I must have listened to twelve-year-old Beau Dermott sing, “I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game,” a dozen times now, and each time the power of her words and voice take my breath away. In them I hear not only echoes of my own attempts to defy gravity, but a reminder of what is at stake if we continue to accept the rules and limitations of an education system that is focused on corporate profits rather than what is best for our kids.
Each day I log onto Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and see brilliant posts by educators who clearly understand the importance of teaching the whole child, taking down the walls of our classrooms, incorporating PBL into our curriculums and making social-emotional learning a priority. But intellectual understanding is not enough. We must find ways to implement change; to challenge what we know doesn’t work and begin experimenting with techniques, programs and approaches that we believe will work. As the song says, we must be “through accepting limits because someone says they’re so.”
So where do we begin? We begin by asking – by making our beliefs, concerns and values as trained professionals known to those who hold the purse strings. We enlist the aid of our students, who after all should have a say in what and how they learn, and need opportunities to create presentations, write persuasive letters, and practice the research and math skills needed to hire and pay for programs. We create and sign petitions, write to our government officials, speak to our PTAs, parents, boards of education and community organizations. We join and take an active role in Edcamps, conferences and organizations that are committed to effective change. We rock the boat and make waves.
Finally, we keep challenging, questioning and supporting one another. We refuse to see others’ abilities as threats to our own. We share what we learn and celebrate what our colleagues accomplish because we realize one person’s success benefits us all – that we each have something unique and valuable to bring to the table and are indeed better together.
Make no mistake, the revolution that’s needed cannot be accomplished by a few souls working in isolation. The kind of change we’re talking about will require an army of committed, caring educators who believe that our future depends on giving all children the gravity defying tools they need to fly.
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
Social-emotional skills are vitally important to the health and well-being of our children, but for decades they’ve been labelled “soft skills” and all but ignored in most classrooms. This despite the fact that any teachers worth their salt will tell you that how a student feels dramatically affects his/her ability to learn.
Happily, neuroscience is finally providing scientific proof that students who are anxious, fearful, hungry or angry are unable to learn well – literally. This is because negative emotions provoke the fright-flight-freeze response in the lower part of the brain, and shutdown higher cognitive functions. But don’t take my word for it, watch this simple, two-minute video explaining how it works by a pioneer in the field of neuroscience, Dr. Daniel Siegel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm9CIJ74Oxw
The other exciting development in neuroscience has to do with the brain’s plasticity, meaning its ability to change in response to experiences and training. Dr. Richard Davidson (the William James and Vilas Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, and Founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison) does a superb job of explaining neuroplasticity in this presentation entitled, “Well-being Is a Skill.” However, it all boils down to four scientific discoveries:
- The Brain Changes and Shapes Itself in Response to Experiences
Even though the brain is malleable and responds to training, most of us are simply reacting to the world around us. It’s important to realize that we can teach and give our children opportunities to practice healthy responses to adversity. A challenge then becomes a chance to learn rather than something to be feared and avoided.
- Genes are Dynamic
How our genes regulate and express themselves is dynamic. Davidson suggests we think of genes as having volume controls. The extent to which a gene’s volume is turned up or down, or even on or off, can be affected by experience.
- Bi-directional Highways Exist Between Body and Mind
The brain and body are interconnected and impact each other. Davidson calls these connections “bi-directional highways,” and the health of one directly affects the health of the other. It should come as no surprise then that people who are physically healthy tend to feel better emotionally and mentally. Likewise, we are discovering that by consciously directing our thoughts and feelings, we can affect our physical health.
- Innate Goodness
Human beings are born innately good. This means that even a six-month old baby, given a choice between a kind, warm hearted experience and one that is aggressive and selfish, will always choose kindness. It is interesting to note that Davidson compares this innate propensity for kindness to our inborn capacity for language. In order for children to develop language they must be immersed in and have plenty of opportunities to practice their language skills. The same is true for empathy, kindness and compassion. Children need to be part of a compassionate community that will nurture and encourage them to practice and strengthen their social-emotional skills to become kind and caring adults.
