Reflection: being a rescue dog foster carer

At the start of 2017 we entered into the world of foster caring for charity rescue organisation Labrador Rescue in Australia. I had been lobbying for a second dog for awhile to keep our boy Bear company but my partner was adamant we are a one dog family. This was a good compromise for us to both help out dogs in need and give Bear some company.

The rewards have been really positive for us. Although at times it has been challenging (scheduling medical appts, managing special diets, fear of people), it has been an immensely rewarding experience. My partner marvels at the fact that in under 2 years I went from never owning a dog to taking in traumatised fosters.

Throughout 2017, we had 6 dogs come to us from pounds or direct surrenders and all were rehomed with new families.

1. Mary – was our very injured, very traumatised “Christmas miracle” rescue. She was less than 2 yrs old and was on to at least her third litter when she was dumped at the pound, pregnant. She was going to be euthanised but a lab rescue carer collected her at the last minute despite the fact she had no lab in her at all. She had her puppies and had lots of complications. When we got her she had massive holes the size of my fist in her stomach and was absolutely terrified of everything – noises, cars, doorways, people, other dogs….everything. She spent 2.5 months getting physically well with us (including daily vet visits for the first month!) then another 2 months in intensive training to help her socialise with dogs and has been with her new owner for 6 months now. She is now known as “Midget” because her new sister is so big! Mary was probably our most well known foster as she had huge vet bills (over $20 000) so there was a lot of fundraising to help her and her puppies out. She also had to go to the vet A LOT and all the nurses loved her and the progress she made. They still ask us about her now.

2. Basil – is a fully accredited assistance dog now and graduated from his training school at the Bathurst Correctional Centre in September. He is now the constant companion for a navy veteran with PTSD.

3. Murphy – now know as Marley. She was with us for 2 months with severe pain from dental rot and other medical issues. She was 11 years old and had been a backyard breeding dog. The vet had to remove 27 teeth, multiple lumps and desex her. I desperately wanted to keep her but it wasn’t fair with our back steps being so steep and her arthritis starting to show. She was always the smiliest dog, even when in immense pain, and now has a wonderful home with an older dog to play with and young kids to snuggle up to. She was rehomed to WA and her new owners flew all the way over here to collect her, then drove her to Sydney and flew home with her.

4. Willow – only had a short stay with us. She was a private surrender which unfortunately means they often avoid mentioning behavioural issues. Willow needed some intensive training to be able to socialise with other dogs but has now been rehomed successfully. She’s the only dog we have ever had who could work out the genius kong toy!

5. Frankie – awwwww my baby boy. Only 9 months old, he was a CRAZY energetic lab x kelpie. He was or first pound dog and had overstayed his euthanasia date by 6 weeks….it was obvious the pound staff had fallen in love with him. He went to live with a lovely couple in Sydney and spends every weekend at the beach with his foster sister Boo.

6. Denzel – our most recent 8.5yr old foster who got the nickname greybeard. We had Denzel for over 2 months and in that time he improved a lot. Denzel had an intense fear of men when he first arrived. From the first three days where he dug a hole in the yard and stayed in it to being able to approach strangers, learning how to use a dog door and happily accepting pats from new people – he came a really long way in a short period of time. He was one of our more challenging fosters because he maintained his fear of my partner the whole time which made simple things (walking, feeding, playing) really hard to introduce. Denzel was also rejected by more than 15 homes before the perfect applicants applied to adopt him. Since going to his new home, his ongoing improvements have been remarkable and he adores his humans and his foster brother Max.

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Learning Activity: writing journals

Level of Blooms: Understanding, Applying (may lead to evaluating down the track)  

How I would use this strategy in the classroom:

Description

Create a list of story starters. Each week, cut one out and paste them into a student’s “writing journal”. I made journals from 8c exercise books with a colouring in sheet stuck on the front for early finishers. Spend some time at the start of the lesson talking about the prompt and then encourage students to write in response to it. Prompts can vary from imagination based creatives to persuasive pieces to dialogue based pieces to factual writing. It’s up to you! If you have more advanced students you can ask them to respond to a visual or musical prompt as well.

