They Still Can

“They can’t write sentences.” I was completely stunned by this statement. Sitting in a meeting with other teachers, the group was talking about the challenges our students were facing due to Covid. Now admittedly, I had only seen these students several times since March of 2020, but still, really? And, well, they already had. In the library I had been working with the third graders on research skills. Each student wrote sentences with a range of sophistication, but all within the realm of early third graders. Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe I had not read closely enough over their work, perhaps only some had written sentences. And of course, we were still in the beginning of the unit, so all of the students were working together with me studying the same topic, Big Ben, on Pebble Go. Perhaps I was not seeing clearly enough.
I spoke with the teacher who made the comment and shared my experience. They were surprised and encouraged. Their own experience was that when asked for work students were not producing. So I checked in with the teacher from the previous year, who affirmed that they absolutely could write sentences. Yes, there were some things that were not studied in the usual depth last year but the basic skills were firmly covered.
I continued with the unit, and in the second half each student chose their own topic on PebbleGo to research. They pulled five facts in their own words and then wrote sentences from the facts. We stressed that the notes should not be in full sentences, thus helping to prevent them from copying the text word for word, and then we talked about pulling the information together into their own words. This is hard, not just because it is a hard skill, but the reading level on PebbleGo is low enough that the sentences are simple and straightforward. How many ways can you actually say an animal can grow to be a certain weight? The students then worked to organize their sentences into paragraphs, which they needed substantial support with, but that is to be expected at this point in their development.
I write all this not to brag, although let’s face it, I am always thrilled when students work hard and achieve their goals, but to remind us not to make assumptions about student abilities. We have spent so much time in my school around trauma-informed teaching, making sure that we are sensitive to student needs. I think we may have forgotten that stretching, struggling and then achieving is also a student need. Students didn’t write this in the library because I was a better teacher, this particular teacher is outstanding and always in demand. I think it just never occurred to me that they couldn’t do the work. And students so often rise when they know people believe in them.
This is not to discount the difficulty of the virus for everyone. We are all struggling all the time. It is because of this that these self affirming triumphs are so important. The students were just so proud of themselves and their work. Every single one wanted to take it home to share with their parents. What I learned from this is to constantly check my own lens around what students can and can’t do. To remember that even in challenging situations and maybe because of them, student achievement and the self confidence this produces is another layer to trauma informed teaching.


Research Project

on goals for twenty-twenty, too

It is a new year and my name just popped up on the blogging calendar so I guess it is time for a new post. Now, for most of my 57 years on this planet new years has been a time for me to wipe the slate clean, purge my emotional (and actual) clutter, and lurch enthusiastically into the new year with clear eyes and a fresh new attitude.

Honestly, though, this year I’m struggling a bit. I don’t want to be, as can be my wont, Mr. Davey Downer, but at the same time sitting down at my laptop and tapping out a super optimistic, “Our library is so awesome!!! Life is so awesome!!! We’re doing so awesome!!!” would probably just read, to many, as another #ToxicallyPositive #HowToBeAnEDUCelebrity post.

In the words of Charles Munger, “The first rule of a happy life is low expectations. That’s one you can easily arrange. And if you have unrealistic expectations, you’re going to be miserable all your life.”

So… In the year 2022 which, to me, is feeling a little more twenty-twenty, too… than I’d hoped here’s the short skinny on our immediate and medium term goals for the new year…

1 Fling the Windows of the Library Open Every Morning!

I got a little ahead of my self at the end of last year and thought that things in Libraryland (and, well, across the land…) would be returning to normal “early in the new year!” #Yay! Now that those dreams have been dashed by the Omicron variant, I’ve had to reset my mindset. Disappointing as it may be (to me, but hey, I’m pretty sure it’s disappointing to everyone on the planet…), when I work at it I can find things that help me to find my new equilibrium.

I am blessed to work in a library with old-school windows that ACTUALLY OPEN!!! I am blessed to live in a place where it is 73º outside on this January 6th so as soon as I get into the library in the morning, my first order of business is to fling open the windows of the library! #VentilationIsOurFriend!

On good mornings, I imagine myself singing to the wildlife like Cinderella, but on other days I just grunt and try to get it done quickly so that I can get my cup of coffee. #PandemicLifeHasItsUpsAndDowns

My library assistant wasn’t super pleased, yesterday, when the bird flew in and hung out in the library, but you know life is trade offs and sometimes we just gotta look over, see that there’s a bird in the library, shrug twice, and then write about it on Twitter. #WhatchaGonnaDo?

Mask on. Windows Open. Coffee in hand. Let the day begin!!! LOL!

2 Upgrade our Masks…

If you and your library staff haven’t “upgraded” from cloth masks yet, you might consider making a change. I started wearing KN95 masks about a year ago. There are, apparently, quite a few counterfeit masks that don’t truly meet the KN95 (or similar) standard. Here’s the thing, sometimes knowing how to SEARCH and EVALUATE aren’t truly enough to know with certainty that the masks you purchase are the real deal, but all we can do is look for recommended manufacturers from typically reliable sources and do the best we can. #RealLifeIsHard

While we’re at it. If you are having trouble wearing your KN95 all day, you might want to look into getting ear saving mask extenders. There are many options and types. I’ve tried many. I like extenders that are adjustable and that are made of elastic fabric. I’ve found that they have the added benefit of allowing me to pull my masks more securely to my face so, I’m hoping, that it helps create a better fit for my masks as well.

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3 Build Weighing of Arguments into the Curriculum…

On the curriculum front, we’ll be looking to build weighing arguments into our curriculum. In the first semester, we pushed really hard on systematically introducing SIFT to all of our frosh and as many 10th-12th graders as we were able to reach. SIFT is great for on-the-fly, quick-and-dirty, real-world source evaluation, but IT’S JUST THE START of good source evaluation. I’ve come to believe that our content area teaching faculty do a really good job with the teaching of deep reading strategies in their various content areas, but sometimes students need some explicit scaffolding/frameworks that we can use to activate the appropriate strategies in a given context.