If you are like me, much of what I just explained seems obvious. It makes sense because it is what “feels” right, and is what we as parents, teachers, mentors and friends have seen and experienced with our own children. The fact that science is finally able to support what we know intuitively is just icing on the cake. However, it is icing that has the potential to make a huge difference in what and how our children are taught.
Those of you who have met me or read one of my books know how passionate I am about this subject. I believe that the health and well-being of the planet and our species depend on raising our kids to be creative, outside the box thinkers. They need to see and appreciate the value of differences, be willing to roll up their sleeves and collaborate, and see mistakes as opportunities to learn. Most important of all they need to get to know their own hearts and minds, to understand that the inevitable kerfuffles and snafus of life are just part of being human. – Jena Ball
To learn more about me and my work visit: http://critterkin.com/about/about-jena/
This week’s guest blogger is Terry Stoufer, a gifted and inspiring second grade teacher in Florida whose students took part in this year’s Not Perfect Hat Club global reading and blogging challenge, also known as NPHCBlogIt. Here is the first of two posts written at two different times in the journey. Thank you Terry for your words of wisdom and willing to learn and share with us.
(Original Post -Tuesday, November 3, 2015)
Here are some of my 2nd graders words: math, mess up, bad, wrong, horrible, mad, mean, not neat, try harder, work better, erasing, angry, clothes, glasses, writing and not great. These are just a few…you only need a few to reveal these hearts and souls. Those words stung a bit, but today when those words turned into sentences on their blogs, my heart sunk, my soul heavy.
You can find their posts here Mrs. Stoufer’s Student Blogs Their words are so critical of themselves. They are frustrated and see so many things theycan’t do.
2nd graders, already with this perception. It has been my goal to instill in them a growth mindset, to celebrate success, to have them love the process of learning. Reading their thoughts these last two days has fueled that goal. So much to undo from their hearts and minds already!
Which leaves me to question, where did this come from?
We are connecting with another 2nd grade class in Australia, Brian Host is the teacher. They are doing similar activities in their classroom. I saw a very different mindset from his students.
Here are some of their thoughts,
I am definitely not perfect and I am really excited to now feel like I don’t have to be perfect.
I am very happy knowing that I am not perfect and that’s fine.
I am not perfect all the time, I make lots of mistakes in my life but I can learn from them.
get to learn how that everyone is not perfect and when you make a mistake you know what to do next time.
We are all not perfect and not perfect is okay.
Not perfect means that everyone is broken, they are perfectly imperfect Jesus and God are the only ones that are perfect.
I think not perfect means that everyone’s not the best at everything and this makes us unique.
I think not perfect means I don’t have to be right. There’s no right or wrong.
The word not perfect means that you are not perfect all the time but you are still yourself
I think that not perfect means everyone is not perfect, we all make mistakes and get it wrong but we can learn to be better.
I think that not perfect means no one is without fault.
l think what perfect means is that everyone isn’t perfect and that’s good because the world would be boring if we got things the first time.
I think we should do our best even though we are not perfect.
Have confidence, never give up and be yourself
Not perfect means It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it wrong, it matters if you try.
Is it me, or do you see a definite different mindset here? Are the thoughts of my students coming from our society, already? Or has Brian just done an amazing job with his students this year in presenting that growth mindset?
Whatever it is, I know I seek a solution.
I am thankful for Jenaia, Brian and all the others I will connect with over the next five weeks. I am looking forward to the healing a book will bring and the positive change that will happen across the globe. Yet another reason why I love to be connected!
Every Author’s Dream
This Wednesday, September 23rd I had the good fortune to be invited to share my new book, The Not Perfect Hat Club, with the 600+ students at Pine Valley Elementary School in Wilmington, NC plus an additional 15 classes from five countries around the world.
I read, fielded questions, signed books and held some Not Perfect Hat Club drawing and discussion sessions with 2nd. 3rd and 4th. graders. The kids knocked my socks off with their honesty, insights and creativity, proving yet again that given the chance they’ll shine.
