Brand Loyalty: What Happends When Experiences Allow Perceptions to Change?
DuBois, Alice, The Agricultural Education Magazine
Pairs of students enthu- siastically wash, groom and maneuver through obethence commands with dogs they train as therapy dogs for people with special needs. Teams of students work together to complete as- signed tasks as part of their own school-based business. I could be describing the scene in many agricultural science classrooms, but a closer look reveals that the diversity of these students is much greater than the surface reveals. However, this was not always the case. In fact, the process followed, to get to the class described above began with an experience that most agricultural science educators have experienced. It's the first day of school and the class enters with lots of noise, new book bags and plen- ty of excitement. As a teacher, you smile and greet each stu- dent enthusiastically... at least so it appears on the exterior. However, who hasn't felt that knot in the stomach when one of "those" students en- ters the room? That certainly was the way it was for me and, from an informal sur- vey I conducted, several ag- ricultural science educators expressed similar experiences. I know this is not politically correct but, after all, we teachers can come up with some pretty good reasons to justify these feelings. Thoughts like: "I'm not a special education teacher. I haven't been trained for this!" or "What is going to happen when they can't do my class activities?" or "How can I teach class with all of that yelling out and those sudden awkward move ments?
It is s o dis- tract- ing for me and my students!" or "How can I teach them when they can't even communicate with me?" I had experienced all of those thoughts, but don't get me wrong. One of my main goals as a teacher has always been that every student, regardless of ability level, would have the opportunity to learn and build skills in my class that would allow them to be successful in life. However, here was a group of stu- dents who had always challenged me and, to be truthful, I knew I was not meeting my goal for them. That fact led me to reach out to some of these students' special education teachers and, after some creative brainstorming, we devel- oped a new strategy for meeting the needs of ALL of the students in my agricultural science class, while building some very important social skills in all of our students. The first step was to develop a plan that paired each agri- cultural educa- tion student with severe special needs with an agricul- tural educa- tion student without spe- cial needs in their class. As it worked out, we had fif- teen students with severe special needs and sixteen other students in that agricultural science class. In the beginning, the students with- outspecial needs expressed emotions ranging from fear to excitement. To help those students understand some of the sensory challenges that the students with special need experience, the students went through a sensitivity training. This included experiences whereby students, albeit temporarily, were placed in situations that limited or eliminated the use of limbs and senses that are typically taken for granted. To accomplish buy in from the agricultural education students without special needs, they were included in all of the brainstorming, activity and project creation from the beginning. Even though the sensitivity training helped these students to understand more about what their partners are living with, we still needed something to be the point of contact that the students could use to bridge the communication gap with their partner. Our answer came in the form of a medium-sized border collie cross fortuitously named Hope. Hope is a certified therapy dog, and when she came to our classroom for a visit, we were all surprised to observe that the students with special needs responded to her with arange of reactions from total fear to pure joy! After Hope's visit, everyone agreed we found what we were looking for and our search began for suitable dogs that would fit the needs of the students. Four dogs were located from volunteers in the community and what happened next was this teacher's dream come true! The dogs gave the students a point of contact they needed to bridge their communication and understanding gap, while allowing them to start bonding and develop a trusting relationship with one another. Depending on how accepting the student with special needs was to the dog determined which volunteer dog they worked with and what objectives the team would work to accomplish. We started with simple petting and brushing. When those objectives were met, the team advanced to other grooming tasks and then to obethence commands and finally an obstacle course. Originally, we believed it would take nearly the entire school year to complete the therapy dog development. But, the dogs and teams progressed so successfully that we realized we would need new objectives to ac- complish for the second semester. Around Thanksgiving the students decided they wanted to research natural dog treats and make some for the therapy dogs for Christmas. After they researched the recipes, they created several of their own and made the treats for the dogs. Our dogs all loved the treats and soon others in our community heard about them and expressed an interest in purchasing the treats. The class decided to create their own school- based enterprise and the Special Treats Company went into business. Wonderful, unintended re- sults continued to spawn. The students with special needs learned valuable life skills such as measuring, mixing and recognizing ingrethents, while the students with- out special needs were challenged with all of the aspects of creating a business plan and running a thriving business. All the while, friendships were forged between the typical and atypical students who would probably never have even met had it not been for them ending up in the same agricultural science class. Had that been all, it would have been enough, but I can't end our story without sharing a few of the profound outcomes we experienced that no one dared to dream would be accomplished. During second semester, to all of our amazement, one of the students with special needs who had never spoken a word in more than two years be- gan to count along with his partner as they counted out ingrethents. By the end of the semester, this pair had developed their own special communication system. Another student with special needs had been included in my class for three years and I had never seen her smile or even acknowledge in any way that she was aware she was in the class. This year, that situation changed. Through the constant encouraging of her partner, Samantha began to listen and appear interested in the dogs. Then it happened; she smiled and each day she came out of her shell a little more. Today, she has one of the biggest smiles on her face as she enters my classroom eager to see her partner. Another student with special needs was confined to a wheelchair to pre- vent him from running away. After only two weeks with his partners, he was able to attend class out of the chair and it was obvious he was willing to respond to and work with his student partners much more than even with his teachers. There is an incredible story simi- lar to these for all of the student pairs; and we could have all missed it if we had been satisfied to just keep on following the status quo and accepting the label, or brand, these students with special needs had been saddled with long ago. This summer, while attending the Delta Conference at Tarleton State University, was the first time in my nineteen years as a teacher that I heard the term "experience before label." With this exposure, I came to understand how important it is to allow students to experience that which they are learning so that they have a conceptualization in mind before I, as their instructional leader, attempt to label the technical parts and pieces. Rather than teaching the history of the bicycle and the theory of physics before riding said bicycle, the best way to learn is simply to ride. After experiencing trial and error, only then can we talk about balance, torque, center of gravity and so on; and only because we have that experience from which to draw. The same is true in branding certain parts and pieces of our agricultural education programs. True, we can say that we provide hands-on learning for all of our students. True, we can say we provide students who are less successful in other classes a venue in which to strive and succeed. True, we can say we develop leadership in all students. True, we can say we teach tolerance and acceptance for all populations. However, most all of these concepts are easier said than done. High school is filled with students who brand peer groups because of outward appearances and perceptions. Most of those brands derive only from what others believe they know to be true; hence, little further investigation is needed, right? What if my agricultural education students without special needs simply continued down their paths without this interaction? Our experience forever changed the way that these agricultural education students will view their fellow man and completely changed their acceptance of any brand placed on students with special needs. As agricultural science educators, and as human beings, shouldn't that always be our goal?
Branding Tidbit # 2
Brands were applied to humans as recently as 1822. Fugitives, galley slaves, gypsies, vagabonds, brawlers, & the clergy have been marked with "symbols of shame" throughout history.
Alice Dubois is an agricultural science teacher with twenty years of experience and she continues striving for excellence for her students. She currently teaches at Ponchatoula High School in Ponchatoula, Louisiana.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Brand Loyalty: What Happends When Experiences Allow Perceptions to Change?. Contributors: DuBois, Alice - Author. Journal title: The Agricultural Education Magazine. Volume: 82. Issue: 2 Publication date: September/October 2009. Page number: 14+. © National Council for Agricultural Education Nov/Dec 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.