The story I’m about to share with you is true. It’s also a perfect illustration of why I cherish what I do.
It was late January and still quite chilly when I arrived at South Elementary School in Mooresville, North Carolina. There I was enthusiastically welcomed by students and teachers alike thanks to Cheryl McCrorey, who’d done a great job preparing everyone for my arrival.
I was scheduled to spend two days at the school, and my itinerary was quite full. It included two assemblies, a book signing, an interview with a local news station, and visits with each grade. As a result, I was a bit blurry-eyed when an excited little third grader came running up to me at the end of the first day.
“Miss Jena, Miss Jena!” she said, throwing her arms around me. “I absolutely ADORE your books. I’m going to be a writer just like you!”
“That’s great,” I said, hugging her back. “I can hardly wait to read your first book.”
“Oh, you’ll probably be dead by then,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Katelyn!” her teacher gasped. “You shouldn’t say things like that!”
“Why not?” Katelyn asked. “It’s true.”
“I’m so sorry,” the teacher said, turning bright red.
“That’s okay,” I said. “She’s just being honest. I’ll tell you what Katelyn. I’ll do my best to stay alive if you’ll promise to write fast.”
“Okay,” she said. “See you!”
The rest of my day was consumed by a book signing and reception, plus dinner with some of the teachers at a local Italian restaurant. Over a plate of fried calmari I shared my encounter with Katelyn. Everyone laughed but no one seemed surprised. “That sounds like Katelyn,” said one teacher. “She’s beyond precocious.”
Precocious, I wondered, or simply astute? Although her statement shocked me a bit, it also reminded me why I like working with kids so much. Kids are honest, observant, and creative. I fell asleep with a smile on my face thinking of Katelyn. I hoped that I’d live long enough to see her first literary masterpiece.
As it turned out, I didn’t have long to wait at all. The very next morning Katelyn met me at the front door of the school with an illustrated manuscript in hand. Entitled, “the mistify girls; wher is poinsetta?” it told the story of a bird named Poinsetta who is snatched from her golden cage by a “stinkey crook” and rescued by a dog named Max.
Needless to say I was both surprised and delighted. I thanked her for the amazing story and told her I would cherish it forever. “Oh, you can’t keep it,” Katelyn said. “I’m going to use it to teach the kids in my class to be nice to animals.”
“Why don’t I make a copy for Miss Jena?” Katelyn’s teacher suggested, rescuing us both from an awkward moment.
“That’s a great idea,” I said, handing the manuscript over.
Today, as I sit at my desk rereading “the mistify girls,” I am tickled again by Katelyn’s story. But here’s the thing. I bet not one of you is surprised. I bet each and every one of you has similar tales to tell. Those kids and their stories are why we get up in the morning and why what we do matters SO much. Each and every day we are entrusted with our children’s dreams and tasked with helping shape and grow them. Our future quite literally depends on helping our kids grown into kind, creative, caring adults who believe in themselves and one another. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing, how bout you?
Copyright 2017 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
This past week has been a singularly stressful and eye opening one. First, my kitty jumped from my second floor balcony and disappeared into the apartment complex’s storm drains. Then, hundreds of people went out of their way to help me rescue him. Some were people I know, but most were strangers I met by posting to online forums. Some emailed suggestions and encouragement, others showed up and offered to post flyers, set traps, and baked me cookies. Still others picked up their phones and called just to say they were thinking of me. There was even a gestalt group out in California that held a vigil on the day we executed our rescue plan.
Now, as I sit here with Oscar purring in my lap I am struck again by the power of love. The plight of one small orange cat opened hearts and brought all these people together. Best of all it didn’t feel forced or difficult. People who cared showed up and did what needed to be done. They did it willingly and patiently, even when there were snags; even when the hours dragged on and on, and they probably needed to be other places. On that day, love trumped everything and a small orange cat named Oscar came home.
