Promoting and equitably assisting organizations in the integration of animal-assisted therapies for the physical, mental, and emotional benefit of individuals in public and private settings, one paw at a time.
An excerpt from my most recent blog, “Dog Save the People: My Conversation with John Bartlett.”
21st century students need more of the tangible, more ways to feel safe, secure, valued and loved, with opportunities to reciprocate those feelings towards another, without judgement (Maricevic, 2022).
Dr. Jessica Maricevic
Why therapy dogs? Why now?
This pseudo post-COVID America has unearthed a tremendous amount of pain, a pain some have tried desperately to suppress, or flat out ignore. Secondary stakeholders who acknowledge the macro reality of the invasive impact of the current geo-political climate are better equipped to consider the micro implications in the high school setting. And to those stakeholders who believe they must personally observe the influence of the macro reality in the micro setting, see with their own eyes presentable evidence of societal stressors, complex anxieties and invisible traumas to adequately address the social and emotional needs of students…
Well, read a little bit more of this post, because today’s high school students are carrying more than a load of books and a laptop with little to no storage.
So say you.
I’ll hold off on the details of my own research and findings for the time being simply to prove you don’t need to read academic journals and peer reviewed articles to establish an understanding of this crisis.
Here are some statistics presented from three national cable news outlets within the last 12 months:
Understand, the above sources are a mere snapshot of reporting from three national cable news outlets, and yes I am well aware each source brings with it their own distinct bias. Yet, even with their respective leans, the conscious decision to report on the social and emotional concerns of teens suggests a unified effort to convey the severity of this stark reality.
It is extremely important to note the three news outlets referenced here in this post have observed an increase in viewership during the years of 2016 – 20220 (Pew Research Center, 2023). The research suggests such an increase in viewership is most likely connected to presidential elections, societal conflicts, and the coronavirus pandemic (Pew Research Center, 2023).
Hypothetically, if the Pew Research Center reports either (1) a decrease the numbers of viewers, (2) a plateau of viewership (it remains at its current rate), or (3) a continued upward viewership trend for the period of 2020-2023, millions of Americans would still receive the message loud and clear, teens are hurting, they need something more, and it’s up to the adults in their lives to make it happen.
Back in my day…
As students go from class to class, they carry the weight of the world and the plight of America’s transgressions on their shoulders, they are accompanied by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, feeling down, and depressed. And then, some students hold their breath when a school wide announcement interrupts a class period without warning, flinch upon hearing an unsuspecting sound, and ask what if questions the day after cable news outlets, those very outlets referenced above, consume airwaves with incessant reporting of yet another unthinkable event.
Even with all of this chaos, students aren’t desensitized by their reality. They remain hyper vigilant, in-tune to their emotional responses, and astute to the emotional affect of others in their orbit. But that doesn’t mean they are okay.
The last thing adolescents need is another adult telling them how to manage life as a teenager, or why they need grit and perseverance to get through “these unprecedented times.” Unfortunately, the reality for today’s teens requires more than “Back in my day” talks and harping on trendy jargon (I wish it were that easy). Couple that with the contradictory expectations to prioritize emotional wellbeing and academic performance— students need something more than whatever is provided at the secondary level to meet or exceed their social and emotional needs.
I can hear stakeholders’ “yeah, but…” phrases, ready to launch their counter claims:
Yeah, but their grades are fine.
Yeah, but they’re participating in sports.
Yeah, but they’re not alone in the cafeteria.
Yeah, but they’re taking selfies.
Yeah, but they’re friends with that student; they’re not a bully.
Yeah, but they seem happy.
It’s time to stop assuming. It’s time to stop dismissing the teenage experience. It’s time to start listening, and infuse differentiated support systems that are more real-world centric.
21st century students need more of the tangible, more ways to feel safe, secure, valued and loved, with opportunities to reciprocate those feelings towards another, without judgement (Maricevic, 2022).
Establish a therapy dog program (start today).
Now more than ever, therapy dogs are a viable resourceto meet those needs for all high school students— no matter the zip code, regional location or poverty designation of a given school or district.
I know, I know! You’re asking yourself, “Yeah, but what about the challenges?” Mitigating challenges, is a totally different blog all together, but believe you me, I’ve got it all covered. I will tell you this, any perceived challenges from fears to allergies can be addressed to ensure the efficacy of board policy and the sustainability of an in-house therapy dog program in your high school (Maricevic, 2022).
I’ll also tell you that any stakeholder who flat out says no to an in-house therapy dog program to meet the social and emotional needs of students, is saying no for the sake of saying no (Maricevic, 2022). Don’t forget it.
