Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why Aren't American Schools More Like Dog Training School?

I took my toy poodle, Lucy, to puppy kindergarten many years ago when she was a curious young puppy. The trainer worked with each of us "Dog Mommies" and taught us to focus on our pup's strengths, not to compare our dog's abilities to other dogs, and to continuously praise their efforts! She also let us know that not all the pups were destined for distinction at the fancy dog shows and that was OK. Some dogs would make great farm helpers, some would be wonderful service animals, and some would just be really sweet companions!

The tennis balls the instructor provided during the course were larger than Lucy's tiny little head.  As you can imagine, this made learning how to "fetch" rather difficult. Instead of insisting that she learn how to retrieve the ball, we focused on her incredible "dancing" skills; Lucy had a natural inclination to walk on her hind legs. The instructor showed me how to turn this seemingly useless behavior into a "dance" that she could perform on command.  Her dancing often earned her treats or an affectionate pat on the head.

Unfortunately, I was scheduled to be out of town on business and couldn't make it to the very last class, which was graduation day. I stopped in before I left for my trip to explain the situation to our instructor. I expressed how much I loved the class and how well little Lucy was doing. I thanked them for teaching ME how to teach my dog. Then, I said "I don't actually think dog training school is for dogs at all, I think it is for the parents!" At that moment, the instructor smiled knowingly and said "You have graduated, let me get you a certificate!"

Today, as I passed a local dog training school, I recalled this great experience of training Lucy all those years ago. Those thoughts led me into thoughts of the training model that the American school system has used for decades. Why aren't our schools more like dog training schools?

We are constantly pushing kids through a one-size-fits-all educational system that doesn't recognize student strengths and try's to convince every single student and parent that college (the fancy dog show) is the only option for success. Schools don't accommodate different learning styles nor do they encourage independence. There is no curriculum that promotes entrepreneurship, nor are there any courses that teach character development skills, which have been proven to be far more useful in the "real world" than educational knowledge alone.

What if your child is a "golden retriever" but is never encouraged to go fetch things? Maybe your child is an "English Bulldog" being dressed in pink sweaters and forced to perform at the dog show. Or maybe your child is like my Lucy who was too small to fetch the tennis ball but loved to dance as a young puppy (she now prefers to herd the goats on our tiny farm). If we had insisted on teaching her to fetch, we may never have discovered her many other talents.

I think it is time we start teaching to our children's strengths and abilities. I think we should encourage them to discover areas in which they excel and praise their efforts and accomplishments. We should set them up for success by realizing that not every student is right for college. We should also support trade jobs, life skills, and entrepreneurship as valid options.

Most of all, I think we should expect parents to be involved so the teachers can teach instead of doing double duty as a disciplinarian or social worker. Strong parenting skills are just as important to a child's educational success as they are to a puppy's training success.  For example, parents should learn that when their child makes a mistake, "rubbing their nose in it" isn't the most effective course of action. Positive reinforcements are far more effective than emphasizing on your child's mistakes.

Dog training was amazing for Lucy, for myself, and for my kids, who also attended. It taught us a great deal... much more than it taught Lucy. Lucy never went to the Eukanuba Dog Show, she never did learn to fetch, and she gave up dancing for herding goats but, she is productive, healthy, and happy. Isn't that really all we want for our children?

Live Inspired Now,
Heather Paris
Inspired Life Coach | Author | Speaker

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