Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
We introduced an open forum last year aimed at encouraging our primary and secondary students to ask me questions that matter to them. Recently, we had Year 5 and 6 students participate. Among the usual questions regarding the need for uniforms, sport and homework were ones about bringing pets to school.
It is a really interesting question. As I told the students, while I don’t have an issue with bringing reasonably sized pets to school, there are challenges around safety and responsibility. Ultimately, these decisions need to be made by the individual school in consultation with the community and relevant authorities.
There are workplaces that encourage bringing in pets because of the social, emotional and cognitive benefits. Last year, I visited a secondary school that introduced pet days as part of their commitment to collective decision-making and student wellbeing. We know that when students are relaxed and happy, they are in the best space to learn. We also know that the school environment should mirror positive home environments, which for many, includes pets.
One really interesting initiative for addressing student wellbeing has been the use of therapy dogs in schools. Therapy dogs are trained to respond in particular environments and a recent study found that for many young people, these dogs contributed to increased student attendance, confidence, motivation and strengthened relationships. These are all very important factors in improving student learning.
Young people learn best when they are happy and feel good about who they are. The statistics that show increasing student anxiety and stress challenge us to think creatively about how we create positive environments for learning. That may include thinking of pets as an important part of better student learning and wellbeing.
Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta