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Changing Your Plan…

At HEART we work with students of all different ages in many different settings, and we teach a wide variety of topics related to people, animals, and the planet. We create outlines, lesson plans, and gather materials for activities well in advance so that we can deliver the best programs possible. However, on occasion those well-thought-out plans have to change in a moment’s notice, so we can meet our students where they are at as learners and follow their curiosity.
Sometimes the students know a lot more about a topic than we originally anticipated and we have to revise the program so that it is more challenging. Other times, after working with a class we might realize that some techniques are just not working and others are a lot more effective. After a lesson with one class, we realized they struggled with class discussions. Once we split the students into small groups the dynamic of the class changed dramatically and the students were able to receive and process information a lot more effectively, and have a lot more fun too.
And then sometimes, the changes we make are more extreme. HEART educator, Kim Korona, recently had to toss out the vast majority of her prepared multi-week curriculum in order to best serve her students. While teaching the kids about companion animal issues, Kim discovered that the students had a lot of misinformation about the animals we share our homes with. While discussing training techniques, multiple students thought that hitting their dog or rubbing their dog’s face in his or her excrement would teach the dog how to behave. Another mentioned that when his dog misbehaved his family locked the dog in the closet. Add to this questions like, “If a cat scratches you is it okay to hurt them back?” and Kim knew that scrapping her prepared lessons and focusing more time on companion animal care would be the best plan to help her students interact with animals more humanely. The regular classroom teacher saw the same issues and agreed. These students needed guidance on this particular issue.
Athough she had to forego covering some of the content she had originally planned, Kim believed that in promoting compassion and empathy in a deep and rich way for dogs and cats, that it could expand her students’ circle of compassion for all living beings.
Kim said about the lessons, “The students were really open to discussing and considering things from a new point of view, which is part of why I thought it was important to take the time to address all these different issues in more depth. Especially because so many of the kids had dogs or cats or relatives with dogs or cats, and this was a chance for them to put what they learned immediately into action.”
As a class they explored humane training techniques, proper care, animal emotions, the meaning of cruelty and neglect, and looked into the plight of homeless dogs and cats. As each issue or question came up, Kim helped guide the students to consider how they would feel if they were a dog or cat in a given situation. For example, would they prefer to be outside in the cold at night, or inside with their family? When the kids imagined that they were the dog, the answer was simple. Inside with their family. The kids soaked up the new information, and the more they became invested in the topic, the more they took ownership over their own learning. They even asked if they could go on a field trip to a local animal adoption center. Arrangements were made and they had a fantastic experience. The kids were thrilled to share their knowledge about animal care and responsible animal guardianship with the presenter at the animal shelter, and of course to meet some of the homeless animals.
As this experience shows, as educators, it is important to be flexible and to meet our students where they are at, when possible. We must do our best to assess what they already know and what they are curious to find out, and to do our utmost to challenge them and to value them. You never know, it could be an important teachable moment, for both you and your students. For the students in Kim’s class, the experience was life-changing.
Photo Credit: jeffreyw / Flickr

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