Many Thanks To:
– Christa and Hayden Reich – Who helped map the storm drain system
– Shelly Smith – Cary’s amazing animal control officer
– April Allen and her team – Animal rescuers extraordinaire
– Paul Jones – Cary public works officer
– Jovan Dance – Cary public works officer
– Carol, Carolyn, Ann Marie, Mark, Susan, Betsy, Kristin, Linda, Kerri and Austin, Josh, Michael, Kristina, Debbie, and Cindy of Crescent Arbors
– Lost and Found Animals Facebook Group
– The Nexdoor Lochmere Lost and Found Group
– Lisa Poet and friends
– Amanda Lamb and WRAL for chronicling the story
– Care First Animal Hospital
– Unleashed Pet Supply Store
– Animal Eyecare Center
– VHS Emergency Vet Center
– Grace Park Animal Hospital
– Jan Hill of Wake County SPCA
I can’t thank you enough, but I can and will continue to sing your praises and support you when I can.
To read a blow by blow account of the adventure from start to finish visit: http://wp.me/p37dkL-1hs
Leonard Cohen famously said, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” If anyone had told me I’d form a company devoted to chipping away at the small but widening crack in the foundation of education, I would’ve laughed. A journalist by training, I spent the first 30+ years of my career writing features for national publications. If I thought about education at all, it was to marvel that my mother survived 35 years as a teacher.
Then six years ago, my life and the universe conspired to change all that. In rapid succession I was introduced to a six-pound dachshund with paralyzed back legs from abuse suffered in a puppy mill; was asked to write a book for IFAW’s “Cats, Dogs and Us” education program; and began working with the humane educator at my local SPCA. Overnight the importance of making emotional intelligence a cornerstone of education became unavoidably clear. What could I create, I wondered, that would help kids learn and practice kindness?
The answer to that question was the CritterKin book series. By 2013, I’d written three books, and was visiting elementary schools across the U.S. It was during these visits that I began hearing an unsettling meme. Seven, eight and nine-year-old children were telling me their work was ugly, bad and “not perfect.” When I finally asked what “not perfect” meant, the kids replied, “Stupid, messed up, dirty, broken, nasty and loser.” Clearly being “not perfect” was a very bad thing, even though the kids understood no one is perfect.
I spent the next two years writing the fourth CritterKin book – The Not Perfect Hat Club - and developing a global reading and writing initiative to go with it. Since their launch in 2015, the response has been overwhelmingly positive:
“This has been one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had in education. Jena, you are truly AMAZING. Thank you!!!!” – Gloriann Heikes, 1st. grade teacher, Minnesota
“Thank you Jena for inviting us to this wonderful initiative.” Avnita Bir, R.N. Podar School, Mumbai, India
“I’m so very impressed by the changed mindset of our students thanks to NPHC. Proud principal!” – Vicki Lofton, Principal, Citrus County, Florida
“Amazing! I love it. NPHC is changing the world one perfectly not perfect kiddo at a time!” – Karly Moura, Sun Terrace Elementary School
“You’ve organized this so much more professionally than any curriculum I’ve ever used. I love that it is global too.” – Susie Reilly, 4th grade teacher, California
As of November of 2016, the NPHC initiative has grown to the point where I require partners. It’s time to reach out through LinkedIn’s wide and diverse network to build a team that can help me crack the foundation of education wide open. I’ve already reached out to several companies through LinkedIn, but plan to take advantage of ProFinder to find creative professionals as well. Thanks to LinkedIn, this process promises to be both engaging and educational. Thank you for putting business connections and tools at my fingertips. – Jena Ball
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserve
#WhatisSchool for October 27, 2016
Title: The Bully In Us All
Exploring the who, what and why of bullying
Introductions: Please introduce yourself and tell us if you agree or disagree that there is the potential for anyone to become a bully.
Q1: It’s been said that bullying is the tip of a larger iceberg. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Q2: Are there others – besides the bullies and the bullied – who contribute to the problem?
Q3: What are some of the challenges inherent in dealing with bullying?
Q4: Do you feel the measures being taken to stop bullying are effective? Why or why not? l
Q5: What role do social-emotional skills play in prevention and intervention?
Q6: How can we encourage students to become effective peer leaders who discourage bullying by modeling empathy and kindness?
Challenge: Share some programs or projects that encourage a culture of mutual respect, tolerance and appreciation for differences.
The Bully in Us All
A unique conversation was begun between myself (Jena Ball) and Sunny Thakral at the start of October, 2016. As most of you know, October is Bully Prevention month, and I was eager to share both my book, Lead With Your Heart, and my thoughts about bullying after using the book to teach elementary school children kindness. You see, I never intended Lead With Your Heart to be a book about bullying. Yes, there are bullies in the story, but it is fundamentally a book about how judging one another by outward appearances and assumptions can lead to prejudice and fear. In other words, the bullying in the book is a symptom – the result of circumstances and events that have shaped the characters’ lives.
