Did you have a chance to participate in our 2019 Habitat Contest? We had so many wonderful entries, including one from one of our winners, Robin Beasley! Ms. Beasley submitted a picture of “Elliott’s Zen Zone” for the Contest, and is now willing to share her classroom pet experience with us as this month’s Featured Teacher! Her Bearded Dragon, Elliott, resides in the 1st-5th grade Special Education classroom at Patton Elementary in Austin, TX. Let’s hear what Ms. Beasley had to say about Elliot, his Zen Zone, and their classroom pet experience…
Why did you decide to get a classroom pet?
When I got Elliott, I was working in a special education behavior unit. I had a couple students very interested in animals. I wanted to get a classroom pet for them to care for and more importantly, bond and talk with when it might be difficult for them to talk to a person.
Tell us a little bit about Elliott:
I got Elliott from another teacher who had him for 4 years in her room. He has spent his whole 8 years as a classroom pet. Rather than get a baby beardie from a pet store I was hoping to give a home to a mature pet. Elliott is perfect! He tolerates so much. Nothing phases him. The class could be in complete chaos and he is relaxed. Often when students were escalated, they weren’t able to empathize with how it made other kids or adults feel, but if I told them Elliott was getting upset from the noise, they would immediately stop and apologize to Elliott. Because of the beardie’s display of aggression or anger, I have been able to approach the topic of anger with students by discussing Elliott first. Although he spends most his time sleeping since he is a mature fellow, he will always wake up when a student comes to talk to him.
Tell us more about your Zen Zone:
Elliott’s Zen Zone is his corner of the classroom. There is a chair set up in front of him so students can spend some 1 on 1 time with him when they need someone to listen to them. Throughout the year I also incorporated a tablet with a mindfulness app so the students could practice guided mindfulness with Elliott. Since Elliott is a very calm animal, I think he is a great example of peace to students. It’s hard to feel out of control when he is slowly blinking at you. Students are able to use the Zen Zone whenever they need to access it. I can visually monitor if a student is there to escape work, but once they learn about mindfulness and identifying emotions, I don’t have anyone misuse Elliott’s Zen Zone.
What is your favorite thing about having Elliott?
My favorite part of Elliott is seeing the relationship he builds with children. He is an immediate conversation starter, so if a kid is in my room struggling with emotions, I can pull Elliott out and begin a safe conversation about him to gain trust.
Did you see an improvement in your classroom due to your classroom pet?
I have seen drastic improvement in my classroom when Elliott is included. I have so many stories, but I can think of two right away. The first was in the first year I had Elliott. I had a student escalated to the point of being unsafe. I wasn’t her main teacher, so I was the last call. When I arrived in the room, she was in full meltdown. They were calling mom as I walked in. I approached her and asked if she wanted to visit Elliott. It was an immediate 180. She agreed to walk to my classroom. I reminded her that Elliott likes calm and quiet. She laid down on the floor and I placed Elliott beside her. She spent the next 30 minutes sweetly talking and petting him while I reassured mom on the phone that everything was fine.
Another story was a student that I noticed used Elliott’s Zen Zone every day after lunch. Sometimes up to 30 minutes. He would complete his assignments, but seemed to feel safer next to Elliott. We had flexible seating so he could have sat wherever he wanted to, but he consistently choice Elliott. Since I had a place set up for him to go to when he felt overwhelmed, I had a visual without him having to tell me. With a lot of support from home and school he was surrounded by what he needed. I never would have known without Elliott. He was easily a kid that would have sat at his desk and internalize the feelings. By the end of the year his Elliott visits last no more than 5 minutes.
Thank you to Ms. Beasley for sharing her experience! If you would like to learn more about classroom pets and about the Pets in the Classroom grant program, visit www.petsintheclassroom.org.