This can be used as a writing development task on its own, however I used it as an assessment and at the end of the term asked students to choose their three favourite pieces and respond to prompts on why they were their favourites. This then made up their creative submission (writing + rationale) for the semester and almost entirely removed the “but I can’t write creatively” response from students who view writing as a chore.

Differentiation

Students can use a simple story starter or structure. When using this with a mixed level group I have used a persuasive writing starter for all kids and then asked some to write in full sentences and others to list for points instead. I have also adjusted the story starter based on the student, although this can prove to be more time consuming for the teacher.

This activity can easily be done by hand (cut out prompt, stick in an exercise book) or in a google doc if that’s your teaching preference.

Example Topics:

Any topic can be used and there are entire blogs and websites devoted to “story starters”. The example at this link (and in the image below) was based on our class work and the prompt was for them to envision a day in the life of our class project – a giant fibreglass cow! https://lakegarchibullprize2017.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/creative-cotty-work-short-story/comment-page-1/

Reflection: teaching the trauma brain

This is all a little bit new to me. From my background in working with neuroscience experts in 2010/11, I knew a little bit about how trauma impacts on the brain – but not enough.

My new teaching role involves working with traumatised young people in a school setting. This week has involved a lot of “quick reads” after an event, comment or incident to try and understand what’s happened and why. Why did the young person react that way? What could we have done (if anything) in the lead up to prevent it? What did we do when it happened to manage it? What can we do next?

I am in no way an expert on this. In fact, I’m barely even a beginner. But I wanted to share some of the most useful resources I have found this week, and the lesson that has resulted from each resource.

1. Relationships are the most important thing in this environment.

2. Trauma absolutely impacts on the brain. Research is very clear on this. These impacts then effect learning quite significantly – both intellectually and socially

https://www.elc-pa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Trauma-Informed-in-Schools-Classrooms-FINAL-December2014-2.pdf

3. Children who have experienced trauma are in a constant state of stress. This is something that is very difficult to manage in a mainstream school where attendance is 6-7hrs a day, classes have different teachers, timetables change daily and there can be 30 kids in a room. Routine, consistency and meeting basic needs is essential before learning can even be considered.

Reflection: changing schools as a teacher 

Yesterday was my last day working at a public school in the ACT. My new role will be at an independent, not-for-profit, specialist school working with students who struggle to engage with standard education structures. I am so excited to move in to this new role, which will be immensely challenging but also immensely rewarding. 

I was at my school for 2 years. Before that I worked at a uni and before that I was at a school in a different state for 3 years. That’s quite a lot of change in a relatively short time! I have gathered together some observations and thoughts about the experiences of leaving a school:

1. Farewell speeches are really not my forte. Both school jobs have involved emotional speeches from wonderful school leaders followed by my own awkward words! I’m better at writing my thoughts down than saying them 

2. When I first gained permanency in the ACT I was ecstatic. It was something that was almost impossible to get in WA and not something I ever envisioned in my career plan. I have given up that permanency to take on this role as LWOP was not granted. I feel quite strongly that’s the schools loss as I intend to return to the public system in the future, it’s a real shame that this was not able to be negotiated on the ED end 

3. If you are not happy in a role and nothing is changing – consider moving on. My stress levels were immense, largely due to issues above me, and I was becoming more cynical each day. This was not who I wanted to be as an educator and it was definitely not why I left academia and returned to the classroom! Giving up permanency was scary, but I still feel strongly this was the right choice. I don’t work for money (I don’t work for free either – I know this is a touchy subject for educators), I teach because I have a passion for it. I am also very lucky to have a partner who supports this ethos and is able to back my decisions both morally and financially 


4. Even if you don’t see it every day, you make a difference as a teacher. The outpouring of thanks, affection and kind words from some of my most difficult students was both heartwarming and affirming this time around 

5. You can take your work friends with you! When I left WA, I kept in close email and social media contact with a number of people from work. Some have even visited me. When I left the uni, I formed close friendships which culminated in a monthly book club and other regular social events. I’m leaving this school with a number of drinking friends, board game friends and puppy play date friends.