To make a long story short, my conversation with Sunny led to a discussion on #INZpired, the spark chat he co-founded and leads on Friday nights. The conversation that night was intense, engaging and left me hungry for more. It was clear that although more and more schools see bullying as an issue, they are struggling to know how to actually deal with and prevent bullying. And so I did what every good educator on Twitter does when he/she is in search of answers, I consulted my PLN. More precisely, I contacted Craig Kemp, and asked if he would consider making bullying the topic for #WhatisSchool in October.
As soon as Craig agreed and a date was set, I knew what I wanted the focus of the chat to be. Writing and teaching Lead With Your Heart had brought up some painful memories – first of being bullied by the daughter of a family friend, and later of seeing seeing a classmate being bullied but being too frightened to say or do anything. Both experiences bother me still, and taught me that given the right circumstances each and every person has the potential to be unkind. And so I chose “The Bully in Us All” as the topic for our upcoming discussion and the blog posts that follow.
I hope that as you read these diverse contributions below you will consider telling your own story. Share your thoughts, opinions and solutions. Let’s dig deep to discover what bullying has to teach us about who we are and what kind of adults we want our students to become.
If you’d like to add to the discussion, email me at: JenaBall@CritterKin.com or ping me on Twitter @JenaiaMorane
Jena Ball is the beloved author and illustrator of the CritterKin book series and an educator on a mission to ignite creativity and help children discover their unique gifts. To learn more about her work visit:
The Not Perfect Hat Club: http://notperfecthatclub.com
Workshops and Talks: http://JenaBall.com
Allow Students to Own Their Learning
Travis Jordan, Superintendent, Beulah Public School District 27 in Beulah, ND
What happens when you allow students to own their learning? The teacher poses a question to her students and then allows them to use their creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills to solve the problem.
This is exactly what happened in Mrs. Julie Zahn’s Fourth grade class at Beulah Public School in Beulah, North Dakota. Survey results showed that Beulah ranked above average when it came to students being bullied. The students decided that they wanted to do something about this. They asked their teacher if they could do a video to raise awareness to bullying. Their intention was to inspire other students around the world to do the same.
The students drove the entire process while the teacher let them run with it. Not only did they bring awareness to a great cause – they grew both as a class and individually. When we allow our students to have autonomy in their learning they often take it to unthinkable levels. Let’s not be afraid as educators to allow our students to showcase their talents. Every single child has unique abilities, and with those they have the power to change the world. Thank you Mrs. Zahn for allowing your students to grow and inspire all at the same time.
The video can be found at this link https://youtu.be/RauYok6xMN4.
My name is Travis Jordan. I’m currently the Superintendent at Beulah Public School District 27 in Beulah, ND. I’ve been in education for 13 years now. Six of those years as a Social Studies Instructor in Langdon ND. Three of those as a HS/MS Principal at Griggs County Central School in Cooperstown ND, and Two years at the Superintendent at that same school. This past year I served Shiloh Christian School in Bismarck as their Superintendent. My experiences in life as well as education have created a passion in me to inspire others. I truly believe that each of us has a distinct purpose in life and we all have the ability to change the world. You can find me on the following social media sites.
Jon is the Assistant Principal of a K-5 elementary school where he lives with his wife and two kids. Jon has taught 1st-5th grade, and has been a math coach and has been in administration for 7 years. You can find him on Twitter @ and on Bam Radio at: http://www.bamradionetwork.com/my-bad/
Third Graders in Florida Vlog about Bullying
Terry Stoufer’s third grade class at Lecanto Primary School in Citrus County, Florida is focusing on showing empathy and being Upstanders rather than bystanders in the fight against bullying. Here is what Mrs. Stoufer has to say about her class.
