Dogs used to motivate Swedish high school students

The original article  appeared in Swedish in Sweden’s largest daily newspaper by Ulrika By. It has been translated and paraphrased by Joanie Rafidi.

They had to imagine what is was like to walk on hot coals; they learned how to rock climb; they talked about the meaning of life and they got in touch with their own feelings. But perhaps the best part of this small group of students’ special introductory high school session, was the time they spent with the canines, American Kita,  Keo, and French Bulldog, Wilma.

Swedish leadership development consultant Björn Ödman and his two dogs got an assignment – motivate a small group of freshman students who were attending their first two weeks at a Stockholm suburban high school. His mission: help them succeed in school and in their lives.

“In a short amount of time, I have dared to do more than I ever thought I could do before, “ says Christian O’Connor,  a freshman attending this course at Tyresö High School, southeast of Stockholm.

The school’s management hired Ödman and his dogs to kick-start the spring semester; they immediately aroused wide attention on campus. Students were drawn to Keo and Wilma and the dogs became the hottest topic.

“So it is with my dogs. They are always at the center of attention. They manage to gather people around them and this provokes many positive emotions, “ smiles Björn Ödman. “I think they are the most important social teaching tools I have.”

While he instructs a handful of students on how to secure a person  before ascending a climbing wall, the dogs  bounce around the room, sometimes playing,  sometimes being cuddled and sometimes withdrawing from attention.

“Since being in this program,  I have gotten to know many more here at school. We have started to talk to each other in a completely different way,” explains Christian and another student Adam Johansson.

The students attending this special program had different reasons for being chosen such as not having enough points to attend the high school earlier but were being accepted now to supplement what they needed.

Ödman says his job is to challenge these students and to get them to put their thoughts into positive words and act upon them and in the long term – to be able to take charge of their own destinies.

“ We’ve talked about the meaning of  life with Björn,” says O’Connor. “And also about how to socially act with each other. And I like that he tells us directly if he hears stuff he doesn’t like. I think it’s good, because you really have to think and feel at the same time.”

And that’s just the synergies Ödman was after – to make the students realize and understand their individual unconscious processes. They need to see that while doing things that on the surface may seem natural,  may in fact,  kick off entirely different things.

“It’s like walking on hot coals,” he says. “But not literally, of course. It’s about daring to take off your socks before your buddies, daring to think that I can do this and also important – to think that I do not want to do this.”

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