A teacher is someone who shapes not just the mind, but the character of an individual. He is non-judgemental, kind to all, and a great listener. They awaken joy in the students with their presence. And, that’s exactly what Boomer – a four-legged teacher is doing in a school.
Yes, you got that right! A dog is a teacher in a school.
Boomer is a therapy dog in a non-profit elementary school in the US.
When you walk down a hall in one of the George Lucas Educational Foundation schools in US, you may meet the therapy dog, Boomer on your way.
Originally, there were doubts about having a therapy dog in our educational centres, but now Boomer is one of the most popular staff members for his ability to improve many factors of social and emotional learning (SEL).
In education, it is necessary to teach social and emotional skills – they really do help students progress academically.
Boomer has achievements like, to stop a child’s tears in a class, help a school-phobic pre-schooler walk into school with great excitement, restore an anxious student back to normal, ease examination tension, and bring smiles to everyone he comes across.
When the officials first considered getting a therapy dog in school, there were many questions and concerns.
So, before Boomer was brought to the school, the administration did an experiment with the high school’s therapy dog, Violet, and found her presence in the school to be extremely advantageous to the students.
For instance, Violet would come into the English class while students were reading, and the teacher would notice that the students were visibly more relaxed when she was present and that they were more confident while reading.
Researchers strongly support the benefits and values of therapy dogs in schools. Studies show that therapy dogs can:
- Reduce stress levels
- Increase levels of dopamine and serotonin (happy hormones)
- Improve physical and mental well-being
- Decrease anxiety and nervousness
- Dramatically increase positive mood
- Ease social isolation
- Help children learn social and emotional skills
- Help junior readers gain confidence
Boomer joined the school at the beginning of the academic year, after all his vaccines had been given to him.
Boomer has a daily routine to go to a 20-minute Morning Meeting a day, covering each classroom. He also visits classes at times when a teacher requests his presence.
Students can also request time to spend with Boomer when they feel low in the presence of the guidance counsellor, one of the two handlers.
Boomer is always excited to greet everyone each day. He is friendly and unbiased and kind to all. His presence assists students struggling with friendship and home issues, anxiety, and other problems.
Students visibly look calm, relaxed and at ease while petting or playing with Boomer. The ones with low self-confidence seem to open up around Boomer.
The handlers have taken great measures to educate and train the students and faculty on how to approach and communicate with Boomer.
It is mandatory for all students and staff members to watch a slideshow that explains Boomer’s role and contribution in the school besides how he was trained and how to approach him.
They’re instructed about dogs and their body language, to know and tell if Boomer is stressed, happy, tired, thirsty or hungry.
These lessons and instructions are associated to social and emotional skills we foster in students. They love and respect Boomer, and care about him.
However, dogs are not for everyone.
There are some parents and people who disagree with having therapy dogs at school due to reasonable issues.
They have valid concerns, like immune sensitivity, dog allergies, pet maintenance, and fear of dogs.
Before Boomer was brought in, the school administrations found it important to address these concerns and have an open communication with people.
Additionally, the officials also reached out to schools already with therapy dogs and to dog trainers, and conducted various research on dog allergies and fear of dogs, in an effort to address potential concerns from the beginning.
The school administration has created plans for different ways to accommodate children and adults with fear of dogs.
They may choose to be out of the class when Boomer is present, or they may sit at a desk at the back of the classroom, or we may keep Boomer out of their classroom altogether and let interested children meet him in another classroom.
Some students who choose to sit far away, move closer once they see their classmates interacting and socializing with Boomer.
Within a few class visits, most students will pet him and want to meet him during therapy hours.
For instance, one grade 4 student was very scared of dogs, but she wanted to overcome her fear, and one of Boomer’s handlers worked with her for a few weeks. Now she’ll sit right next to Boomer, writing her notes in her best handwriting.
Parents communicate with the administration about whether they want their child to interact and bond with Boomer and to what degree.
In classrooms with allergic students, Boomer is kept on a leash to be sure that he stays at a proper distance from them, and so far they haven’t had any problems with Boomer being present in a room for up to 40-50 minutes.
It’s difficult for the ones who love dogs to understand that not everyone feels the same way about dogs or animals in general.
No student or staff member has to interact with Boomer. The ones who wish to stay away learn to be respectful of him, and the administration respects their wish to not be near him.
Boomer’s impact on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has been significant and notable.
His presence has an instant calming effect. Students more easily share their issues and feelings with guidance counsellors, for example, and shy students open up and come out of their shell.
The pros of having a dog therapist at school has definitely outweighed the cons.
Usually, lessons are taught by teachers, but in Boomer’s story, the teacher is the lesson.
Share this beautiful story with all the dog lovers out there 😊