Pedro – Click on the image above
Violet – Click on the Image Above
Maddy – Click on the image above
Brycen – Click on the image above
Sebastian – Click on the image above
“I can see a maturity growing in them. I hear it in their words and see it in their actions. At times, they are still in a “me” world, but they are beginning to look outside themselves. I also see them begin to hold each other accountable. This is not a one lesson fix, or just a week to focus on. It takes time, reflection and many lessons that tie back to their hearts. We have needed to talk about it, share it and have time to grasp and understand it. It is a big…and vital piece in education.” – Terry Stoufer,
The Power of Empathy
Naghma Khan, Clinical/Addiction Counselor, Noida, India
In my tryst with the varied nature of bullying, I have become painfully conscious of the dynamic roles we play in assorted situations. When I started my journey (almost 15 years back) I believed in the conventional model of bullying; which meant a bully, a victim and some bystanders.
But then I met Raj. Raj was one of my warm, delightful adolescent students. He came to me to talk about how distasteful the school culture of cliques is becoming. Raj was articulate and felt passionately for the cause. I was impressed with the authencity and maturity of this teen. We made plans of dealing with this growing epidemic of ostracizing the children who were not able to fit in the definition of a ‘Cool’ kid or the type of kid you want them to be.
My interactions with his program increased and then I saw it. How beautifully the dynamics changed when the cause changed. Raj, one of my pioneers to fight against bullying, very subtly played HIS share of the role of a bully too.
Once identified, I was able to recognize the pattern in various scenarios. Most of the times there was no verbal threats or physical aggression but the trauma/ sufferings was conveyed through different modes. I saw people changing routes and lunch tables because of the mere presence of someone or a group. The roles kept changing and the actors switched places. With the realization came empathy and a new insightful view.
I have a bully hidden inside me. My insecurities feed it. It comes out when it gets a chance or become too big to stay inside; finds its victim, make him suffer; gets contended and hide back in.
My awareness of this powerful fact, help me to work on it. I manage it everyday and spread this awareness to the community I work with too.
Accepting my vulnerability empowers me!
Click HERE or on the image above to watch Kim’s video
Kim Sutton is an energetic educator with experiences educating in early childhood, primary and university. She is excited by exploring new ways in which educational technology can be used to motivate, engage and extend independent learning experiences for all learners. She firmly believes in giving students opportunities that will take their thinking and learning outside the box. Critical and creative thought are encouraged so that students can become not just joyful and engaged learners, but extraordinary people who will have profound impacts on their world.
Find her on Twitter @TeachMissSutton
(Click on the image above to read his blog)
A New Zealand Student Shares His Thoughts
Bullying is one of those issues that won’t go away quickly. It has been around for awhile, and unless we do something it will continue to be a problem. Unfortunately, I don’t see much being done. I guess that bullying gives someone a sense of power or dominance, or a feeling of control over a situation or a person.
From what I’ve encountered in the past, bullies have a background situation that they are struggling with. Often family problems, problems with friends, an overload of schoolwork, etc. contribute to creating bullies. It’s an ineffective and sad way of releasing and trying to take pain away. Bullies will pass their anger and emotions on to someone else to have to deal with. We can’t always shoot down bullies, and label them as bad people, because we don’t always know the full story or what they’re personally going through.
In the end, bullies need to be dealt with in an effective and strategic way that reduces and stops the amount of bullying they do. They must be stopped from doing it in the future. It takes just one conversation with someone to change their life, and every person on this earth has the power to change somebody’s life.
(Click on the image above to see videos of the students talking about bullying and responses from others in the community)
“During our annual SLIME – Students of Long Island Maker Expo http://www.slimemakerexpo.com/ participants participate in Make and Donate activities to help the community. They decorate Welcome Home signs for Habitat for Humanity, decorated Blessing Bags for the Homeless, sewed pillows for puppies at a local animal shelter, created blankets for Project Linus, and wrote thank you letters to members of the armed forces.” – Kristina Holzweiss, School Librarian, Professional Developer, Author and Maker
A Long Island Eighth Grader Shares Her Story
Hello my name is Elizabeth, but you can call me Liz for short. I’m a 13 year old in the 8th grade. I like drawing, writing and reading. I loved school until 6th grade when I had to leave all my friends in Mississippi to come to New York. The first day of school was a life-changing event for me. Here’s my story.
It all started when my dad said he got a new job in New York. I was so happy because I always wanted to visit New York. My happiness came to an end when my dad said, “We’re leaving Friday, so I suggest everyone start packing.” I’ll always remember the way I cried when he told us we were moving. I really didn’t wanna leave my friends.
