Catapulted – Education Goes Global
Until about two years ago, I told anyone who asked me that I was a writer. Since I’ve spent the better part of my life penning everything from marketing material and textbooks to speeches for SONY’s founder Akio Morita, this made perfect sense, except for one thing. The brightly colored thread stitching everything together has been education. Whether it was creating custom ESL manuals for Japanese businessmen traveling to the States or developing an online writing course for “underachieving” teens in Nevada, education has been central to my writing life.
Then in 2013 I came up with the idea for a series of children’s books called CritterKin. I loved the idea of giving kids a chance to experience the world through the eyes of a pack of mixed breed dogs. Animals (critters) have always felt like family (kin) to me, and have been some of my most loyal friends and teachers. However, I had no idea that CritterKin would catapult me out of my comfy writer’s niche into the arena of global education.
Within weeks after publishing the first CritterKin book, Poco a Poco, I was reading to kids at local summer camps and elementary schools. Within six months I was not only reading, but developing projects designed to translate the messages in the books into empowering, real-world experiences. When I began connecting with educators from all parts of the world via Twitter, and accepting invitations to visit classrooms around the world via Skype and GHO, I abandoned all pretense of being “just a writer.” It was clear that my words and work were being sewn into the fabric of a larger movement – a movement being fashioned by the many colorful and creative souls determined to transform what it means to be “educated.”
Which brings me to the point of this post. The seed was fittingly planted in #WhatisSchool and sustained by comments from educators in #Edtechbridge, #INZpired #NT2t, #Sunchat and #AussieEd, and is as simple as it is elegant.
We can no longer afford to support education systems that are competitive, hierarchical and perpetuate the illusion that certain people are better or more deserving than others. We must abandon the one size fits all manufacturing model for education that quality tests kids like cars on an assembly line. But most important of all, we must accept that each child, each human being, is unique and has something of value to contribute to the world.
What does this mean in practical terms?
- First and foremost it means abandoning the belief that we are in competition with one another and coming together as a global community;
- It means accepting that education, like the rest of life, is an iterative process. Not only is there no one right way to teach, but the ways will always change and evolve based on the unique circumstances and needs of our students;
- It means sharing our successes, failures and everything in between so that we all benefit; and
- It means acknowledging that we have as much to learn from our students as they from us. Sometimes a child’s perspective is exactly what is needed to tackle a particular task or problem See: http://www.ted.com/talks/adora_svitak?language=en
And so I leave you with this challenge. How will you, as a 21st century educator, connect with and contribute your voice and your gifts to the global community we are forging? How will you “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy” as Ms. Frizzle would say, so that all children are given the chance to explore their innate gifts and share them with the world?
The flight from Raleigh, North Carolina to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport was short, comfortable and drenched in late afternoon sunlight until we began our descent. Then rain clouds abruptly reduced visibility to zero and we had a wet and rocky ride until we broke through them just above the runway. Our reward was a rainbow that appeared to have attached itself to the left wing of the plane and escorted us all the way to our gate.
Now I’m a sucker for rainbows. I’ve come to see them not only as a sign all is right with the world, but as a harbinger of good things to come as well. This particular rainbow, plucked from the clouds at 10,000 feet, did not disappoint. I took it as the gift that it was, promising a wonderful visit with the kids and teachers at John R. Tibbott Elementary School.
I was met at the airport by one of my favorite folks in education – Erin (the librarian) Preder: @ . I’ve known Erin for a couple of years now. She was one of the first to read the CritterKin books and see their potential to teach empathy, compassion and kindness. CritterKin’s mission, to integrate those story-driven lessons into real life experiences, dovetailed nicely with the school’s “Kindness Garden,” where students were learning how food is grown and finds its way to our tables.
Erin took CritterKin to her Principal, a forward thinking educator named Ana Wilson, who gave us her approval and practical support. Together Erin and I devised a system that allowed me to read, write, draw and even dance with her students using my computer in North Carolina. It wasn’t perfect, but no one was complaining. As Erin put it after our first year working together, “CritterKin was really the most enjoyable experience I have ever had in my 17 years as an educator. I wouldn’t change what we did, and I’d do it all over in a heartbeat!” Now there I was, about to meet my collaborator and friend, as well as all the teachers and kids who had become like family.
