Pepper – A Lesson in Social Responsibility

Our community welcomed a new member this week – Pepper!

Pepper is a service dog who supports one of the learners in our classroom. Knowing that both she and her handler need specific conditions in order to be successful, we worked together to create some visuals to help us understand the difference between a service dog and a therapy dog.

This distinction was especially important because our school used to have a much beloved therapy dog (Smoky) that worked with our school based counsellor. Smoky was always available for a little TLC, and could often be found relaxing in our classroom being showered with snuggles, pats, and love from all our learners. Pepper, on the other hand is off limits to everyone except her handler and we needed to reinforce this so everyone understood the limitations and expectations – their responsibilities.

As soon as we started talking, the kiddos almost instantly made a connection to the Social Responsibility (core) Competency. So, we highlighted that connection as we made our anchor chart together. It is important to me that we make anchor charts in real time, as a community, and that we document as many voices as we can. The charts need to be meaningful for the kids if they are going to independently utilize them in the future. Sometimes I’m able to make the charts ‘pretty’ but other times I can’t predict where the conversation will go, and can’t imagine a format ahead of time. Learning to embrace the potential ‘messiness’ of the charts has been pivotal for me – its about documenting voices, process, and developing understanding and not about being ‘Pinterest perfect.’

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I appreciated that the kids made a connection between one individuals NEEDS with our collective RESPONSIBILITY. The rhyme ‘all for one, and one for all’ came to mind (*warm fuzzy feelings*). We made this chart as a group the day we first met Pepper and her trainer Carol (who joined us off and on to help us all transition successfully) and we rarely needed to revisit it – the kids were so keenly respectful and responsible; it was beautiful.

The larger school community needed some extra education too though and giving them an anchor chart, one they weren’t involved in developing, seemed inauthentic and inefficient. We knew we needed to share this important info, but how could we do it in a way that would capture the attention of our whole school? While brainstorming with a small group it dawned on me…

Me: Hey M, what does Pepper’s voice sounds like?

M: Huh?

Me: If Pepper could talk, what would she sound like?

M: (without skipping a beat) like a lady chipmunk.

Me: A lady chipmunk?

M: Yep. Like this (mimicking a ‘Lady Chipmunk’ voice)

Me: Got it. I have a plan. Want to help?

And this is where the talking dog idea was born. Pepper’s handler and I downloaded every ‘talking pet’ app we could find for free in the Apple App Store and started playing with the functions and features each offered. Knowing that there was a LOT to explore we invited some peers to come help us. I was feeling especially grateful to have several new iPads as each of the kiddos could work simultaneously and maximize efficiency. In the end, they agreed that “Talking Pets” was the best app for what we needed. Pepper’s handler worked with peers to create scripts for the videos to ensure that they reflected the ideas that we had documented on our charts and to ensure that the scripts sounded like Pepper – authenticity was important to him. The group worked with the iPads to create ‘social responsibility’ messages which were then emailed to classroom teachers to be shared with their classes. Her’s an example – short, sweet, funny, and effective.

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