Skipping ahead to Sunday, when we finally were done unpacking, I remember looking out my window and seeing three nice looking girls from my window. They noticed me and waved. I waved back and they started laughing. I laughed as well because I thought they were trying to be friendly. Little did I know that’s how it all started.
Monday morning came along, and I did the usual – brushed my teeth, got dressed, combed my hair and ate breakfast. I told my mom I had a stomach ache to prevent myself from going to a new school in a new town where I didn’t know anyone but my own family. My mom just laughed and said, “You just have butterflies. You’ll be fine.” She grabbed my book bag, handed it to me and gave me a kiss. I walked out the door to my bus stop and saw the same three girls (I won’t use their names) from the day before. So I thought, “Well today’s the day I make new friends I guess.” I walked towards them and said, “Hi.” They looked at me funny, and one of them said, “Do we know you?” I replied with, “Yes..I, I, I mean no, I just moved here.”
“Where did you move from, a barn? Those clothes are hideous.”
I heard the bus come, and quickly walked away from the laughter and humiliation I’d just received. That was just the morning. Throughout the day, these girls were everywhere I was – in the halls, at lunch and in THE BATHROOM!! THESE GIRLS WERE DRIVING ME MAD.
Over the next few weeks, I was tripped, pushed and even yelled at. These girls did not like me, and I was scared to defend myself. I remember being this really quiet, shy, wallflower type of girl, so I didn’t really make any friends. I’m just not that social. Everyone thought I was weird anyways.
So you’re probably asking yourself, “How did the bullying stop if she was so scared to defend herself?” That’s where my first friend Ashley came in. Here’s how my story ends.
It was the end of the day, and I had just finished working on a science project that took me two days! I was at my locker, and I put the project down so I could open my locker, I grabbed all my stuff and noticed my project was gone. I turned around and there they were holding my project. “What is it?”
“It’s obvi a planet duh.”
“No it’s not, it’s a potato.”
“Maybe it’s a ball. Let’s try it out!!”
That’s when they took my project and started slamming it into the ground. I quickly collapsed on my knees trying not to cry. Laughter filled the hallway. It was so horrible. I was so close to crying until I heard a voice say, “Hey! Leave her alone.” The girls quickly turned their heads.
“Ugh, what do you want?” said one of the girls.
“Leave her alone! She didn’t do anything,” Ashley said, helping me up. “Keep it up and let’s see what the principal has to say about this.”
“Ugh, whatever. Come on girls. She’s not worth our time.” They all practically ran away. I’ll always remember that day when I met Ashley.
So let’s skip to today. Ashley and I are the bestest friends ever. I made more friends whom I care for a lot. And what about the fate of the bully girls? Let’s just say they’ll be home schooled for a long time. But that’s my story. I hoped you enjoyed. – Liz
Putting a Positive Spin on Bullying
Nick Brierley, eLearning Coordinat
Bullying is one of the tragic realities in the classroom of today. Many students and teachers choose to write about the tragic side, but it is equally important to talk about the positivity that we all have to offer.
Two strategies that are effective in bringing about habits of positive thinking in the classroom are bucket filling and identification of character strengths.
Bucket filling is where small buckets (popcorn boxes, plastic buckets or decorated paper envelopes) are pinned to a wall in the classroom, with one for each students (and teacher too!). Students can anonymously drop a compliment or positive words in another person’s bucket. The class can either read them together and talk about some of the great things that they have learned about themselves.
The identification of character strengths is another strategy, where students are encouraged to identify their best character traits (ie. what do you do best?). Students are also encouraged to identify the character strengths that they see in each other. The confirmation that other people see us as valuable people with valuable qualities is an extremely effective strategy in promoting each other as individuals.
Nick Brierley is an educator advocating for student talents, interests and needs inspiring classroom practice. Having ten years experience in primary schools, Nick teaches and co-ordinates eLearning with students and staff at a primary school on Sydney’s north shore. He has completed studies in gifted education, religious education and educational leadership. Nick believes professional learning should be engaging and practical.
Nick is a Google Certified Educator, Google Certified Innovator and member of the Breakout EDU ANZ team working with EdTechTeam ANZ to bring Breakout EDU down under to Australia and New Zealand.