Oddly enough, the whole experience felt like deja vu. I’d seen many parts of the school before – the library, garden and a few of the classrooms – but never had the chance to see them in relation to the rest of the campus. The office and gym were smaller than I’d imagined, while the hallways and grounds of the school seemed enormous. The things that felt absolutely right in every way were the smiles of the kids.
There’s really no way to thank someone for sharing your dream and going out of her way to help you realize it. I can tell you that Erin is a committed, caring and creative educator; that her enthusiasm and ability to motivate others are inspirational; that she is an excellent writer and presenter in her own right; and all of that would be true. But you really have to experience Erin for yourself to get the full effect.
So here, without further ado, is Part I of the video I made of the conversation between myself, Erin and Ana Wilson. I hope it will help you understand what motivated Erin to push to bring CritterKin to her school, and inspire you to do something similar at yours. Our kids deserve to have educators like Erin and Ana in their lives – educators who believe in their abilities and are committed to helping them grow into caring, compassionate adults. Thank you Erin for all that you do, but most especially for who you are!
For Information Contact
Phone: 647 – 478 – 5618
Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
What is in the DNA of a Great School? Nate Perry Elementary Has IT!
1. Teach acceptance, tolerance, being mindful, kindness and community as part of the LEARNING.
2. Create an environment that celebrates children’s uniqueness.
3. Celebrate the creativity and collaboration of the community – principal, teachers and students.
Marty Keltz and I walked into Nate Perry Elementary (NPE) in Liverpool, New York on a sunny morning last week for the Not Perfect Hat Club Day and were greeted by Dana Ziegler, the principal. First, I was struck by her warm and gracious smile. Then, we put our bags in her office and set off on a tour of the school. Our first stop was a visit to Christina Luce’s class. Christina and her students know Marty and Jena Ball from last year’s Skype visits for the Lead With Your Heart book and the CritterKin #BeKind PBL.
Big smiles and hugs in that classroom!
Christina talked about the “Be Kind” experience her students had last year in the interview we did with her and Dana Ziegler. For Christina it is the connective thread Jena has created with her books that led to her enthusiasm for the Not Perfect Hat Club message. “It was a natural,” she said, “because it resonated and confirmed the experiences she’s had with her students.” Lead With Your Heart inspired her class and created a clear path to NPHC Day events!
As we walked around the school, I was amazed. We saw and felt the words – Kindness! Mindful! Learning! Community! – everywhere. I mean everywhere – in hallways, the kids’ art, in the classrooms, the gym, in the air and the warm, happy faces of teachers and kids.
At the assembly, I realized what many teachers around the country know so well, the leadership of a principal is key to the success for everything that is possible and happens in a school. Principal Dana Ziegler is a leader with vision. She is a dedicated, inspirational, a role model and a very cool principal!
Dana’s opening “Welcome” words at the Not Perfect Hat Club Day got a noisy and wonderful “Oh, Yeah!” response in the gym! No wonder. She is a KEY ingredient in the DNA of this great school:
“Tolerance is the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not agree with.
We Teach tolerance and acceptance at Nate Perry.
But to me, the Not Perfect Hat Club means so much more. It means not just to accept each other and our differences but to celebrate our uniqueness.
Uniqueness is defined as being one of a kind, unlike anything else! We are all gifts and special and our goal today and every day at NPE is to honor, respect and celebrate our specialness!”
What I saw and heard from Dana Ziegler and Christina Luce at NPE is an educational philosophy that works! The gym that morning was filled with JOY. And it was loud!
Every child, teacher and staff member was wearing a Not Perfect Hat. Every class had used different materials to make their hats (the brown paper bags were my favorite) and every child created a UNIQUE hat (as did Mrs. Farrell the music teacher!!). The hats were as unique and special as every child in the gym that morning! We celebrated “specialness” and Jena Ball’s NPHC message empowered the kids.
Going forward, I say we emulate the kids at Nate Perry and become very loud about the positives things happening in our schools, especially what kids are learning – because it is special when you bring together social emotional learning with traditional and tech skills – great principals and teachers.
“Oh, Yeah!” Let the cheering begin.
