Meet Murphey: The dog helping international students learn maths
“Research has shown that a school dog can impact positively on learning and behaviour”
My beautiful cockapoo, Murphy McGrath, comes to work with me once a week to help look after and settle the international students in Learning Support.
As he is a ‘Learning Dog’, he takes three roles during the day: meet and greet the children as they arrive for their one to one support lessons for maths, provide dog-grooming as an extracurricular activity for the children which they love to help out with, and to sit with the school counsellor, Laura Denmead, as he is a good listener and will create a calming and positive environment, making it easier for the children to talk about their problems.
What makes Murphey so great when it comes to looking after our many international students is that he supports their wellbeing; an away from home sort of dog. There is a sense that having a pet, such as Murphey, will create more of a homely environment. I really do think this has proven to be beneficial at Clifton College as the children instantly look more relaxed when they see Murphey. They spend time petting him before it is time to settle and crack on with their mathematics work.
The relationship between the children and Murphey is symbiotic; he loves being around the children and it is a good way for him to burn some energy and get some attention, while the children, of course, love being around such a cute pet. He enjoys the rhythm of multiplication times tables while he gnaws on his bone – his tail even wags to the rhythm! He can also tell the time which is pretty impressive. If he knows that the children are about to pack away, then he comes a bit livelier as he knows that he won’t be interrupting the students as they are writing out multiplications.
The international students really do love him, and he creates a relaxing environment for those that have moved away from their own country and may be feeling a little homesick. The positive atmosphere which Murphey creates enhanced learning – he is particularly affectionate, tolerant, patient and has a calming influence, which I think is needed in a Learning Support building.
“The international students really do love him, and he creates a relaxing environment for those that have moved away from their own country”
I spoke to a few of the international students to hear their thoughts on Murphey, and one pupil said, “I like having Murphey around. He relaxes when we are doing maths which I think is really good”. It is great to get feedback to know that this method is working, as well as knowing that the international students feel comforted.
I am really glad that I adapted this idea; research has shown that a school dog can impact positively on learning and behaviour. I visited Wallscourt Farm Academy a few years ago, and I was impressed by the way that their Learning Dog, Noodle, made the international students feel at ease. He even greeted me on arrival; he was very well trained, just like Murphey.
I really encourage other schools to adopt this idea, especially if they have international students boarding there. I often read about the benefits of having dogs in the classroom, and really do believe that it will help with the stress and anxiety of the children, while also bringing a sense of homeliness to the classroom.
About the author: Caroline McGrath is Clifton College’s Preparatory School Learning Development Teacher, she also has a PhD in Mathematics Education. Her main role within the school is working with students between the ages of 8-13 to establish confidence in their mathematical capabilities.