Find Nick on Twitter @mythsysizer
Yesterday, I walked in on a disturbing conversation. The discussion centered around the millions of poultry and hogs drowned due to flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina. The news that day was full of the health hazards posed by potentially toxic hog manure (which contains antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria) making its way into streams, rivers and the Atlantic Ocean, and the mind boggling task of collecting and disposing of all the bodies. The mood in the room was somber, subdued and anxious. “I hear the health department is telling people in Lumberton to boil their drinking water just to be safe,” someone said.
What wasn’t said was what it must have been like for the animals trapped in their cages and pens as the waters rose. The fear, the frantic calls, the desperate attempts to escape – animals scrambling and climbing over one another to shove their snouts and beaks above the water as it rose.
All this was churning around in my guts as I fought back tears. “Those poor animals,” I finally said.
Conversation stopped. It’s not often that we are reminded that a significant portion of our food comes from taking the lives of other creatures. It’s not often that we are reminded that humanity is not a species but a state of mind. I think Antoine de Saint-Exupery said it best when he wrote, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
We were responsible for the animals that perished in the flooding from Hurricane Matthew, but we let them down, first by treating their lives as disposable commodities, then by abandoning them to die horrific deaths. We knew a full week before the waters rose that animals would die if something wasn’t done, but we did nothing.
I’m sure there are many reasons (financial and practical) why the animals couldn’t be saved. But the fact remains that despite previous experience with hurricanes and flooding, there were no emergency plans in place. We knew something like this was possible, but we chose “business/profits as usual” over the lives of creatures who depended on us.
Today, I am not proud of humanity. Today I am sad and sickened and ashamed of how we’ve behaved. Whatever your beliefs, however you choose to define the spark that fuels your life, know that that same spark burns in all creatures. Our lives are inextricably connected, and what hurts one hurts us all.
So I am going to ask you to do something out of the ordinary. I am going to ask you to take a moment out of your busy day to think of the millions of lives that left our planet this week. Think of them, let yourself feel, and send love. It’s the least and only thing left to do. – Jena Ball
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
A post by Brandon Marshall on BeBee entitled, “Learn more so you won’t fossilize,” about the importance of being willing to continue to learn throughout your life, got me thinking. While I agree in principal with what Brandon had to say, “…my most valuable asset is my ability to learn,” I think we need to expand and elaborate on the definition of learning.
Our ability and willingness to “learn” is often confined to intellectual acquisition of knowledge and skills. We are so enthralled with creating and using the latest widget, app, program or smart phone that we fail to do the more difficult, self-reflective learning that is necessary if we are to use those skills in responsible ways. Since October is “Anti-Bullying Month,” the most obvious example is how digital technology has empowered cyber bullies and can reduce communication between individuals to cryptic exchanges of text. We may have learned to communicate faster, but we certainly have not used that skill to communicate with care and compassion.
We must remember that new “things” are only as good as the people who use them. We must examine and find ways to use our new technologies to tackle real world problems. In the case of education, where most of my attention is focused, it should be used to empower children to find and share their stories; to find creative solutions and collaborate with their peers around the world. In this way, the walls of fear, prejudice and judgment can be dismantled and new communication skills, grounded in empathy, kindness and respect for difference can be learned.
If we look at history, there are some fundamental and compelling themes humankind has been grappling with forever. They are at the heart of who we aspire to be and a measure of how far we have to go.
So to Brandon’s eloquent piece, I’d like to add, by all means keep learning new “things,” but be sure to touch base with your internal compass. Weigh your intellectual knowledge against your moral and emotional center. Does the information or skill you are acquiring help you become a better person? How can it be used to facilitate understanding, make another person’s life easier, clarify an issue or a problem, or connect people whose work or interests complement one another? Finally, does learning this skill or acquiring this information contribute to my personal joy and satisfaction?
These are the questions I ask myself before I download an app, purchase a new smart phone, or sign up to learn the latest and greatest SM marketing tool. You see I’m on a mission to address some of the pressing issues we’re facing by using “learning” to recall myself and others to their “best” selves. Which of course doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good game of Angry Birds or Pokemon GO every once in awhile – Jena Ball
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
I’ve been thinking a lot about difficulty. More accurately, I’ve been experiencing and feeling my way through a series of difficulties that my rat race mind is ill-equipped to handle. While this is nothing new (I’ve known for a long time that the mind’s ability to come up with solutions is useful only in the final stages of a lesson), it is still tempting to let my thoughts run through familiar mazes. I’ll spare you the details, but when I finally arrive battered, exhausted and without a penny to my name at the same place I began, I finally start to let go.