Project update: Archibull Prize Peoples Choice Award nomination! 

In one of my earlier posts, I blogged about how in terms 2 and 3 this year, myself and a number of school staff worked with a group of inclusion support kids to take part in the Archibull Project. The official judges awards will be announced in the next week but we were also selected to participate in the “People’s Choice” award!! Cotty is going to be famous. 

It would be wonderful if you could follow the link below and select UCSSC Lake Ginninderra‘s amazing final work! 🙂 
https://art4agriculturechat.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/pick-your-favourite-archie-and-help-the-school-win-the-2017-archibull-prize-peoples-choice-award/


P.S. Cotty has also been asked to take part in the schools arts showcase this week which is a wonderful representation of the truly diverse and inclusive environment that can be fostered with a senior secondary school. 

Reflection: Young Diggers Dog Squad graduation 

Something you may not know about my family is we are foster carers for Labrador Rescue. We have been doing it for around a year now and it’s one of the most challenging but rewarding things I have participated in. We have had six doggies come into our home so far, varying in age and background. Some have come with significant trauma (injury, abuse, fear), some have been too boisterous for their owners to manage and others have come with no known history. All have been wonderful dogs. Five have found excellent new forever homes with the sixth (Denzel – pictured below) taking some extra time to settle before we search for his new home due to his fear of men. 

This post is about our second foster Basil. He arrived as a boisterous three year old lab x blue heeler with absolutely no training. Within the first hour he was up on the counters and tables, had snatched food and was determinedly humping our chocolate lab, Bear. He also barked incessantly. Despite all this, he demonstrated extreme intelligence learning basic commands (sit, stay, down) in less than 2 days and was very affectionate towards humans. It was suggested we test him out for the Young Diggers Dog Squad and he passed the entry test! http://www.youngdiggers.com.au/dogs

Basil then spent 8 months living at Bathurst Correctional Centre and training one on one with a specially selected inmate to become an assistance dog. Among other skills, he learnt to turn a light on/off, remove clothing, wake his companion up during disturbed sleep, comfort with closeness, block in public and the list goes on….When he graduated we were invited to attend his graduation! I took a “personal day” from work and drove the 4 hrs to Bathurst. Along with three other LR carers, I spent an extremely emotional and rewarding day meeting correctional workers, inmates and military veterans who are all part of the Young Diggers Dog Squad training program. 

Alongside Bentley and Cookie (both lab rescue candidates) Basil graduated from the training course to live with his veteran, a man who has had PTSD since 1974 and was able to go to a shopping centre for the first time since 1976 this month….with Basil to keep him calm. Another veteran shared his story about not having night terrors for the first time in 20 years since his therapy dog came to live with him. We also met the first female veteran to receive a dog through this program. As she tried to share her story, she was unable to continue and her newly handed over dog put his head on her lap for comfort…I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room st that point. There were many other similar heart wrenching stories. I cried, along with everyone else in the room, each time a veteran or inmate shared their personal story. The tissue box was doing the rounds! The veterans and inmates were so thankful to Lab rescue for changing their lives, but their actions have also changed these beautiful rescue dogs lives. It is just such an amazing program for everyone involved. 

Thanks Lab Rescue and Bathurst Correctional Centre for the opportunity to attend such a humbling and rewarding experience. I have included some photos below of Basil’s graduation. Please note any identifying features have been blacked out to protect the privacy of both veterans and inmates. 

If you are interested in finding out the foster carer requirements for lab rescue, check out this link: http://www.labrescue.com.au/become-a-foster-carer.html

Fun: Creating cool lab coats

Combing science, art and humour for our school open night earlier this year led to a huge demand for these hand decorated lab coats. Students were arguing over who got what, making special requests and wearing them with pride.

A big shout out has to go to my colleagues Sarah who came up with the idea and Linda who put her artistic talents to great use!

This is me, modelling my favourite 🙂

lab coat