This is, exactly, what SIFT does. Our students know how to search. Our students know strategies for learning about the person/organization that’s posted something online. When they’re looking for statistics on the percentages of people vaccinated in the hotel industry in Hawaii for a class activity, they don’t always think to apply that knowledge on-the-fly in that moment so it helps if a teacher can shorthand the strategies with, “Where’s that statistic from? Did you SIFT the source?”

I’m noticing that we need a similar scaffold or framework for the weighing of arguments so that students can better contextualize the data and arguments that they come across as they search. In debate classes, we call this “weighing the debate.” The Middle School Public Debate program teaches has a nice streamlined framework that works well:

  • Magnitude: Severity of the impact.
  • Scope: How many people an impact effects.
  • Probability: How likely an impact is to actually occur.

But there are other sources, like this one from the University of Texas at Austin that bring more nuance to the task:

I’m honestly not quite sure where to go with this, but that’s the goal for the next few weeks.

I hope that this post finds you well! I’d love to hear about your goals for the new year. Please hit the leave a reply button below and let us know!

So… With Charles Munger’s advice in mind, here’s to wishing each of you a Better Than Ambivalent New Year!!! #Yay!!! #LOL!!!

Dropping the ball

Happy New Year?

I don’t know if the start to your January has been anything like mine, but it definitely feels like we’ve been back much longer than… four days? Is that possible? 

There always seems to be a bit of an adjustment period when coming back from a break, but this seems different from the usual adjustment. The spike in Covid cases, the uncertainty, and the fatigue of two years of pandemic teaching and living is… well, it’s getting to me. I’m thinking it might be getting to you.

My school had a professional learning day on Monday, and one of the things we talked about was well-being. We had some great conversations, and one of the major takeaways for everyone I talked to was that we find our work really meaningful and that We. Are. Burnt. Out. 

I don’t have a solution for that (sorry), but the other major takeaway from the conversations I had was that we all found it affirming to know that we were not alone in experiencing this. 

One of the things I was thinking about during these conversations was this great Twitter thread from Jennifer Lynn Barnes, sharing something from Nora Roberts. 

I’ve been trying to carry that idea with me this week, as I try and juggle all kinds of balls. And what I find most useful about this analogy is that it is built on the assumption that YOU WILL DROP BALLS. We all will. And thinking about it this way has made it easier for me to identify which of the tasks on my list are plastic, and which are glass. And knowing that the status of a ball may change from day-to-day.

  • A new January book display? Plastic. 
  • Getting a lesson on evaluating popular science sources done? Glass. 
  • Finding the “just right” image for that presentation? Plastic. 
  • Meditating? Yesterday it was plastic. Today, it’s glass.
  • Finding a place for my parents to get a PCR test? Glass. 
  • This blog post? Was almost plastic (but glad I was able to catch it!)

I have other things I’m working on and wanting to share, but putting them in a form that is comprehensible to other folks is, frankly, a plastic ball right now. Luckily, they’ve already called a snow day for tomorrow, so I might be able to pick up some balls I’ve dropped – the most important one being a good night’s sleep.

Searching with the Sevens

This fall we had the odd experience of orienting the 7th graders to our physical library – giving them the introduction they would have had when they entered the school as 6s had we not been…well, you know. Since we already knew each other somewhat, I had more chance to observe over students’ shoulders as they pursued our “get to know the library” scavenger hunt, which is how I had the opportunity to watch several students search Destiny for [ books about birds ] and come away quite frustrated, telling us we did not have any bird books in the collection.

Very fortunately, the 7th grade dean was able to arrange for an hour for them to learn how search works (which I rarely get to teach anymore) and – when it became clear that the grade-level work they would be doing during our January intersession would revolve around finding “personal narratives” relating to “indigenous peoples and climate change” I was able to get another hour with them. During that class I tried out a lesson plan I’ve been wanting to test drive for more than a decade.

I’m not sure I have ever had two full hours just to teach students about the functioning of search tools and then the functioning of human expression in interaction with the search tools. As usual, I’ll share what I did here in the spirit of asking for feedback or thoughts so that (hoped for) future iterations can be smoother.

The first lesson: How search works

Thanks to the hard work and feedback of my wonderful Research TAs, I was able to pull together a lesson that demonstrates how search tools actually locate information and that involved lots of cat memes. Memes are great for search activities because they have so few words on them – and none of the words is actually “meme.”

The lesson objectives were to:

  • Understand that search tools crawl individual sources and index the words on each page.
  • Use a model index to locate physical sources.
  • Create a search query that will find what you need when you are working with a limited index.
  • Practice rudimentary imagining of sources.

Since I was running this class in one room, while three colleagues (with assistance from my TAs) were running it simultaneously in other rooms, I made both slides and a step-by-step script. There were activities building up to it, but the core of the lesson was pairs of students working together: one was the “searcher,” the other was the “computer.”

A picture of three lesson handouts: A prompt to try to find memes based on a French scientists' paper arguing that cats are a liquid, some samples of student searches for that meme, and an index of the words appearing on a collection of memes about cats being liquids.
Left: The “Searcher” had a secret prompt and search boxes to fill in. Right: The “Computer” had an index of words that appeared in eight different, numbered memes.

The “searcher” got a secret prompt and empty “search boxes” to fill out. The “computer” who – like our real computers – had no earthly idea of the context for the words written in the search box, had this very simple index to work with (but could not show it to the “searcher”). The computer also had small black-and-white printouts of eight cats-are-liquid memes, numbered 1-8 to correspond to the index. They could only see the number assigned each meme, not the meme itself. The “computer” could only return “no results” or a meme identified by the index. Looking at the “searches” on the left and the index on the right, one of the original searches, [french scientist cat memes] must have returned zero results, as three of the search terms do not even appear in the index. However, [cats are liquid] found two memes (numbered 6 and 8) and [cat liquid] found numbers 2, 4, 6, and 8 …  the “searcher” just kept trying until they got a meme result. Then, of course, each pair joyously looked at all eight possible memes and identified why the “computer” had been unable to “find” so many of them (because, of course, they said things like: “Liquid mode activated,” and so could not even be found if the searcher used the word [ cat ] in their query. 

