Time for a Franklin Friday!
I’ve never had a puppy quite like Franklin. For his first four months as a part of my family, he wasn’t a particularly happy baby. A strong wind, an errant sound he’d not heard before, or the slightest change in his routine brought out his worst. He was fearful, always on alert, and reluctant to play. Other than the occasional interest in food or a treat, he was motivated by something known only to him.
In other words, I had no idea what was going on in his head.
His one form of consistent communication was biting. Hard. Being hungry, needing to go outside, even feeling sleepy and wanting to be put into his crate would all rate a blood-drawing chomp. Despite more training techniques and recommendations than I can count – day after day of life as a dog chew left me feeling rather hopeless.
Not only did I feel like a failure, but I was struggling with not liking him very much which is really hard to admit. Who can’t love a cute little puppy? It’s easier said than done when you’re in a constant battle with no common language or avenues through which to understand one another. Every night, I’d take an accounting of my wounds and go to bed angry.
Ever feel like that with a student? Over the years I can recall a few who were their own version of Franklin; scared, frustrated and desperate to be heard. These are the students you don’t forget – the “emotional biters” who lashed out in an effort to tell you what they needed , which was often a complete mystery. If you’re big enough to acknowledge it – these are the students who were really hard to like.
I saw one of those students from my past recently and am thrilled to say that he’s doing well; a full educated, starting a family, and happy where he is. As we caught up and shared our lives since the days when we were regularly locking horns, we had a frank conversation about the mutual frustrations we shared back then, complete with a truly beautiful moment of honesty in which he shared that despite the fact he hated me most days, that I helped him be better. He made me feel exactly the same way.
I asked him what got him through the anger and the deep doubts of his own self worth that he carried with him back then and he replied, “the ones who kept showing up for me.”
We spend a lot of time as educators and leaders scanning the latest research for new approaches and honing our craft. But what was the most important thing to this young man was not breakthrough research or a shiny new technique. It was simply not giving up. A lesson I will not soon forget.
I shared pictures of Franklin and told “war stories” of our time together so far. I could tell that it was a bit amusing to hear an authority figure from his past admit total failure, but his only advice was to “not give up on the little guy – he would come around.”
No $200 an hour dog behaviorist could have given me better advice. Isn’t it a wondrous moment when the student becomes the mentor?
So Franklin and I are moving forward. My new approach is to start each day with the intent to show up and be present. To keep showing up until we figure this out. And believe change will unfold.
And now, fly.
P.S. I’m happy to say that Franklin and I have reached a sort of détente. The cessation of hostilities doesn’t always hold but every now and then we enjoy playing ball and Frisbee, and I recently was treated to a first-ever bite-free cuddle.