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Four years ago, we adopted Jasmine, a retired racing greyhound. We knew we wanted a dog that was lower energy, more introverted, and less likely to bark. We had done our research ahead of time and we knew she would be a good choice for our family. Unfortunately, Jasmine got really sick and they couldn’t adopt her out to us. But then, midway through the year, she turned a corner and we adopted her. Contrary to popular belief, most retired racers are 2-5 years old. Jasmine was about two and a half when we got her. At first, she was shy and a little aloof. But within weeks, she grew more social. She became a snuggle pup. And more importantly, she became part of our family.

Last week, we had to say goodbye to her.

Collectively, we grieved.

But she left her messy paw print on our hearts and changed our world forever. This is why I decided to make a video sharing what I learned from her:

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Nine Lessons from Jasmine the Greyhound

Here are nine lessons from Jasmine. I already miss her so much.

1. Play every day.

Every time it snowed, Jasmine would go nuts!

And every day, she would take five to ten minutes to run around doing zoomies. It was a reminder that play matters. Even if time is limited, make a small amount of time for play! Although Jasmine wasn’t particularly creative (I mean, the lack of opposable thumbs can hinder her artistic output). Research has shown us that play often leads to creativity.

There’s an ongoing cycle where play leads to curiosity. This leads to experimentation. And that experimentation leads to creativity. Which can then make us more playful. And the cycle continues.

The cycle of creativity and playBut also, we need rest.

2. Rest is a necessity, not a luxury.

Greyhounds rest. All. The. Time. So many of my pictures of jazzy involve her sleeping. She was excellent at resting. Sometimes when I was working, I would look at Jasmine resting and think, “That’s exactly what I need right now.” It was a reminder to press paws. See what I did there. But it turns out that rest is vital for learning and creativity.

Thomas Oppang describes it this way,

“According to research, the brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant over time. You lose your focus and your performance on the task declines. When faced with a long creative problem, it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task and improve your idea generation approach. A structured downtime can help you do your best work.”

In other words, when we rest, our mind is busy making synaptic connections.

I love the way Anne Lamott put it. “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you." Anne Lamott3. Be curious.

Jasmine also taught me to be curious.  She loved to stop and smell the smells and look at the sights. It was a reminder to get lost in the rabbit trails and embrace wonder.

never forget to embrace wonder

My mentor Brad once told me, “We must seize the moment of excited curiosity for the acquisition of wisdom.” I memorized that line. Jasmine lived it.

These ideas are at the heart of inquiry-based learning:

4. Get outside.

We once had a Scottish Terrier who would get hyper if you didn’t walk her. She would sprint through the house barking if she didn’t expend her energy. But our greyhound wasn’t like that. She was pretty chill with or without a walk. And yet, because she was a sighthound and we didn’t have a fenced in yard, I still needed to take her outside a few times a day for the first two years we had her.

This means, I had to take her out late at night and early in the morning. Jasmine loved listening to the sounds, staring off at a distant movement, and taking in the scents all around her. In doing so, she reminded me of the need to slow down and take in the natural world. I rediscovered the wonder of staring out at the stars. We live in an area without street lights, which means on the cool summer evenings, I would often take our dog for a stroll and stare out at wonder at the vast canvas at the universe.

I’ve also started taking random short walks in the middle of the day when I’m feeling mentally stuck as I try to solve a problem. It turns out, nature walks are vital for creativity because they allow you to make connections between ideas. There’s a certain mind-wandering boredom that leads to divergent thinking (an idea I explored here). Meanwhile, the natural world often inspires better design through the process of biomimicry.

5. Learning requires risk-taking.

Jasmine dog hated the stairs at first. She was terrified when we tried to coax her upstairs. However, we knew that she needed to figure it out. We used treats and verbal affirmation. We focused on the affective side of learning as she slowly moved each paw forward. It was a visual reminder for me that learning is often terrifying. Exciting, yes, but also nerve-wracking.