We solidified this understanding by looking at actual search results and highlighting where our search terms showed up – proving that the words we typed in were the ones that search tools were identifying to bring back our results:

Sample search results for [ science cat memes ] – student identified where these search terms appeared in relation to the image of the meme itself.

The second lesson: How language made by humans works

My room got very engaged with the lesson, though I had my usual doubts about if it was all about the memes, or if anything actually stuck. Thus, I was very pleasantly surprised when – two months later – students did retain the big points of the lesson (ok, admittedly, a number of students in the class were individually able to help compile a list of points):

My students recalled these guidelines from the search lesson two months earlier.

For the follow-up lesson I had a harder ask: teach students how to translate the idea of “personal narratives” (a term both students and teachers love) into functional search terms. 

Often, when personal narratives are desired, I teach (older) students to look for [ oral history ] a wonderful context term that has the distinct advantage of describing collections of personal narratives. However, when looking for narratives from individuals from various indigenous communities around the world – particularly on the topic of climate change – we needed a different strategy entirely. I had learned from many years on a project we do with the ninth graders that individuals’ anecdotes that put a human face on “issues” like climate change often appear at the start of newspaper articles and in other, similar formats. My job became teaching the seventh graders to imagine search strategies and search terms to find these types of sources. 

This time, I had the whole 64-person grade in the library at once, and slides were once again in order. We considered the whole range of strategies for finding personal narratives, and trust me that the first two made for a lot of student chatter and example-sharing:

Slide outlining different ways to try and find “personal narratives”

We discussed searching in YouTube for their subject’s name (solution 3A), searching for terms like [ interview ] or [ transcript ] (solution 3B), and then I took a risk and tried a method I had wanted to undertake for years. I handed out excerpts from sources that offered stories from individual’s lives (such as this article or this one or this one), selecting the portion of the source that indicated that such a narrative was about to appear. Once again, I had them read, observe, and highlight. If an article did not use the words “personal narrative,” what words might it use?

Their observations were just phenomenal!

Terms my students identified from sources that contained personal narratives – including several I had never noticed myself! Several new options made my own list for future use.

(BTW: Forgot to say before that my personal favorite way to search for these narratives might look like this: [ farm OR livestock she OR hers OR he OR his OR me OR my OR our OR ours OR them OR they ] and this one when I need life-background information [ farm OR livestock “as a child” ].)

Once again, I am not sure every student got the idea I was going after, but I have rarely seen as many hands in the air and I actually had to cut them off so we could continue with the lesson (which was using Boolean in Google-form and in database-form to try to look for more personal narratives using these terms). We were in the middle of their final project for the year, writing Simple English Wikipedia pages for notable female-identifying individuals. While we would not use personal narratives for writing Wikipedia pages (they are not acceptable by Wikipedia’s source quality standards), the students were pretty excited about their subjects so we used them for search examples. 

I will have to see how their work goes during intersession (which will be virtual and for which I will be assigned to a different grade level), but this series of lessons did appear to offer heartening outcomes.

It was an excellent reminder to me: it is almost never a waste of time to give most of your time to the very, very basic building blocks students need to do research right.

Elf on the library shelf

During the month of December, we welcome Elf back to our Senior School library; a new clue is posted every day, and students are invited to find Elf, take a “shelfie” with them and email it to us a ballot to put into a prize draw.

Sometimes, clues are related to the collection, sometimes we run with a current theme (this year, we borrowed a winning gingerbread house for a day; Elf also found their way into our UV sanitizer (new COVID addition to our space).

In a school of 500, we get dozens of pics each day – the winner this year had submitted one daily, and won a box of Elf on the shelf cereal + $25 gift card for Tim Horton’s. She loved the prize but seemed most excited about the bragging rights!

Library Field Trips

You may remember me mentioning that my new library is on the smaller side. Although, come to think of it, we have managed to have several classes in here over the past months, and the students do love the soft seating I’ve acquired. But I digress.

In light of the eighth grade students starting their National History Day projects, I decided that a field trip to the upper school library was in order. Since the upper school is on a separate campus, this is a complicated undertaking, indeed. But, I decided to go for it.

Here’s my to-do list in case you were interested in organizing a library-based field trip.

  1. Get teacher buy-in. I needed to have teacher support in order to even start the process since this would require curriculum time.
  2. Get administration approval. There was no point in moving forward if I couldn’t get permission to drastically affect the daily schedule for an entire grade over the course of two days. I made sure to stress why it was a unique research experience for the students as well as a great opportunity to become familiar with the upper school campus and resources.
  3. Check the schedule for the other library to ensure the availability of the space and librarian. (I love being part of a team!)
  4. Arrange for transportation. Since my school has busses available, I didn’t have to reserve with a separate company, but I still needed to get our trips on the schedule.
  5. Once details were in place, communicate with administration, teachers, transportation contact, and fellow librarian.
  6. Create schedule and lesson to accommodate for learning and research time.
  7. Confirm the details on the regular in case anything funny comes up (it always does) and revise as needed.
  8. Have lots of caffeine.

All in all, the field trips went off without major hitches. As usual, the first class was a rehearsal for the next two days. I always say that by the last class we will have all the details ironed out. (Lol)

Since I now have a “playbook” for organizing field trips, I’m going to look into taking over other classes to the main campus as well as trying to arrange for my students to visit a local college campus to seeing its library and resources! Fingers crossed.

