Ode To Toby: Looking Back With My New Self-Regulation Lens

As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am re-exploring some blog posts that I wrote in the past (before taking the courses through The MEHRIT Centre). I am going to update these posts based on my new learning. Here is a link to the original post — Ode To Toby.

Unlike the other posts that I’m re-exploring, this one was not initially about self-regulation. Going back and reading it last week though, I realized how much self-regulation came into play with this topic. Toby’s actions really made me think about the key concepts that I learnt through the Foundations Courses, and at such a stressful time of the year, it was self-regulation that got me through this experience and many others. Below then, I’ve decided to share my initial post — My Ode To Toby — along with an additional reflection that connects to my new self-regulation learning. Toby continues to give me a lot to think about.


Toby Is Lying On The Blanket

Toby (On The Blanket) And Zoe (Up Above)

Toby had numerous quirks:

  • He’d always check behind the shed for a squirrel as soon as he went outside.
  • He’d always give one extra bark to see if a squirrel might appear. You just never know! 🙂
  • He always slept at the top of the bed on the pillows or the bottom of the bed at your feet. He never liked when you moved … ever! You might get a little warning growl.
  • He always barked — a lot! I think that he was just trying to say, “hi.”
  • Halloween was his least favourite holiday. It was like the Ultimate Barkfest: people walking on the street, people knocking on the door, and people coming near the house — so many problems for one little dog!
  • While the house is shaped in a big circle, he always went up the same set of stairs and down the same set of stairs. He didn’t like change!
  • He never went down in the basement — EVER! Big stairs scared him. He’d go up the stairs, but never down them.
  • He loved barbecued hot dogs. He always knew that barbecue for dinner meant a hot dog for him.
  • He always kept a close eye on the barbecue. The minute that hot dog came off, he flew to the back door, barking and crying, and loudly announcing that dinner was ready.
  • He made a combined barking, whining, crying sound every time you came home. No one was as loyal as Toby!
  • He loved his morning “toast.” The morning routine was get up, feed him bread, let him out, and then on a good day, go back to bed. The perfect life for a dog! 🙂
  • His best friend was Zoe: our other cocker spaniel. He’d curl up with Zoe to sleep, share his food with Zoe, and even let her out the door first.
  • He’d always wait at the door to see if you might offer him a “treat” to come inside. He loved treats! Soft bones were his favourite.
  • He always went to bed at 9:00. He would be in a deep sleep on the sofa, but when 9:00 came, he woke up, walked down the hall to the bedroom, barked, and went to bed.
  • He’d hold onto his medication each day until all of the toast was gone, and then he’d spit his pill back out. He knew this would lead to some peanut butter, and he loved peanut butter!
  • He always sensed when you were sick or upset, and he always stayed a little bit closer on the days when he knew you needed him most.

Toby was a wonderful dog, a loyal friend, and an important part of the family! Today, in the midst of such happy news, we had to make a hard choice to put him down. Before I left for my interview this morning, I hand fed him food, held out a little container of water from which he could drink, and even gave him a few extra bones. At the time, I didn’t know that we’d have to make this decision today, but I had a feeling that things were bad.

Tonight, the house is quieter. Tonight, nobody greeted me at the door with that barking, whining, crying sound. Tonight is a sad night, but tonight, I know that Toby is no longer suffering. Tonight, I said goodbye to one of my beloved pets! I’ll miss you, Toby, and every time I see a squirrel, I’ll think of you!

It Is Thanks To Toby That I Am Thinking About Self-Regulation …

Re-reading the bullet points in this post, I can’t help but think about the connections between Toby’s actions and self-regulation. I’m not sure if a dog can actually self-regulate, but maybe my new lens on the topic just makes me see things differently. Here is what I now know.

  • Routines matter. Routines help people know what to expect, and this provides security. This doesn’t mean that every activity needs to be exactly the same each day, but when the general format of the day is the same, children, adults, and maybe even pets, all seem calmer.
  • We cannot ignore hidden stressors. While I always used to joke about the Halloween Barkfest — I think just because I found the term so amusing — Toby was feeling some real stress. Combine the noise with the strangers, and he could barely handle the night. Now I think about the classroom environment. Even today, as I went to purchase shaving cream for an art provocation, I found myself sniffing hundreds of varieties, just to find one with a low scent. Why? Because for some children, this smell causes stress, and this often seems to lead to various behaviours in the classroom. Toby reminded me that we really need to pay attention to these stressors and do what we can to help eliminate them or help people (children, adults, and maybe even animals) learn how to cope with them. I’m starting to think that a Thunder Shirt might have been a good option for Toby.
  • Relationships matter. Toby did not give out his love freely. You had to make a connection with him first. In the classroom environment, Toby would have probably been considered a “problem child.” He wasn’t quiet. He was often argumentative. He did not always follow the rules. Punishment didn’t work: his behaviour never changed as a result. But if he cared about you, and he knew that you cared about him, he would be both loyal and kind. You just had to dig down deep to find out what made him special … and sometimes our students need us to dig just as deep, and in the end, we’ll be just as happy with what we find.
  • Everyone is different. I keep thinking back to Stuart Shanker‘s tweets last week. CjKdLunUkAEa21oPrograms don’t work. We need to ask ourselves the questions of “why” and “why now” to find out what’s causing the behaviour, and what helps the children get back to calm. It worked just as well when I asked myself these questions about Toby: figuring out why he behaved as he did, helped me figure out how to support him, and what to do, when. And while my actions might support Toby, they rarely supported Zoe: a very different dog with a very different personality. Just like in the classroom, we need to look beyond one solution to maybe many different ones that support many different children.

I am so grateful for what I learnt, and continue to learn, from Stuart Shanker. Not only did he help me view Toby’s actions differently, but at the end of an emotional school year when I had to put Toby down, it was self-regulation that helped me get through it. It was the deep breaths, the additional blog posts, the quiet lunches, the fun connections with staff and students, and the enjoyable books that helped me get through the sadness and past the stress, so that I could celebrate the end to a great year and enjoy my move to a new school. 

Two years later, and I’m about to move schools again. While I’m excited about a great new opportunity, I am also starting to feel the stress.

  • I need to say “goodbye” to children and families that I adore.
  • I need to say “goodbye” to an amazing teaching partner that has taught me a lot and often helps keep me calm throughout the school day. 
  • I need to say “goodbye” to a terrific staff, all of whom I’ve laughed with and learnt with over these past two years. 
  • I need to pack up a classroom.
  • I need to write report cards and finish this wonderful Foundations Courseboth at the same time.

As I look ahead to June, I’m going to think about the lessons I learnt from Toby — which will hopefully help keep the classroom environment calm — while also remembering about how I self-regulated two years ago, and use many of these same strategies again — to help keep me calm. I have what is sure to be an exciting and emotional month ahead, but thanks to Toby, Stuart Shanker, and the wonderful people in the Foundations Course, I know that I can make it through. How do you remain calm at these stressful times of the year? How do your students? I hope that we can all share different ideas that work … and maybe find some new ones that will work for each of us.


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