– Karin Lippert
On Tuesday, May 26, 2015 I had the honor of sharing my Not Perfect Hat story with the students and teachers at Nate Perry Elementary school in Liverpool, New York. Most of my passion for education, and the reason I have devoted my career to creating positive change in the field, comes from the challenges I faced in school myself. All this is chronicled in the video below.
After telling my story to an auditorium filled to overflowing with kiddos wearing Not Perfect Hats, Physical Education teacher, Phil Gooley, came up to to say hello. He told me he had a student for me to meet. His warmth and enthusiasm immediately made me smile. I listened to him tell me about Braden. Like the younger Marty I talked about in my speech, Braden is in the 5th grade. His wonderful and supportive classroom teacher is Colleen Kires.
Hearing about Braden was like getting the antidote for an ache I’ve struggled with for years in my soul. Phil told me how this wonderful student struggles with dyslexia and is just learning how to read. Phil is a huge fan and supporter of Braden. He loves his enthusiasm and lets Braden know he is valued and supported.
Five minutes later, Phil returned with Braden at his side. A happy, confident looking 5th grader, Braden immediately agreed to have his picture taken with me. I couldn’t help but smile at the ease with which Braden greeted me, and how comfortable and safe he clearly felt standing there with Phil Gooley’s arm around his shoulder.
Next to the smile in my heart, there was also some very old tears being shed for both the frightened and ridiculed Marty of my youth and all the other kids like me who are currently struggling in our schools. If you are a child with learning differences, you often end up feeling like a lonely outlier.
My dream, as I post this on the International Day of the Child, is that the growing community of connected educators will find a way to teach and celebrate every child who walks into our classes, to see learning differences as just another part of what it means to teach the whole child.
This story always amazes me. It is both shocking and inspiring – a testament to human resilience. perseverance and creativity. But it also makes me wonder how many kids, how many “different” and exquisitely unique souls, we’ve lost due to our insistence that everyone learn the same thing the same way. It’s time we started celebrating and embracing diversity, finding ways to help each child find and grow his or her special abilities. Our future depends on what and how we teach our kids. – Jena Ball
Marty Keltz and Jena Ball
Anyone who’s been in education any length of time knows the feeling. A TED talk, blog post or quote shared by a colleague reignites your passion for teaching; a child’s eyes light up as she discovers the answer to a question; and something you hear in a Twitter chat makes you sit up, take notice and think, “Hey, I can do that!” We call those feelings, “aha moments,” and we’ve been having them for several weeks now during a Twitter chat called, #Edtechbridge.
Despite its techie title, the real power of #Edtechbridge lies in the bridges participants are forging between industrial era, one-size fits all approaches to education – which quality test children like cars coming off an assembly line – and 21st century models, which stress the importance of teaching the whole child by finding and nurturing what makes each unique.
Educators who show up for #Edtechbridge not only articulate, discuss and suggest real-world solutions to issues facing teachers, but propose alternative, some might say disruptive, approaches to educational reform as well. That many of these discussions include technology is to be expected, but are nothing new. The equivalent of today’s Genius Hour and Maker Movement were already happening in the mid 1960s during the Media Literacy movement, and were supported, in part, by the first federal title grants (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) under Lyndon Johnson. What distinguishes #Edtechbridge is the opportunity to meet and collaborate with a global community of educators who not only inspire but empower one another as well.
The best and most exciting example of empowerment we can offer is the conversation about crowdfunding and disruptive technologies that began two weeks ago. Participants were discussing their frustration with the one-size fits all approach to education, in which 85% of instructional material dollars go to purchase basal textbooks produced by a handful of publishers with little or no input from classroom teachers. This leaves little or no money for what have come to be called “supplemental or enrichment materials” designed to deepen and personalize learning for individual children.
During that initial discussion, we talked about resources, such as PledgeCents and DonorsChoose, that give teachers a way to raise funds for their “supplemental and enrichment materials.” However, subsequent chats have taken the discussion to new and deeper levels. While it’s certainly possible to raise money to purchase art supplies, band instruments and even outdated textbooks, other questions were raised. Why not harness the power of crowdfunding – supported and enhanced by parents, community members, entrepreneurs, and organizations – to fund “real” educational reform? What happens if we start with the premise that we must teach the whole child – mind, body and emotions – regardless of how that child learns? What if we set out to find, purchase and implement educational programs that incorporate multimedia/multi-modal approaches and support the teaching of 21st century skills that include empathy, compassion, collaboration, appreciation for differences and kindness?