Student-Led Book Discussions

I’ve tried something new this year, keeping things on the low-key side while trying to simultaneously expand student engagement and reading promotion. In the olden (pre-pandemic) days, our Upper School summer reading was based on a list of books suggested by students, the Summer Reading Leaders (SRLs). Upper School students would choose a book from this list and the SRLs would lead discussions during our orientation week at the start of the year. These discussion groups were either fantastic and highly engaging, or, equally as often I’m afraid, a painful slog for the SRL whose group members had not quite actually read the book. 

For the summer of 2020, full of uncertainty about the following school year as it was, I switched to a Reading Challenge, inspired by fellow AISL librarians. This was a Bingo-style game that included sixteen reading categories to choose from and recognition for achieving levels. One category was recommendations from the SRLs, whom I had already recruited before the year changed so drastically, and who had already suggested books for the 2020-21 summer reading discussions. It also included categories such as “free choice,” “reread a book you’ve already read,” and “book in a language other than English,” recognizing that my students were, at that point, staying put in locations all over the world and might need to keep their reading to what they could already access in their homes or wherever they were. This worked fine. Well, even! There was a lot of participation and engagement, especially from excited new students. However, my SRLs were a little neglected – I never quite got it together to figure out how they could still hold their book discussions, with some classmates in person, some online, and some in different time zones. I think that was a miss on my part.

Going into this year, I still had lots of students who wanted to be SRLs. A few approached me about it before I even put out a call, so I knew I had to do better by them this year and bring back the student-led book discussions. Instead of trying to squish a lot of attendance-required discussion sessions into the same day and subject the SRLs and non-readers alike to those potentially uncomfortable interactions, I worked with the students to schedule their book discussions throughout the school year. While their suggestions were still included as a category in the Reading Challenge that began over the summer, I met with each one to decide on a time of year and date that would work well for them. I published a schedule of these reading group meetings as soon as possible at the start of the year so that interested readers can plan by reading as many of the books as they care to in time for the discussions. The internally published schedule that I printed and posted around campus includes the SRLs’ names, so students see who their reading peers are and can support their friends. The version for Instagram (and this blog) does not include names but does include the dates and titles. 

This has been going swimmingly! Attendance so far has been relatively low, but engagement in discussion is high, as it’s not required and for the most part, only self-motivated readers are coming. As you can see, the book choices are varied, popular, and consequential. I’m proud of these students and how they’ve made an effort to build community around reading in our school. Other students have asked how they can lead book discussions, too. It’s been a small, easy change that fixed something that wasn’t working very well, and it’s made a difference in the enjoyment of the program for my students, and also for me!

I’ve started calling the Summer Reading Leaders “Student Reading Leaders”, mainly to keep the SRL abbreviation I use for my own organizing. It’s not very snappy, so I’m open to suggestions!

The Appendix of Information Literacy

  • No .com websites
  • You must use an article from the New York Times

I still remember seeing these two requirements listed on the same assignment, and wondering how to open a conversation with a teacher about the fact that if she wanted students to use an article from the New York Times, they would have to use a .com website. I don’t think she ever successfully resolved the cognitive dissonance (or revised the assignment requirements). 

  • If a website ends in .org it’s reliable
  • Don’t use Wikipedia – it’s not reliable

These two I’ve heard more times than I can count. From teachers, students, and strangers who find out what I do for a living. I sometimes want to point out that Wikipedia ends in .org. When it’s teachers and students, I try and engage in a more nuanced discussion, but these two beliefs about the reliability of online sources seem to be deeply embedded in peoples’ minds.

  • Check the “About Us” section if you want to learn more about the source and whether or not it’s trustworthy

Will someone who’s trying to manipulate me tell me that on their About Me page?

  • You can’t trust Wikipedia, but you can trust the sources it cites.

This (from a student) was a new one for me, but it seems to be a reflection of a teacher trying to teach students how to use Wikipedia. And it’s such a fascinating takeaway for students to have! How can the sources be reliable, but the content created from them not reliable? How do we connect that to students’ understanding of why we cite sources?

I’ve heard iterations of all these ideas (and more!), and I’m sure you have, too. I am starting to think of them as the appendix of information literacy – they may have served a purpose at one point, but they’re not really helpful now. And, like an appendix, they can cause problems. 

I understand the appeal of these source evaluation shortcuts. The world of information is big, and confusing, and often overwhelming. We want an easy way to decide where to spend our trust and time. But as we all know, there is no real shortcut when it comes to source evaluation.

What’s fascinating to me is the way that these shortcuts get passed down from generation to generation like a form of folk wisdom. Even as I start working with younger and younger students I’m realizing I need to make sure I spend time getting them to talk about their assumptions about sources and how to evaluate them. 

One way I’ve been doing that recently is by asking students to start by thinking about how they evaluate gossip for trustworthiness. The metrics they describe are often *exactly* the kinds of things I hope they’re thinking about as they evaluate sources for research. We can then make those connections as we move the conversation to thinking about how to evaluate sources for their research. Here are some slides with the prompts I used and notes from class discussions in the slides below.

This has been really useful for surfacing and clarifying some of the vestigial understandings they have about reliability. I’d love to hear how other folks are engaging teachers and students in updating their understandings of reliability. 

Comfort Dogs in the Library

Figure 1. Comfort dog and AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate holder Tamar McLean at home. Tamar is a black lab who started life as a Southeastern Guide Dog Puppy in Training.  She was on track to be a guide dog when the pandemic hit and 60 dogs from Southeastern were furloughed.  CD McLean and her husband, who had also been Tamar’s puppy raisers, adopted her back.

Comfort Dogs in the Jean Ann Cone Library

(serving Grades 6-12)

By CD McLean and Courtney Walker

Comfort + Library = Comfort Dogs in the Library

We wanted to give you all an overview of how our dogs in the library program got its start and how it has morphed into something much more complex than what was originally envisioned. So I turned to our Library Director, CD McLean to share the journey of our comfort dog program.