I picture myself as a Kyudo archer practicing “Standing Zen.” The goal is to breathe, be present, acknowledge and release anything that comes up. So many people, so much pain, so much anger, resentment and blame. I breathe, nock an arrow, raise and draw the bow.
In “Standing Zen,” shooting the arrow is not a test of skill, but a way to focus on an inward target – something you are intent on knowing and remembering about yourself. Free from past and future, balanced and focused in the present, you shoot from your heart towards the center of yourself.
With every breath I allow who and what I am to pour into that arrow. I infuse it with gratitude and wonder, satisfaction and delight. I cure the wood of the shaft with love of earth – the songs of cicadas and whales and wolves; the light of fireflies flaunting their passion and the cooing of doves nestling into sleep. I stroke the feathers, smoothing the barbs into place so their flight will be effortless and true. Finally, I let myself feel the arrowhead itself – shaped and sharpened with the ability to kill. An arrow like this must only be shot with clear intent – with all the creative chuzpah your heart can muster while focused on the goal – my goal – of expressing, sharing and being abundantly supported for who and what I am in the world.
I take one last deep breath and settle in, gathering my strength, mustering my courage as I pull the string back close to my cheek. When I exhale, the arrow flies, driven by love. I don’t hold back. – Jena Ball
To learn more about that goal I’m shooting for visit: http://NotPerfectHatClub.com
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
A guest blog is written for Peter Dewitt’s “Finding Common Ground” column in Education Week
Where does perfection come from?
Why do even the youngest of students believe they are expected to be perfect?
Does come from within or from the adults around them?
What is perfection? The word itself comes from “perficere,” a Latin word meaning to complete or finish. Over time, however, perfection has taken on a more pernicious meaning. In today’s terms, perfection has come to mean without fault, which in turn assumes that there is one right way to function or be in the world, and that mistakes (faults) are to be avoided at all costs.
We see this definition of perfection played out in our industrialized classrooms, where all students are expected to learn the same things, in the same way, on the same schedule. This mindset is further reinforced by standardized testing, which delivers the demoralizing message that some are better than others, and encourages competition, conformity and self-blame.
Rather than risk failure, students shut down their curiosity and creativity, becoming passive recipients of information that they then regurgitate on tests. This approach flies in the face of how human beings learn (we are emotion-driven, trial-and-error learners) and fails to prepare students for a world in which creative collaboration, innovative thinking and flexibility are the most sought after qualities in the workplace.
Back in 2010, as I was beginning my journey as a children’s book author, I had little or no conscious awareness of perfectionism. Like most of my peers, I was a byproduct of the skill, drill, test and repeat model that today’s students are struggling with. While I understood intellectually that no one is perfect, that didn’t stop me, or my peers, from judging me harshly for making mistakes. I joked that I was a recovering perfectionist, but jokes did nothing to alleviate my suspicions that I would never be “good enough.”
Fast forward to 2013. I had been invited to read from my book, Lead with Your Heart, to a combined class of first, second and third graders in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Following the reading I planned to teach the kids how to draw the main character in the book, a big, black pit bull named Lance.
After the reading, the kids raced to their cubbies to get pencils, paper and Crayons so we could start drawing. Excited chatter filled the air as they voted on which dog to draw. When I asked if they were ready to get started, a resounding, “Yes!” shook the classroom walls.
Imagine my surprise when just a few minutes into the exercise the kids’ expressions went from smiles to frowns, and I began to hear unhappy complaints. “Mine is ugly,” said one little girl.
“This is stupid,” said another, ripping a hole in his paper with his eraser.
“I can’t do this,” said a third.
“Whoa, time out,” I said. “What’s going on? Why don’t you like your drawings?”
“Mine’s not perfect like yours,” lisped the little boy directly in front of me.
That’s when I asked the million dollar question that would change my life and theirs. “What do you think not perfect means?”
“Stupid, ugly, messed up, dirty, bad!” The words poured from their lips like a dam that had burst, filling the air with frustration, anger and self-blame. “Weird, insane, gross, loser, dumb, broken, unhappy, different, rubbish, stinky, disgusting.”
