Just seeing their faces when he came over to them was not something I’ve seen from them except when we were watching Dogs of War.

      Perhaps, though, my next direction is to do something about animals as it obviously struck a deep chord with many of them.

      Thanks for pushing me 🙂

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