Humble Origins

CD has been the Upper Division librarian at Berkeley Prep School in Tampa, FL for the last 21 years and the library director for 20.  For the first ten of those years, she tried various methods to get the headmaster at the time (Joseph A. Merluzzi) to agree to let her bring her dog to school.  She wrote an opinion piece for the school newspaper on the benefits of dogs at school.  She would email him articles on how literacy improved when children read to dogs.  He was pretty firm in his decision not to have dogs on campus.  

However, one member of the Berkeley Board of Trustees was also on the board of Southeastern Guide Dogs: Bobby Newman. He helped Southeastern start their veteran service dog program and has been a long-time donor to the organization.  At the same time, CD was thinking about how she could incorporate more giving into her and her husband’s lives.  

Years before, she had expressed an interest in Southeastern and becoming a puppy raiser, but her husband said she would never give the puppies back.  So this time, CD gave her husband two choices: become a puppy raiser or go on a medical mission to Haiti.  Fred, who was at heart a dog lover, picked Southeastern. Once they had that decided, between CD bringing in a Southeastern representative and Bobby talking about all the good work Southeastern and their dogs do, it was a pretty easy yes for the headmaster.  

Eleven years and eleven puppies later, CD and Fred had adopted back several of their former puppies.  In particular, Tamar was certified with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and she and Slater have earned their AKC Canine Good Citizen certification.  After eleven years of puppies, CD was looking for something a little calmer. Tamar was an exceptional dog who was on track to make it as a guide dog, according to her trainer. Tamar was well known at school and loved by the students.  She has a special knack for picking out students who might be having a stressful day.

With that in mind, CD decided to propose the idea of a comfort dog at Berkeley. A dog who would be available all the time to students.

Certifications/Qualifications of Handler

CD McLean has been raising and training Southeastern Guide dog puppies for over 10 years. Last year,  CD was inducted into Southeastern’s Puppy Raiser Hall of Fame. For the last two years, she has also been a puppy kindergarten teacher for Southeastern, which involves running a six-week course for new puppy raisers on how to train and socialize their puppies.  In addition, she has been asked by Southeastern to be a dog assessor for their Basic Skills Training Assessment (BSTA) program where guide dog puppies in training are evaluated for readiness before they go back in for training to Southeastern. 

About Tamar and Slater

Tamar was on her way to being a guide dog when the pandemic hit.  She and 59 other dogs were furloughed.  Her trainer told McLean that she was on her way to be a guide dog if not for Covid.  Here is one of the last comments from her trainer on her abilities:

Tamar has made a lot of improvement, especially with her obedience. She is sitting and laying close rather than pulling back to sit or laying out to the side. She is a very trainable dog who loves to learn and loves to do well. She is just a love of a dog…so affectionate and fun!

Slater is also a former Southeastern Guide Dog puppy and spent a year at Berkeley while McLean and her husband were raising him.  He was dropped from consideration for being a guide dog because of anxiety and a dog distraction, but at Berkeley he is able to take away a student’s anxiety just by being cuddled.

Figure 2. An Upper Division Student Chills with Slater.

Tamar is a former guide dog in training, meaning she was on our campus for a year with our students.  Tamar quickly gained a reputation for being very empathetic.  Her favorite thing to do was to walk around the library and pick out the students she thought were stressed.  She would go over and lay down next to them for some belly rubs or, sometimes, if it was convenient, she just climbed right up into their laps.

Figure 3. Ross was having a tough day so Tamar curled up in his lap.

Recommendation from rising senior Kellen Furmaniak:

“Tamar was the sweetest puppy I’ve ever met! It was my first year at Berkeley in 9th grade and I was pretty shy since the Berkeley atmosphere was extremely different than the other ones I had been familiar with. I would spend most afternoons waiting for my Dad in the library while sitting in the bean bags alone, and next thing I knew, I had a round plush cow next to me with Tamar’s happy face and wagging tail pointing straight towards me. I remember how gentle she was with her toy and how she would lean into me when I gave her pets, all while holding that plush. She brought me so much joy in my first year and was the most amazing puppy ever!”

Figure 4. Baby Tamar at a puppy palooza at school.

Tamar has attended three exam week puppy paloozas.  The puppy paloozas were all extremely well attended by grades 9-12.  Counselor Landau said that students asked when the puppies would be back on her Stress Less surveys.

Figure 5. Tamar was a big napper and she often helped stressed out high school students to relax enough to sleep.

Figure 6. Tamar just loves to be loved.

Berkeley graduate Rajshree Chettiyar had this to say about Tamar:

“It is no secret that Mrs. McLean’s guide dog puppies attract a lot of students to the library for lunch or after school playtime. While the pretense of those visits may seem light-hearted, most of these students come to momentarily forget their stress or anxieties relating to school and beyond. Thus, having a designated therapy dog would be so valuable for the Berkeley community who can now confidently walk into Mrs. McLean’s office without feeling like an intrusion or fearing rejection if the puppy has their coat on. Having worked with Mrs. McLean and her guide dogs closely, it is without a doubt that all her puppies are friendly and sweet. Even so, there isn’t a better dog to recruit as a therapy dog than Tamar. Having known Tamar since she was a puppy, she has grown into such a confident and loving dog. She loves pets and gives plenty of kisses but seldom gets over-energetic or rowdy which is an important trait for a therapy dog. Tamar’s composed demeanor makes her a perfect candidate for a therapy dog, especially for students who are not well-acquainted with dogs. Tamar is a very confident and empathetic dog who stays calm and sweet in most situations, but can also show her goofy side when she knows the student is comfortable and happy around her. This duality is priceless in a therapy dog, and with her added experience in the Berkeley community, there is no better candidate for a therapy dog than Tamar.”