But the most wonderful moment of all occurred almost 24 hours after my visit. It arrived via Twitter and was posted by the grandmother of the little boy in the picture above. “Mason fell asleep last night with his treasured signed book!” said Amy Riggs. The book he is holding close to his heart is the The Not Perfect Hat Club.
There’s no greater compliment for a writer than the love of a child, and in this case it was doubly sweet because I had met and chatted with Mason during my visit to Pine Valley. It was also a reminder that the message I am sharing in The Not Perfect Hat Club is one that children respond to and need to hear.
I hope you will all read The Not Perfect Hat Club and share its message with your family and friends. Let’s help raise a generation of kids who understand that there is no such thing as perfect, but each and every one of us has something special to share with the world.
Read and excerpt and get a copy here: http://bit.ly/1KEA54Q
“For all the talk of being okay with failure and learning from it – the pull towards perfectionism is undeniable. The desire to fit in and not stand out too much as different is strong. Getting it right each and every-time. Going above and beyond, and then some; forever striving for something more. Yep they’re some mighty pressures and they underpin the lives of all the characters – human and dog – in the Not Perfect Hat Club. Everyone within this world is wrestling with doubts and insecurities but they’re not alone. They have a support squad and a support space (through the Not Perfect Hat Club) – where they can openly talk and just be – where they can give things a go and be okay with the results whatever they may be. But there’s so much more about this wonderfully affirming world that make it worth your while investigating. Here opportunity, possibility and potential bubble beneath the surface – breaking through as characters come to know that they’re so much more than they thought they were, that they have capabilities that they’d never dreamed of, and that they can proudly stand up for who they are.” – Greg Curran, Innovation Coach, lecturerand creator of the “Pushing the Edge” podcast
Pine Valley Elementary School Site for Global Launch of New Book on 9/23
Students Skype™ and blog about their experiences with the new book
(Students in Mrs. Ladd’s class blog about their experiences as they read Jena Ball’s new book “The Not Perfect Hat Club.”)
Wilmington children’s book author and illustrator Jena Ball, the creator of the CritterKin series of books and programs designed to teach empathy, compassion and kindness, will debut her latest book, The Not Perfect Hat Club, on September 23, 2015 at Pine Valley Elementary School during assemblies held at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
The Not Perfect Hat Club is the fourth in the CritterKin series and will be used as the basis for a global blogging challenge (NPHCBlogIt.com) starting November 2nd. The challenge, which will bring students in classrooms around the world together to read, discuss and write about the book, was co-created by Ball and Beverly Ladd, a second grade teacher at Pine Valley Elementary. Ladd, who is known for the innovative ways she uses technology to expose her students to new people, places and ideas approached Ball with the concept. “I loved the message Jena was sharing,” says Ladd, “and thought it would be a great book for kids to blog about.”
“If you have ever seen the look on a child’s face when she gets a comment from another student on the other side of the world,” Ladd adds, “then you’ll know why we’re doing NPHCBlogIt. That look is priceless. Our goal is to make that moment happen for as many kids as possible.”
The book, which revolves around the stories of three recovering perfectionists, is the result of dozens of visits with 2nd 3rd and 4th grade students over a two year-period. “Time and time again, kids told me their work was ugly, messed up, stupid or bad,” says Ball. “It was clear that even though they understood that no one is perfect, they still felt they were expected to be. I wrote The Not Perfect Hat Club as way to give kids stories and characters that reflect their struggles with perfection and show them they can only be perfect at being themselves.”
“What I liked about Beverly’s idea,” says CritterKin Co-founder Marty Keltz, the Emmy award winning producer of The Magic School Bus, “was it was simple, elegant and easy to scale. Blogging is a great way to empower students by connecting them with peers in other parts of the world and giving them a voice.”
As part of the official launch of the book, Ball will not only read, answer questions and sign books at the school, but spend time getting to know Ladd’s second graders as well. “Beverly’s classroom will be ground zero for the blogging challenge,” says Ball. “Her students are just the right age for the CritterKin stories and are comfortable using digital technologies. Working with them will help us fine tune the activities we have planned and iron out any technology issues before the challenge starts.”