The student-therapy dog relationship in the high school setting is an indelible, transformative fixture, a relationship with the infinite ability to transcend the four year high school experience. My findings suggest the omnipresence of a therapy dog in the high school setting does more than influence the social-emotional competency development in adolescents (Maricevic, 2022). In fact, the organic development of the student-therapy dog relationship may very well be the antidote to [feel free to fill in the blank to reflect the needs of your students and high school] (Maricevic, 2022).
My study reveals much more about the therapy dog phenomenon, its profound impact on secondary students and the high school setting. I’m proud to say my study also exposes inequities that must be addressed to ensure all students are afforded the opportunity to benefit from the student-therapy dog relationship during their high school years.
The above is a mere snippet of some of the points touched upon during my conversation with John Bartlett, host and founder of Dog Save the People. I encourage you to listen to the podcast in its entirety through any of the following platforms:
Even though you might think otherwise, an outing with your doggo is never just a walk. Found moments for cognitive stimulation, whether one-on-one with a doggo, like here with Judgie Boy or the entire pack, requires just as much from me, the human, as it does for my doggo(s). It also allows me to stay current with my doggo’s communicative ways and presents opportunities for creative ingenuity to keep the fun fresh (yes, even when revisiting cognitive challenges for practice, that’s fresh-fun too)!
Our human-animal bond is strengthened by infusing opportunities for cognitive stimulation when on any venture together. And it’s this active-time spent together that invigorates the body, mind & emotions; allows for new perspectives to the world on a micro & macro level; cultivates empathy… it’s never just a walk.
So give it a try! Spice up the active-time with your doggo. Start small. Make it manageable. Enhance the good stuff you’re already doing. Consider your usual active routine & possible on-the-spot opportunities the routine itself may provide (i.e. setting), try-out an added layer of cognitive stimulation (like I’m doing here with weaving between the pillars), evaluate your doggo’s response to the activity, reassess & revise as needed.
There is one non-negotiable, no negative reinforcement! If your doggo presents a hesitant response to the added activity, respect the presentation of the doggo’s feelings with love & reassurance. Empathize with your doggo, even say “let’s try again tomorrow,” & resume the enjoyable aspects of the routine as you and your doggo have established. Build upon the fun and cognitive stimulation, love the moment, love your doggo for trying something new, & give yourself a pat on the back while you’re at it, your efforts are noticed by the one who matters, your doggo.
Don’t have a doggo but still want “in” on some of this good stuff? Here are a few ideas:
Join a friend on a walk with their doggo(s)
#Volunteer at a local animal shelter
#Foster! Give some one-on-one active time to a doggo who needs it most! The result (1) you adopt the doggo or (2) get that doggo ready for their furever family
Currently, I am three weeks into the second semester of my year long, school building leader internship. This time around, I find myself contemplating a myriad of hot topics as a parent, secondary educator, aspiring school leader, and advocate for the social-emotional well-being of adolescent students.
Last week, my professor posted the following assignment:
Prompt: In this week’s discussion post, please select one quote, then make one comment on how you believe this technology may impact education. Please respond to at least one of your classmates (sic) posts. Do not create a new thread, simply respond to my post and to classmate’s (sic) posts.
During the fall months of the 2022-2023 school year, the one and only AI platform, ChatGPT, commandeered secondary department meeting agendas, as well as the group text threads and Snapchats of secondary students. There were mainstream publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, presenting bold-print, ominous headlines of the AI platform’s stealthy omnipresence. Then came The Atlantic’s subsequent op-ed from a high school English teacher, how cliché.
ChatGPT was a topic of conversation among parents while I stood on the sidelines at youth sporting events, during holiday celebrations with family, and even among my extended PLN of educators and other professionals. In all three scenarios, I listened to concerned perspectives. Statementslike, It’s the end of the world, there goes humanity, teachers are insignificant, here come the robots, and variations of such, were followed by a barrage of rhetorical questions.
Do students need to learn how to write?
Why do students need to learn how to write?
If there are computers that can do it for them, why waste their time with writing?
The words I read, the voices I heard, and the actions I observed were mere reflections of the dubious undertones emanating from those mainstream articles alerting readers, education and humanity of … what exactly?
The more I read, the more I listened, the more I observed, the more convinced I became that there was something worth adding to the docket.