About Certification

This fall, Tamar and Slater were tested for the AKC Canine Good Companion Certification (CGC). They both passed on their first try.  The AKC CGC assesses the following things:

  • Being accepting of a nice stranger
  • Sitting politely while being petted
  • Standard grooming and appearance
  • Walking on a leash
  • Being around a crowd
  • Sitting and staying on command
  • Coming when called
  • Reacting suitably to distractions (“Helping Students Deal with Stress and Anxiety”)

In addition to being able to do the above items, Tamar’s temperament was also evaluated at Southeastern.  She was 

  • Able to remain calm in difficult or stressful environments (she has been through several fire drills with no problems)
  • Capable of being around other dogs and/or animals (she is a very dog-friendly dog, she is not distracted by birds, lizards, etc.)
  • React well to distractions (she is calm in the presence of distractions)
  • Isn’t bothered by older adults and younger children (Tamar loves adults, but in particular, she loves all ages of children) (“Helping Students Deal with Stress and Anxiety”)

Tamar has also been certified as a therapy dog with Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD).  

Mission Statement

The mission of Berkeley Preparatory School’s comfort dog program is to offer love and support opportunities for motivational, educational, and/or therapeutic benefits to enhance a student’s quality of life.  

A study at the University of Ottawa found that therapy dogs unequivocally offer love and support to students.  Love was understood as having reciprocal love for dogs and gaining a positive feeling from visiting them.  Support was understood as de-stressing and relaxing from interacting with the dogs and to a much lesser extent with the handlers (Dell, Colleen et al). 

Benefits to Students, Faculty and Staff

Hundreds of universities around the country have launched pet therapy programs for students since 2005, when the first colleges and universities set up programs.

Berkeley’s AP Psychology teacher and clinical psychologist Dr. Michelle Barrett had this to say about having a therapy or emotional support dog (ESD)  on campus for students: 

For me, the most convincing evidence in support for an ESD is how petting these dogs actually brings about physiological changes, particularly when stressed or anxious. Research consistently supports a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure when petting an animal. Even more significant is the documented reduction in cortisol levels (stress hormone) and increase in oxytocin (feel good/social connection hormone). This is really strong evidence that there can be a decrease in stress/anxiety and a mood boost, potentially for depression/loneliness, simply by petting a dog. There are very few interventions that are this simple, fast, and effective.

Some resources she recommends:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5400290/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5400290/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190715114302.htm

Our UD Counselor Tiffany Landau was also supportive of having Tamar on campus for students.  Landau and our other UD counselor Michele Khalife run the Stress Less Week which is the week before Thanksgiving.  It is a week of fun activities such as meditation, yoga, etc. for students to do during lunch to take some of the pressure off of them.  Landau mentioned that there were many responses to her surveys on Stress Less Week where students asked when the puppies would come back for exam stress relief.  McLean has worked with the counselors in prior years to create an event called Puppy Palooza, which is held on the Friday of BRAK week.  BRAK stands for Berkeley Random Acts of Kindness.  This week occurs on the week after Thanksgiving and before final exams.  For puppy palooza, McLean sent an email to area puppy raisers with Southeastern Guide Dogs to come to school on that Friday from 10-2 pm. We also provide them lunch.

Figure 7. Poster advertising the puppies that will be at the Puppy Palooza

Having a dog on campus isn’t just for stress. Inside Higher Ed recently published their analysis of a recent report on at-risk students: 

“College students who were at risk for failing and who spent more time with therapy dogs over the course of a four-week academic stress management program were more likely to experience improvements in their executive functioning skills, such as time management and coping techniques, than students who spent less time interacting with the dogs, found a study published in the American Educational Research Association’s journal, AERA Open.”

“It’s a really powerful finding,” said Patricia Pendry, associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development. “Universities are doing a lot of great work trying to help students succeed academically, especially those who may be at risk due to a history of mental health issues or academic and learning issues. This study shows that traditional stress management approaches aren’t as effective for this population compared with programs that focus on providing opportunities to interact with therapy dogs.”

Yale Law Library was one of the first universities to start a therapy dog program to help with law student stress. The culture of the Yale Law Library is similar to the Jean Ann Cone Library in that the library has a culture of creating community with its users. Like the Cone Library checking out frisbees during sunny days, the Yale law library checks out games and, wait for it, their therapy dog (Aiken; Aiken and Cadmus; Xu; Prihar).

Librarians at the Yale Law Library sought to fit into the architectural concept of the “3rd space:” which is a place where people come, not for the purposes of living (1st space) or working (2nd space), but rather for some other purpose like studying or research, socializing or just enjoying themselves  (Aiken; Aiken and Cadmus; Xu; Prihar).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) study found that having a dog present in the classroom promotes a positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body. Petting a dog lowers the blood pressure and heart rate. Pet therapy lowers the body’s stress hormones like cortisol and increases oxytocin. It found that a therapy dog session calms students and helps to keep anxiety in check. 

Interacting with a therapy dog has a social catalyst effect which leads to increased stimulation of social behavior. In essence, it helps students develop a greater capacity for empathy. The NIH found that “the presence of a dog in an educational setting seems to support concentration, attention, motivation and relaxation reflecting the reduction of high-stress levels which inhibit effective learning and performance. (Mulvahill)”

Berkeley rising junior Katie Dann certainly found that having a dog at school was a great stress reliever.

I’ve always found relief in being around dogs. After I got my dog in fifth grade, I learned that for me, there was nothing more stress-relieving than just petting and being around her. When I began my freshman year, I was experiencing pretty heavy amounts of stress and anxiety due to the new environment, rigorous work, and social situations. I was extremely lucky to have made a connection with Slater when I did. During my frequent trips to go visit Slater, I always left feeling calmer and more grounded. His comforting snuggles can always make me feel better. I believe that Slater truly is the best dog for an emotional support dog. He can almost tell whenever I’m stressed and he’ll always respond by giving me a couple of kisses or laying his head on my lap and falling asleep. Slater truly has been one of the reasons I am where I am today. Without his support during those tough days, I could have really struggled elsewhere. His constant love and support for everyone he interacts with is why I think Slater would truly be the most perfect emotional support animal.