I didn’t try to stop them. In fact, I encouraged them to keep going, to get it all out while I scribbled the words down in my notebook. “All done?” I asked as silence fell. Silently the kids nodded. I glanced up at their teachers in the back of the room. Their faces were flushed and there were tears in their eyes.
“Okay, good job,” I said to the kids. “I’m really glad you told me how you feel. Let’s talk about being perfect, okay?”
Since that eye-opening day, I have seen the same scenario repeated in hundreds of classrooms around the world. While no longer surprised, I continue to be deeply disturbed and saddened, both for our children and for adults laboring under the illusion that they are flawed, broken or somehow undeserving because they are not perfect. What was needed, I decided, were ways to combat the myth and give students and their teachers firsthand experience making and learning from mistakes. The result was my book and related programs known as, “The Not Perfect Hat Club” (NPHC).
NPHC uses multimedia, story-driven projects to give students the chance to experience, discuss and express their feelings about perfection. Creative expression is a vital piece of the process, because it allows each child to discover, develop and share what makes him or her unique. In addition, NPHC creative projects are collaborative, making the point that we are better together – that each person has a piece to contribute to our collective puzzle.
Creating The Not Perfect Hat Club started me on the road to recovery from perfection, but there are many other ways to combat the myth. Here are a few that educators have shared with me.
Teach Each Child as an Individual
John Hattie famously said real learning happens when, “teachers see learning through the eyes of their students, and students see themselves as their own teachers.” There is so much wisdom in this statement. We must see our students as unique individuals, each with his/her learning needs, and empower them to take an active role in deciding what and how they learn.
Teach the Whole Child – Heart, Mind and Body
Breakthroughs in neuroscience have definitively proven that heart, mind and body are irrevocably intertwined. How a child feels emotionally has a profound impact on his/her ability to learn. Children who are anxious, upset, fearful or depressed cannot learn because their bodies produce chemicals that shut down higher cognitive functions.
Refuse to Data Dump
Children are not empty hard drives waiting to be filled with facts and figures, but complex, emotional beings who are motivated by what interests and excites them. My new motto, reinforced by children themselves, is “know your kids, grow your lessons.” My job is not to impose preset lesson plans, but to get to know my students and adjust how I teach based on what gets them excited and helps then learn effectively.
Cultivate Mindfulness and Self-reflection
Real learning (meaning the integration of information and experiences), requires: quieting the mind; being fully present in the moment; acknowledging but not judging thoughts, feelings and physical sensations; time to get to know one’s heart and mind; and practice expressing thoughts and feelings.
Cultivate Empathy and Kindness Through Story
Human beings are storytellers. Stories allow us to make sense of our world, and take down the walls of prejudice, fear and judgment. Giving children the opportunity to exercise their creativity, and explore who they are through a combination of storytelling and real-world projects, will teach important literacy skills, and help them develop into caring, compassionate and collaborative adults.
Finally, help your children fall in love with the iterative process of learning; to see mistakes and errors as stepping stones to discovery. Thomas Edison, who as a child was told he was, “too stupid to learn anything,” said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Make sure your students know that they are seen and encouraged to explore who they are, and that while perfection is not an option, excellence is!
Connect with Jena Ball on Twitter.
Today we welcome fifth graders at Colegio Newlands in Buenos Aires, Argentina to the Not Perfect Hat Club. Jena had a great time visiting with the students, and their teachers, Viviana Lopez and Malena Accomazzo Scotti agreed to share their blog about the day with NPHC readers. Enjoy!
NPHC: Jena & Newton’s visit
After much anticipation, we finally met Jena Ball, author of The Not Perfect Hat Club! It was a wonderful event, in which we laughed A LOT, we asked and answered questions, and we even learnt how to draw Newton!
Also, some students showed their Not Perfect Hats and explained how they represented them. Finally, everybody took the pledge and so, we became official members of the international Not Perfect Hat Club!
Special thanks to Miss Vivi, Miss Moni and Miss Flavia, who helped us prepare everything to make a successful connection! Miss Vivi and Miss Moni stayed with us in the whole event, taking photos and enjoying the special visit, too.
Want to learn more about Viviana, Malena and their fabulous students? Follow them on Twitter:
Viviana Lopez: @
Malena Accomazzo Scotti: @
You can also learn more about how the students at Colegio Newlands are learning with other students around the world by checking their Google+ community, “Bringing the World Into the Classroom.” https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/112156213745836058444