To learn more about NPHCBlogIt, the events planned for the launch, or to schedule an interview with Jena Ball or Beverly Ladd please contact Jena Ball: JenaBall@CritterKin.com, Phone: 919-615-0666 or Beverly Ladd: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: 919-233-0170.
About the Author
Jena Ball has been writing and illustrating stories since she was a horse obsessed eight year old begging her parents for a pony. When they flat out refused to even consider the idea, she drafted the family’s beagle-spaniel mix named Ginger as a stand in. “I could always count on Ginger’s sweet furry self to be there are the end of my bed each morning,” says Ball. “She was always happy to see me no matter what. That is the gift of animals – unconditional love.”
The CritterKin series of books is about a goofy pack of 8 mixed breed dogs and their leader Ms. Jenaia, and is loosely based on real dogs Ball has known. Her goal is to use stories to entertain and engage kids while evoking their natural empathy, compassion and kindness. Each book is told through the eyes of one of the dogs and is focused around a particular topic or theme.
About Beverly Ladd
Beverly Ladd teaches second grade for the New Hanover County Schools district in North Carolina. An experienced global educator, Beverly’s firsthand experience as a Skype Master teacher has shown her how global connections allow students to become more aware of their world and appreciate one another’s differences. Beverly completed a 24-hour Skype-a-thon this past March, the second of its kind in the world, and first of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere. Beverly is passionate about sharing and collaborating with teachers globally as well as integrating technology to extend learning and build relationships. blog: beverlyladd.wordpress.com Twitter: @bevladd
About Marty Keltz
Marty Keltz is the co-founder of the children’s media property, CritteKin. The foundation of the property is a series of books by Jena Ball designed to teach children kindness, empathy and compassion. An Emmy award-winning producer, Keltz co-founded and was President of Scholastic Productions, Inc. (1978-1995) and the Senior Vice-President of New Media at Scholastic Inc. He led the teams that created over 300 hours of television programming, including The Magic School Bus and Goosebumps, and was an executive producer for The Indian in the Cupboard and The Baby-sitters Club feature films.
This is for the shy ones,
The introverts, ready to observe.
This for the gregarious ones,
The extroverts, eager to be heard.
This is for quiet ones,
The ones waiting for their turn.
This is for the noisy ones,
Too squirmy to be still.
This is for all of these who seek perfection,
When none is to be had.
And here is the door wide open,
Welcome one and all!
By pure happenstance I came across a conversation on Twitter about The Not Perfect Hat Club and sat mesmerized, reading the tweets. But, being me, I quickly joined in with questions and comments. I loved the idea of silly hats and posted pictures of me and my get-ups.
Then I read blog posts from the #NOTPERFECTHATCLUB that @JenaiaMorane and @martysnowpaw founders of @CrittenKin . Adults shared heartfelt stories about feelings of being bullied, rejected, misunderstood and looking for perfection. My heart went out to them and to the stories that were shared about their students. Unfortunately, this was all too familiar to me from my own personal childhood stories, as a well as those of a parent and teacher. I was so excited to hear that a book was in the offing addressing these concerns, not for adults per se, but written for children! A book that children could identify with, in the characters of dogs and children facing their struggles. Then I felt I had to do more than just tweet and post pictures. I decided to support Jena and Marty in any way I could. I dedicated one of my Posts to them and joined their “club.”
I was so honored when Jena asked that I preview her book and I did:
Here is my review and her delightful graphic
I write this post to share with all of you a book that be a wonderful addition in every school and classroom library. Hope you get a chance to read it and explore it with your students.
Get Your Copy of The Not Perfect Hat Club Here
“A wonderful “tail” of how the Not Perfect Hat Club began. Told from the point of view of Newton, the not perfect show dog, this gentle story of friendship and acceptance, and pride in being not perfect is a terrific story that will appeal to both boys and girls. Definitely a series in the making!