In the article “Helping Students Deal with Stress and Anxiety,” the author lists the following benefits of having a therapy/comfort dog in your school:

Mental and Emotional Benefits:

  • Lowered anxiety
  • Decreased loneliness
  • Ease in talking about distressing or troubling events
  • Release of happy hormones, such as oxytocin
  • Lowering of stress hormones, such as cortisol
  • Increased socialization
  • Improved connections with others on campus
  • Increased clarity and focus

Physical Benefits

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Slowing of heart rate
  • Slower, more controlled breathing, especially in those with anxiety

Some thoughts on dogs at school from Berkeley History teacher Scott Saposnik:

It has been said that, “dogs are man’s best friend,” and after this past year of enormous and unprecedented challenges, I cannot think of a better example of how our canine friends are always there for us, in good times, and in bad.  Dogs are the living reflections of our best selves: compassionate, giving, loving, loyal, and always eager and ready to lend a hand, or paw, as the case may be. While I know many of my days in the past year at Berkeley have been buoyed by the friendly presence of the dog Hagrid, I also know that I am hardly alone: Many of my fellow colleagues, and many of my students have commented to me about a moment of pure joy they experienced by just having a few quiet moments with the puppy in the library.  I can think of no better way to further the goal of fostering a community that is well, than to embrace the presence of our furry friends, the therapy dogs. 

Figure 8. History teacher Scott Saposnik and Slater.

A study of small southeastern colleges found a reduction of self-reported anxiety and loneliness in 60% of the participants of a therapy dog program.  Additionally, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that students experience stress and anxiety in staggering numbers (“Animal Assisted Therapy”).

  • 30% of students said stress affected their academic performance
  • 41.6% said anxiety was a top concern 
  • 85% told researchers they felt overwhelmed by expectations and demands in the previous academic year

Therapy/comfort dogs can also help students – particularly introverts – with socializing (“Helping Students Deal”). 

“Having a dog to focus on takes some of the anxiety out of having a conversation with someone new,” said Carol O’Saben, a licensed psychologist and pet therapy expert (“Helping Students Deal”).

Essentially, dogs don’t see color, gender, size or shape.  They don’t see grades.  Dogs are good listeners who don’t make judgments.

Service Dog v. Comfort Dog

A SE Guide Dog puppy in training is considered a service dog. A service dog is trained to help one person in a certain task. As such, its goal is not to provide comfort to many students. A therapy/comfort dog is trained and certified to provide psychological and physiological therapy to individuals or groups of people who are not their handler.  Unlike service and emotional support animals, therapy/comfort animals are encouraged to socialize and interact with other people while on-duty (“Helping Students Deal with Stress and Anxiety”).

Our goal with bringing a comfort dog to Berkeley is to provide daily support to students (especially students in grades 6-12) to help with their stress and anxiety.  A secondary goal would be to build community in the library and be a place where students come to relax and renew.

What Does a Typical Day Look Like?

While  both Slater and Tamar love coming to school and interacting with students and faculty, it is emotionally draining.  That is why we have Tamar come on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Slater comes on Tuesday and Thursday.  That allows both dogs to have some time off to just be a dog.  

Any of the library staff can handle the two comfort dogs.  We have had Tamar go spend the morning in College Counseling when there was a stressful due dates and we anticipated stressed out seniors.  Since we just enacted this comfort dog program, there are many possibilities for how the dogs could be used on campus. 

Since Tamar is particularly adept at helping new students feel more comfortable (see comments by students Kellen and Katie), she and McLean are happy to be incorporated into any programs/meetings/retreats for new students.

Possible Concerns

Fortunately, we have had 11 years, problem-free with having dogs on campus, as we have had a Southeastern Guide Dog puppy in training on campus for the past 11 years.  Additionally, the Middle Division counselor had her personal pet Wells for several years without problems.  Below are some of the concerns that might come up.  In regards to a therapy/comfort dog, the most relevant concerns would be cleanliness, allergies and students/faculty who might have a fear of dogs. 

Cleanliness

  1. The library is vacuumed every evening eliminating all pet hair/dander that might result from having the comfort dog in the library.
  2. We provide hand sanitizer for students and faculty to use after a session with the comfort dog. Additionally, we usually have a lint roller, because labs shed constantly. 

Allergies

  1. Vacuuming every evening will take care of any loose pet dander in the library.
  2. The comfort dog is bathed and groomed regularly.
  3. Hand washing and sanitizer should take care of any dander from a visit with the dog.
  4. If a student is severely allergic to dogs, Mrs McLean won’t bring the dog to their class.  We can also make accommodations for study halls if they let us know the morning they will be stopping by so we can put Tamar in her crate in Mrs. McLean’s office.

Fear of Dogs

  1. “One of the most powerful ways to reshape fearful behavior response is by providing a positive peer behavioral model. Watching children enjoy and safely interact with a dog may encourage a fearful child to give it a try (Mulvahill).”
  2. While Tamar was on campus, we did have a student who was severely afraid of dogs.  McLean did not bring Tamar into the classroom with that student.  She also put Tamar into her crate if the student was in the library. 

Who Else Has a Therapy Dog?

It is hard to get a firm number on how many schools (public and private) have a therapy dog program. According to the Facebook Group School Therapy Dogs, which is a moderated group allowing only handlers at schools to join, their membership list is over 6,000. The table below is just a few of the names of independent and private schools that allow comfort dogs on campus or that have a comfort dog program. The list is not exhaustive.  

Table 1. List of Independent Schools that Have a Comfort Dog.