Forging potentially powerful alliances between crowdfunding platforms, creative storytelling platforms like Touchcast, and all who have a stake in what and how we teach our kids could have a very disruptive and positive effect on the current system. Instead of focusing on one-size fits all teaching models and high stakes testing, which do little to prepare students to be the collaborative, innovative and creative thinkers most employers say they want to hire (http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/11/12/the-10-skills-employers-most-want-in-2015-graduates/), this new, grassroots business model would be driven by the needs of students and guided by classroom teachers. It would shift the attention from widgets, offering new and better ways to implement and test Common Core Standards, and focus it instead on multi-media storytelling and project based learning. Students would learn through relevant, real-world experiences and become content creators as well. Young film makers, animators, designers, scientists, artists, musicians, writers and mathematicians would be given tools to think creatively, work collaboratively and above all believe that they have something unique and valuable to contribute to the world. Or, as our friend Christina Luce, (herself a deeply committed and creative educator) recently wrote, “We need to embrace curiosity, and cultivate wonder. We need to play, and infuse joy. This need not be a pipe dream, no pie in the sky ideal; no. We are the architects, the innovators, the creators, the voices that together must demand it and make it so.”
#Edtechbridge convenes every Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm (EST), 4:00 pm (PST) and Thursday morning at 9:00 am AEST. Won’t you
I invite you to take a close look at the images above. Notice that some remarkable, almost unheard of things are happening in these classrooms where the Not Perfect Hat Club has been enthusiastically embraced.
The classroom on the left is a group of thirteen 7th and 8th grade “Special Ed” students in Whitehall, New York. The class on the right is a group of eighteen 3rd graders in the rural town of Webster, Iowa.
The Not Perfect Hat Cub concept and its goals – to celebrate differences and give every kid a place to hang a hat – was introduced to the students in Whitehall at the start of the school year. The students, and their enterprising teacher Deb Aubin, made the Not Perfect Hat Club their own, raising more than $600 by designing, sewing, marketing and selling Not Perfect Hats not only to other students, teachers and families, but to local businesses and even some overseas customers as well. You can read about their extraordinary journey and the resulting news coverage here:
Not Perfect Hat Club on CBS6: http://critterkin.com/2015/02/not-perfect-hat-club-on-cbs6/
Special Education Students Soar to New Heights: http://mittaubs.blogspot.com/2015/03/special-education-students-soar-to-new.html
It should come as no surprise then that when Tammy Massman’s third grade class in Iowa began its own Not Perfect Hat Club project, the students in Whitehall were eager to help. Using Skype, the two teachers brought the students together for a crash course in Not Perfect Hat Club manufacturing and selling.
The Whitehall students did a fantastic job of describing the process of deciding how much and what kind of fabric to buy, itemizing the costs for supplies (fabric, thread, pins, packaging and mailing), and detailing their new found marketing and promotion skills, which included creating a bulletin board and flyers, writing letters to local businesses to ask for sponsorship, setting up and manning a sales table, building a “hat tree” to display their hats, and hosting a Not Perfect Hat Club contest.
Over night, the kids no one noticed or made fun of for being different, became the talk of the school and town. Now they were being celebrated for their entrepreneurial spirit and given the opportunity to learn another important skill – how to pass their knowledge and wisdom on to others. We call this the Not Perfect Hat Club “Butterfly Effect.”
There are many versions of the Not Perfect Hat Club for schools to choose from, and we will work with you to find the best fit and the best way to bring the concept to your school. Take a look at the list of positive learning outcomes shared with us by students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members who have participated in Not Perfect Hat Club events. Then follow the links below to see what other schools are doing.