I believe one of THE most important things we can do for our kids is to give them an opportunity to experience their own power. By power I mean the chance to articulate and share something that has meaning for them and get a response from the world. It is by finding their voice (their own unique ways to express their thoughts and opinions) that they discover they have a role to play and their participation in our collective process is vital to its success. These are the kind of adults we want and need to be raising – caring, compassionate, engaged and above all capable of using their unique abilities to have a positive impact.
Engagement with the “real world” in the form of project based learning is built into the CritterKin stories and every project we run at every school, camp and after school program. We not only read stories, but ask kids to research and tell their own stories so that they are heard and have the chance to see that what they create has an impact on others.
This summer, CritterKin is working with 150 students in the Valley View School District in Illinois who are currently reading about and formulating their own ideas on how best to educate a local community about pit bulls. After reading the book, Lead With Your Heart with me, they are forming and articulating their own opinions by writing, drawing, making videos, taking photographs and creating collaborative “Kindness Quilts.” The quits will be on display at the end of our six weeks along with the students’ stories of how the process unfolded for them.
To see some of the kids’ amazing work, visit their Pinterest boards here: https://www.pinterest.com/critterkin/
I couldn’t be prouder of these kids, but more importantly they are living proof that when the walls to our schools are permeable the lives of our kids expand and are enriched. Thanks to six committed and patient teachers, and a supportive tech and administrative staff, I visit these classes virtually once a week. For one hour, we take down the walls between my world in North Carolina and theirs in Illinois and explore important topics like feeling different, bullying and how to handle prejudice and fear. We also have an enormous amount of fun, which after all is the most important fuel for my own and the students’ learning. Seeing their smiles and the sparkle in their eyes when they think of something they want to share is what gets me up in the morning. It’s the thing that makes being an author-educator one of the best jobs in the world.
If you would like to help take down the walls, consider joining the Not Perfect Ha Club Blog It Challenge (#NPHCBlogIt) this fall, or give us a call to discuss how we might customize a CritterKin program for your school. We’d be delighted to hear from you!
We all have them – those rigid ways of thinking, seeing and being in the world that stand between us and new ideas like bars in a jail cell. They are the byproduct of many things – our upbringing, experiences in school and the workplace, even the books we’ve read. The good news is that human beings are hardwired for change – to look beyond the limits of our current beliefs and wonder, “Is there a way to make things better? How can I contribute by challenging and growing myself?”
One of the best barometers of the need for change is our emotional well-being. We know, for example, that children who feel safe, understood and supported learn more effectively. Likewise, teachers who are trusted and encouraged to expand their horizons pass their passion for learning on to their students. So why is it that our schools are plagued by violence and bullying? More importantly, what are we going to do about it?
My own approach to this challenge is the “Not Perfect Hat Club,” a book and program designed to give every kid a place to hang a hat while teaching them to value and embrace what makes them unique. In Australia, the response to the Not Perfect Hat Club has been gratifyingly positive. Unlike U.S. schools, where teachers are often discouraged from teaching “soft skills,” Australian educators have the flexibility to incorporate social-emotional learning into their classrooms. They are also open and eager to find and utilize programs and tools that increase their students’ well-being.
Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to see me lobbying for a “jailbreak” in U.S. based Twitter chats. I believe we must take down the walls of our schools – literally and figuratively. This means exposing students to a wide variety of people, cultures, beliefs and ways of being in the world. It means giving them the tools they need (both emotionally and mentally) to make sense of what they experience and ways to share what they discover with others. With CritterKin, we are doing this through a combination of multimedia storytelling and project based learning (PBL), but there are many others as well.
So I urge you to join us in our quest to teach the whole child – to address our students’ emotional as well as intellectual well-being. Get out your pickaxes and hacksaws to take down the walls. Become meddlers in the middle who encourage your counterparts around the world to question what and how to teach. Dare yourselves and your students to care more about the process than the tests; or as Ms. Frizzle would say, “take chances, make mistakes and get messy.”