Independent/Private School Name
St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, MN (the director of teaching and learning brings her dog to campus)
Trinity Preparatory School, Winter Park, FL (guidance counselor raises therapy dogs and they also bring in therapy dogs during exams)
Marlborough School, Los Angeles, CA (has therapy dog on campus)
Marist School, Atlanta, GA (only use therapy dogs for exam stress)
St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, San Juan Capistrano, CA (had therapy dogs on campus after death of a student)
Trinity Episcopal School, New Orleans, LA (therapy dog is in the library)
Roland Park Country School, Baltimore, MD (therapy dog is in the library)
Webb School of Knoxville, Knoxville, TN (various faculty bring their dogs through HABIT, which is a therapy dog program in Tenn. They also bring therapy dogs in during exams.)
Menlo School, Atherton, CA (supports students training service dogs and allows those dogs on campus)

Figure 9. River is Librarian Diane Haneski’s therapy dog that she brings to Marjoried Stoneman Douglass high school every day.

The following list is just a few of the colleges and Universities who have instituted a therapy/comfort dog program for their students.  In addition, half of the 98 universities in Canada have either a permanent therapy dog program or bring therapy dogs on campus at exams.

Table 2. Universities with Comfort Dog Programs.

University Name
Harvard University
Yale Law School
Univ. of Ottawa
University of Connecticut
Occidental College
Fordham university
Pratt Institute
The Rochester Institute of Technology
Tufts University
UC Riverside
California State University, San Bernardino
UC San Diego
La Sierra University in Riverside
Caldwell College
Oberlin College
Mercy College
Miami University
Kent State University
University of Minnesota
University of Northern Colorado
Stetson University
Washington & Jefferson College
University of Central Florida
Drexel University
University of Central Lancashire
University of Iowa
UC Berkeley
Marquette University
Colgate University
Emory
University of British Columbia

Works Consulted

Aiken, Julian. “Meet Monty.” Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, 19 Sept. 2012, library.law.yale.edu/news/meet-monty. Accessed 20 May 2021.

Aiken, Julian, and Femi Cadmus. “Who Let the Dog Out? Implementing a Success Therapy Dog Program in an Academic Law Library.” Trends in Law Library Management and Technology, vol. 21, pp. 13-21, scholarship.law.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2057&context=facpub. Accessed 20 May 2021.

Anderson, Katherine Terras and Myrna R. Olson. “‘Dog’Gone Crazy Schools: Models for Incorporating Dogs into the School Setting.” Children, Youth and Environments, vol. 20, no. 1, 2010, pp. 318–328. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7721/chilyoutenvi.20.1.0318. Accessed 20 May 2021.

“Animal-Assisted Therapy: A Creative Solution for College Counseling Centers.” Mindwise Innovations, Riverside Community Care, 2021, www.mindwise.org/blog/mental-health/animal-assisted-therapy-a-creative-solution-for-college-counseling-centers/. Accessed 20 May 2021.

Bell, Allison. “Paws for a Study Break: Running an Animal Assisted Therapy Program at the Gerstein Science Information Centre.” The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013, journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/2403/2889. Accessed 20 May 2021.

Dell, Collen Anne, et al. “PAWSing Student Stress: A Pilot Evaluation Study of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program on Three University Campuses in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Counseling and Psychotherapy, vol. 49, no. 4, 2015, pp. 332-59, cjc-rcc.ucalgary.ca/article/view/61079/2821. Accessed 20 May 2021.

Ein, Natalie, et al. “The Effect of Pet Therapy on the Physiological and Subjective Stress Response: A Meta‐analysis.” Stress & Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, vol. 34, no. 4, Oct. 2018, pp. 477–489. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/smi.2812.

“First Day Jitters? Here Are the Best Pets for Anxiety.” Vercida, 14 Jan. 2019, www.vercida.com/uk/articles/best-pets-for-anxiety. Accessed 20 May 2021.

Green, Ranny. “Pets Can Help Ease Stress.” Dog World, vol. 87, no. 8, Aug. 2002, p. 16. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com.bps.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,url&db=ulh&AN=6877403&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

“Helping Students Deal with Stress and Anxiety.” Affordable Colleges Online, Red Ventures Company, 6 Apr. 2021, www.affordablecollegesonline.org/college-resource-center/animal-assisted-therapy-on-college-campuses/. Accessed 20 May 2021.

Lalonde, Rebecca, et al. “PAWS Your Stress: The Student Experience of Therapy Dog Programming.” Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education, vol. 11, no. 2, 2020, pp. 78-90, journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/cjnse/article/view/69530. Accessed 20 May 2021.

Mulvahill, Elizabeth. “Dogs in the Classroom Improve SEL, Cognitive and Even Reading Skills.” We Are Teachers, 25 Oct. 2019, www.weareteachers.com/dogs-in-the-classroom/. Accessed 20 May 2021.

“Pets May Tame High Blood Pressure.” Modern Medicine, vol. 67, no. 12, Dec. 1999, p. 13. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com.bps.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,url&db=sch&AN=2698159&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Prihar, Asha. “The Dog with the Dolphin Smile.” Yale Daily News, Yale, 8 Feb. 2019, yaledailynews.com/blog/2019/02/08/the-dog-with-the-dolphin-smile/. Accessed 20 May 2021.

Wood, Emily et al. “The feasibility of brief dog-assisted therapy on university students stress levels: the PAwS study.” Journal of mental health (Abingdon, England) vol. 27,3 (2018): 263-268. doi:10.1080/09638237.2017.1385737

Xu, Qi. “Yale’s Therapy Dog Program Spreads.” Yale Daily News, Yale, 9 Dec. 2015, yaledailynews.com/blog/2015/12/09/yales-therapy-dog-program-spreads/. Accessed 20 May 2021.

A Window into Visible Thinking

As part of a professional development course through Harvard University, five teachers at my school collaborated to engage students in Visible Thinking. This Thinglink compiles some examples of this collaboration and highlights observations about student thinking and learning.
I hope you enjoy exploring this window into the minds of our students that showcases their thinking and deep learning experiences.