Pre-ChatGPT Era. Let’s be real for a second. I’ve been in secondary education for 18 years. ChatGPT is no different than the tutor who only “helped,” the Google search results producing a plethora of graduate school level work worthy of a ::highlight, click-copy-paste::: into an 11th grade essay of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, or the older sibling/neighbor/cousin assigned the same senior thesis assignment 5 years prior, etc. Educators today need to consider how, if at all, pre-ChatGPT era students are more similar than they are different than students of the ChatGPT generation.
I asked my students their thoughts to that same very question. Their collective responses are captured in this paraphrased statement, If a student wants to cheat, they are going to cheat, and they don’t need ChatGPT. It needs to be known my students also provided an empathic rationale for why students might feel the need to submit something that does not represent their own original thinking, resort to cheating or using an AI platform like ChatGPT.
We have to get into college and get money.
All everyone cares about are grades.
Sometimes you aren’t prepared.
There isn’t enough time.
Stuff happens, and sometimes people don’t get that stuff happens, so what else are we going to do?
I’d rather play with my dog…
Keep this empathic level of adolescent transparency in mind as I share a recent comment and rhetorical question from a professional colleague with no affiliation to my current place of employment. The professional colleague stated, “If there was ChatGPT when I was a student, I would’ve used it. Wouldn’t you?” While I believe the intentions of the statement to be rhetorical, I vehemently responded, “No.” My answer was no, is still no, and will always be no, and here’s why–– the adolescent voices represented above.
Those voices, all of them, make me think about my own high school experience. I loved my formative high school years and believe they contribute to my pedagogical stance on education and curriculum. As a result, I skillfully craft authentic curriculum for my own students and continuously create organic opportunities for students to demonstrate learning on their terms, as much as possible. Nothing comes from a handout, or a book, or an online platform which allows educators to pay other educators for their products. My lessons today, look nothing like my lessons from 2005, the year I started teaching, nor should they reflect the needs of students from almost 20 years ago! Same goes for assessments. Formative and summative assessments are not the same from year-to-year, not the same from class period to class period, sometimes not even the same within the class period. I am always fine tuning lessons, assessments, differentiating and giving autonomy to the students (it is their learning after all). I am reflective, constantly wondering if I am being culturally responsive to the ever-changing needs of my students, diversifying texts and text types, and asking for their feedback.
When I was a high school student, I knew I was seen, heard, and valued by the way my teachers interacted with me, the lessons they created, the diversity of the texts, the way they allowed me to creatively represent my learning, by the way they listened, allowed me to be the gregarious change-maker who challenged norms and advocated for others, and they acknowledged my reality in a non-judgmental way.
Now, I pay it forward.
Seen, Heard, & Valued. Whether pre-ChatGPT era students are more similar than they are different than students of the ChatGPT generation really depends on three seemingly simple, yet ever-so necessary words–– seen, heard, and valued. The trifecta!
My students, your students, they are people, and I believe, as I am sure you do too, all people deserve to be seen, heard, and valued. Students want to know they matter, not just to any person, they want to matter to you, their teacher, their parent/guardian, their adult role model. And not just sometimes. Students want to matter all the time, for all their thoughts, ideas, mistakes, wrongdoings, successes, and they want to matter when it comes to their learning process.
I believe it is essential to unearth a student’s root decision to utilize AI platforms like ChatGPT, rather than submit their own thoughts and ideas. I believe it is essential to evaluate the extent to which a student’s perception of themselves as a learner, influences their decision to utilize alternatives like ChatGPT, and to what degree their actions are influenced by their perspective on how others may see, hear, and value them as a learner. In short, we need to illuminate the influence of the trifecta’s presence, or lack thereof, on the secondary students perception of self, and understand the possibility of such a factor influencing the decisions of secondary learners.
Today ChatGPT, Tomorrow Robots. No, I don’t believe robots are going to take over the world, or America’s classrooms. Do I think there is a concern for the well-being of humanity? Maybe, but my concern for the well-being of humanity is not because of an AI platform.
Humanity’s well-being can teeter if today’s students become the adults of tomorrow, who are one day responsible for humanity’s survival and simultaneously harbor self-doubt, the belief their words and the words of others are insignificant, the belief their thoughts and the thoughts of others have no purpose or aren’t good enough, the belief they aren’t good enough, the belief there’s no need to write or communicate or advocate, or the worst case, harbor the belief it is easier to embrace apathy because… why bother with any other mindset?
Who You Gonna Call? To protect humanity, we don’t need to condemn innovation. We must deconstruct the illusive apathetic mindset. Psst, I’ll let you in on a little secret, the apathetic mindset is creeping behind the letters, C-H-A-T-G-P-T, and it is looking for a spot to take root, but ChatGPT didn’t disperse the seeds of apathy.
