Pick a cause and fight for it!
Margarita Kosior (Greece) shows us how she has introduced the topic of companion animal welfare into English language classrooms all over the world.
“Pick a cause and fight for it,” I once heard from a like-minded colleague, and this sentence has been my motto ever since. True, we cannot do everything, but we can all do something for at least that one cause we decide to support with all our might.
The fate of stray animals has always been close to my heart. In 2014 I adopted my cat, Cookie, and in 2016, my dog, Mocha. Since then, I have been looking for ways to make a difference and bring a change for stray animals, not only in Greece, where I am based, but all over the world. I always have dog food and cat food in my car, but I never thought this was enough. I have found homes and families for a number of stray animals, but this does not sound like the ultimate solution either. I have cried and I have worried, but issues of animal neglect, abuse and abandonment require more powerful means than despair, pity and distress.
I am an English teacher and education is my secret weapon; and that’s the weapon I decided to use to communicate my cause and my passion to teachers and learners of English all over the world.
The power of storytelling and education
I believe in the power of storytelling and the power of education to bring a big change, and an English language classroom is the right place for this change to happen. As students are working on their English and developing their 21st century skills, they are also shaping attitudes and beliefs in ways which bring hope for a better future for all living creatures on this planet. And that exactly is the purpose of the Tales of strays campaign, which I created to introduce the topic of companion animal welfare into English language classrooms all over the world. ELT professionals can support the campaign and fight for companion animals and their rights in three ways: through storytelling, materials writing and teaching.
The campaign started with a picture book (Toby to the rescue) — a story which I wrote and my then ten-year-old daughter Evita illustrated. It tells the story of Toby, a stray dog who lives under a tree in the park. He doesn’t have friends, and he doesn’t even have a name. When one day Toby meets Little Nick, who is taking a walk in the park with his mum, the lives of the dog and the boy change forever. Of course, Mum is always there to give precious advice about what responsibilities are involved in keeping a companion animal.
The second story, Mae to the rescue, is a more recent addition to the series and to the campaign. In this story, a girl named Lucy has some important shopping to do, so she goes to the shopping mall with her mum. Suddenly, when she loses sight of her mum in a crowd of shoppers, the little girl panics and starts crying. That’s when she meets Mae, a stray dog who offers her help. They become very good friends, but then it’s time to say goodbye …
Tales of strays, therefore, is a book series about how lives change when a child meets a stray. The books can be used either as bedtime stories, or as educational tools raising awareness and empowering the youngest people on earth. In either case, they can be accompanied by a number of free activities and resources available on my website. The stories will appeal to both very young and a bit older readers, thanks to engaging plots, dialogues written in the form of rhyming chants, and beautiful illustrations made by a child.
I have personally taken the Tales of strays picture books to storytelling sessions at preschools and schools in Greece and also abroad (e.g. Serbia, Argentina, and Kazakhstan), and have been amazed by the level of student motivation and engagement during those sessions, and also by the children’s innate capacity to empathise with animals lacking love, care and devotion they deserve.
Every year, Tales of strays supporters and friends celebrate World Stray Animals Day (4 April) with a publication. The first publication, The human-animal bond and what it enTALES, released in 2020, is a compilation of 11 lesson plans written by educators and materials writers from all over the world. The title of the second publication (2021) is ELT for companion animals and it contains another 11 contributions. Since the release of the two compilations, teachers in various countries have used those lesson plans in their classrooms to introduce students to the issue of companion animals and our responsibilities towards them, and have talked about the plight of stray dogs and cats. We’ve seen some amazing projects — posters, pictures, reflections, videos, poems, and more — created during and as a follow-up of those lessons.
Teachers who are willing to support the cause through materials writing can consider designing a lesson plan on an issue related to the broader topic of human relationship with companion animals (e.g. responsible dog/cat adoption, understanding dog body language, therapy dogs), teaching values such as compassion, commitment, empathy, etc. The lesson can be designed for an age group and CEFR level of the author’s choice. The author is not expected to directly speak about animal neglect and abuse. Instead, they can choose to highlight the beauty of our relationship with companion animals and nurture positive behaviors towards them, rather than directly condemn negative attitudes. I feel we can have a more powerful effect this way. Any teacher or materials writer willing to participate can send a message to [email protected] to express interest in contributing. Every year, compilations are uploaded to talesofstrays.com — the place which I currently use for Tales of strays related activities — and made freely available to anyone who would like to spread awareness of the problem of stray companion animals worldwide.
No matter how creative and engaging the materials in the Tales of strays compilations are, they would not make much of a difference in the world if it were not for the inspiring teachers willing to bring the topic of companion animals, their well-being, but also their frequent neglect and abandonment into lessons.
In order to become an official Tales of strays supporter, throughout the academic year, the teacher or school needs to commit to delivering at least four lessons of their choice from the existing compilations (The human-animal bond and what it enTALEs and/or ELT for companion animals) or to suggest their own ideas or projects and work on them with their students. Since the campaign can only grow if we get the word out there, teachers try to support the cause on social media by posting samples of their students’ work and their reflections. This way, we can get more teachers and students involved, and make an even bigger impact.
Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” The Tales of strays campaign, based on its three pillars of storytelling, materials writing and teaching, and aiming to change our attitudes towards companion animals, can only take us forward.