I mention this because I really struggled with a statistics class when doing my doctorate. There were moments when it was scary and I wanted to give up. But ultimately, as I struggled through the content, I actually became more empathetic toward the pre-service teachers that I work with each week.  This is why I believe teachers should learn things that take them outside of their comfort zones and outside their areas of expertise.

Which leads to the next idea . . .

6. Be open to new experiences.

Greyhounds are creatures of habit. They prefer routines. In the first year we got her, I moved her bed to put up the Christmas tree and she paced around the room in confusion. And yet, her year was full of changes. She was new to our family and new to life outside of a racetrack. But once she got over the initial hurdles, she became a member of our family. During Christmas Break, Jasmine spent the week at a friend’s house (who also has a retired racer) and when we arrived at the door, she was barking, jumping, and spinning in circles — which is rare for the typically understated demeanor of a  greyhound.

Later, we got a Great Dane puppy and she and Athena became best friends. When we adopted an older mutt, she grew closer to him as well. I watched her embrace things like walking to the bus stop and greeting the kids or exploring the wilderness on a hike.

All of this was a reminder to be open to new ideas, to new perspectives, to new experiences, and to new relationships. The last few years have been amazing because of the changes – a new job, a new state, a new community. I’m naturally averse to change. But as I  think about the New Year, I am reminded of the value of embracing the new, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

7. It’s okay to be an introvert.

My dog was also an introvert. I didn’t realize that was possible with dogs, but it was. She liked to have “me time.” If things ever got too loud and crazy, she will would into the other room. When our teenage kids had large groups of friends over, she would come see me in the bedroom and just chill for awhile before emerging.

When she met other dogs and they start wrestling around with each other, she would quietly move out of the way. Watching her was a reminder for me that it’s okay to be introverted. It’s not a bad thing that I love spending hours alone during the day reading and writing and making stuff.

For what it’s worth, I actually think it’s possible to thrive as an introverted classroom teacher as well. You just need to embrace your inner greyhound.

8. Love people. Even if you’re introverted.

Finally, love people. Even if you’re an introvert. Jasmine was unabashedly introverted. But when Jasmine was one-on-one with people, she made them feel special. That’s a hidden gift of introverts. If anyone in our family was having a hard day, Jasmine would walk over and put her head on their lap or cuddle up next to them.

There when one of our kids was struggling. It wasn’t tragic but it was still very real. While I found myself trying to speak into my son’s life and offer the perfect words of wisdom, our dog walked up to him and licked his hands and nuzzled her face into his chest. For the next few hours, she followed him, silently staying with him, knowing that a member of her pack was hurting.

It has me thinking about empathy and design thinking. Designers often use interviews and surveys to try and build empathy with an audience. But I  wonder if what we really need is more time. More listening. More silence. More observations. More trust-building. I wonder if we sometimes short-circuit true empathy when we focus on words rather than actions.

It was a reminder that empathy is more about actions than words. Sometimes what people need is for you to sit next to them in silence with no judgment and simply be present.

9. There’s power in the paws-itive.

We taught Jasmine how to sit, shake, and come to us when we ask her to. However, we stuck entirely to praise and treats and she responded really well. I remember one time when she peed on the carpet and I wanted to yell at her and my wife reminded me of our plan to use positive reinforcements. It worked. Our dog came around within a few days.

Now, I get it. Humans aren’t the same. In the past,  I’ve railed against behaviorism and the manipulative use of punishments and rewards to change behavior. However, I recently read the book Finish by Jon Acuff  and he talked about the need to give yourself rewards when you hit certain benchmarks on creative work and I found that this was often true for me this year. When I finished a rough draft on a book, I gave myself the permission to take a day and binge-watch The Great British Bake-Off. 

But it goes deeper than that. There’s a lot of negativity in the world. And, while I see the value of critical voices in education and social media, I’m reminded that there’s a value in optimism. As odd as this sounds, my greyhound is reminding me that it’s okay to be optimistic. It doesn’t mean you ignore the negative but that you choose to embrace the positive around you.

Ultimately, she reminded me that every day is a gift and I might as well choose to have a greyt day.

Have a greyt day.So, I’d love for you to share in the comments what lessons you’ve learned from your dogs or cats.


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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


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