Before any deconstruction takes place, we need to ask some questions, which may or may not start with the word, Why:
Why was the ChatGPT platform generated in the first place (think about Stone’s concepts of welfare and security)?
Literal rationale for its creation
Figurative rationale for its creation
Why would a student opt to submit anything other than a product representative of their authentic voice?
Why would a student resort to a sterile computer response, a response that could hold serious inaccuracies intertwined with “big SAT words,” rather than their own?
Why would a student resort to a sterile computer response that could violate a student code of conduct and result in serious consequences?
Why does the student value the “thoughts” of AI over their own thoughts?
Why would a student think their teacher would prefer the submission of AI generated “work,” over age and skill appropriate submissions which reflect who they are as a person and learner?
ChatGPT is here for a myriad of plausible reasons. I am highlighting one plausible reason being the messages students receive on the daily; messages of who is seen, heard and valued; why they are seen, heard and valued; and the need to figure out a way to be seen, heard and valued.
But, who would send a message like that, you ask? Schools, towns, stakeholders (educators, school building and district leaders, parents, state and national figures), external curriculums like AP and IB, state standards, national standards, SAT, ACT, societal norms and expectations, all send messages, intended or not. Which brings me to another set of questions to ponder:
To what extent do the intended messages sent differ from the messages students’ receive?
How, if at all, do parents and/or guardians contribute to disseminating messages which compel students to turn to AI platforms like Chat GPT, rather than their own thoughts and ideas?
Ready, Set, Deconstruct. Good educators will keep asking good questions, and by good questions, I mean challenging questions, like those I crafted above. Good educators will keep creating a good curriculum, and a good curriculum is differentiated, student centered, authentic, inquiry based, rooted in student choice, performance based, and sends an important message to the student they are seen, heard, and valued. Good educators will keep incorporating purposeful technology use in the classroom, for who are we to deny students with the 21st century skills needed to communicate, create, advocate, and protect humanity.
Now is not the time to get distracted from the good stuff. We cannot get caught up in futile efforts to catch or prevent student use of technological advancements. We cannot have a John Lithgow, Footloose (1984) level of control in our schools when it comes to mitigating the rapidly changing contours of technological innovation.
We cannot run away from technological advancements– just think if we took a defensive stance against the printing press, or “the calculator, which was decried as the death of math” (Rosenblatt, 2023)! We cannot point fingers and place blame for ChatGPT indiscriminately; technology is not the enemy here. Neither is innovation or ingenuity–– Elon Musk, is not the antagonist of this dystopian tale. I’m not certain it’s even a dystopian tale, at least for right now.
Balance is Key. I’ll stick with the Hollywood motif a little longer and quote Mister Miyagi from the 1984 classic film, Karate Kid. During the “Rowboat Scene,” Mister Miyagi, the film’s archetypal sage, guides protagonist, Daniel LaRusso, with inspirational words. Mister Miyagi states, “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?”
No one is walking away from technological advancements in the classroom. No one is packing up their bags and going home.
We need to “get the balance right” (Depeche Mode, 1983) when it comes to technological innovation, which requires trial and error.
So let’s embrace technological innovation!
Learn from, and with one another (and I am talking about collaboration with students)–– about the emerging technological trends, model the behaviors we hope to instill in our students through our own responsible use of technology to present a true, unified digital citizenship initiative.
Maybe this offensive-line strategy will help to realign the messages we send, reflect their true intentions, and be received as such in the hearts and minds of our students. At the end of the day, our students are people–– people, sitting in a class, hoping their teachers see, hear, and value them (that has some Julia Roberts Notting Hill (1999) vibes, no?). Our students deserve to receive this message, and then some.
As educators and emerging school leaders, now is the time to reflect upon the individual and collective messages we send, the messages students receive, and recognize our contribution to the inception of ChatGPT, a technological response to an identified need we, inadvertently, created (and there are a lot of people, places, and things falling under the words our and we in this post).
But we do need to act, or the only fingers pointing will be those placing blame where it belongs, at ourselves–– and nobody likes fingers pointing while hearing the words, “I told you so.”
Disclaimer: I cannot present an opinion piece about students accessing AI technology without acknowledging an AI tool afforded to teachers! The a-ha!, we gotcha AI platform to determine a submissions level of authenticity, turnitin.com. Full disclosure, I use turnitin.com, but I didn’t get into teaching to complete a crime scene investigation on work submitted, and turnitin.com is so much more than a plagiarism “checker.”
Wait, does that mean ChatGPT is so much more than an AI platform doing the work for America’s students? A conversation for another day.