- Perfect is not an option
- Learning is a process not a destination
- Each person is unique and has something important to contribute
- You, your voice and your special abilities matter
- It is possible to make a difference in the world
- Skills learned in school can be used to do positive things in the real-world
- Everyone has a vested interest in what and how we teach our children
- Differences are a good thing
- Believe in yourself
- Never give up
- The ability to empathize with and appreciate others
- Multi-generational collaboration
- Math and financial planning, including determining how much to charge to make a profit
- Reading, writing and vocabulary
- Design and execution of a product
- Creative collaboration and teamwork
- Logical thinking and planning
- Teaching and demonstration
- Designing and creating presentations
- Public speaking
- Marketing and promotion
- Business communication
- Multi-media, multi-modal skills such as drawing, photography, blogging, video making, digital storytelling
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Whitehall, New York: http://mittaubs.blogspot.com/2015/03/special-education-students-soar-to-new.html
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Warren, Texas: http://critterkin.com/2014/12/perfectly-not-perfect/
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Cooperstown, North Dakota: http://travisjordan31.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-not-perfect-blog-post.html
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Sydney, Australia: http://critterkin.com/2015/03/4082/
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Bolingbrook, Illinois: https://www.pinterest.com/critterkin/critterkin-kids-at-john-r-tibbott/
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Manila, Philippines: http://notperfecthatclub.com/2015/02/kids-weigh-in-part-i/
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Syracuse, New York: https://www.pinterest.com/critterkin/nphc-and-nate-perry/
To Schedule Your Own Not Perfect Hat Club Reading and Event Contact:
Phone: (647) 478 – 5618
Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
I want to congratulate #edtechbridge, Steven Isaacs (@mr_isaacs), Katya Hott (@katyamuses) and PledgeCents for an excellent chat Wednesday. The stated topic for the chat was crowdfunding options for educators, but quickly deepened to include a discussion of the motives behind crowdfunding. Yes, funding for schools has been cut and teachers need to find ways to pay for things like band instruments, new technologies and art supplies. However, the root of the problem goes deeper than that. Beginning with the “Back To Basics Movement,” and on through “No Child Left Behind” and “Race To the Top,” priorities and dollars have shifted away from teaching the whole child to teaching for the test. We have to be doing more than just purchasing new tech to automate learning and to teach digital citizenship.
I realize that what I am suggesting may seem disruptive, even subversive, but it is nothing new. The concept of using multi-media as a way to teach the whole child dates back to the “Media Literacy” movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. We believed that if education was multimedia/modal we could empower children with all kinds of learning styles to be storytellers and story consumers while teaching emotional skills such as empathy, compassion and kindness.
I see a lot of similarities between what we were trying to accomplish in the Media Literacy Movement and what I am hearing on a daily basis in chats around the world. So I urge you to think beyond raising funds to buy technology and equipment, because the equipment and technology you purchase are just the tools. It’s equally important to find and pay for programs that provide students with the experiences they need to become emotionally mature adults. They must be taught to use the new wealth of digital media platforms, apps and traditional media – like print, crayons, markers, poster paint, paste, scissors, paper and pencils – to connect, collaborate, innovate and make positive changes in the world.
In today’s education system, state, federal and district budgets are used to purchase supplies and programs that teach what gets tested. Crowdfunding tools like PledgeCents, DonorsChoose.org and Pubslush, however, offer a welcome alternative. Through these platforms educators can not only raise funds to purchase and implement more child-centered, innovative activities like Project Based Learning, the Maker Movement and Genius Hour, but take a proactive role in shaping what and how their students are taught.
I encourage you to take a few moments to think about what I’ve said, ask questions and provide feedback. I also hope that more moderators will consider hosting similar discussions in the future because I firmly believe in the intelligence, creativity and commitment of educators. Together we can find, fund and implement the technologies, programs and projects that will prepare our students to become effective 21st century citizens.
For more information on Touchcast please visit: http://touchcast.com/
The Magic of Not Perfect Hats!
I know, I know that’s an impossibly long title for a blog post, but I couldn’t resist, and it really should have been longer! What do frogs, antennae, ice cream birthday cakes, fake purple hair, colanders, pirates, jelly beans, blueberries , lemons and red apples all have in common? Not Perfect Hats and a wonderfully imaginative, up-for-anything-class of second graders willing to ponder what it means to be “Not Perfect” by creating Not Perfect Hats.
The results of our efforts are pictured above. The amazing thing to me was that every student knew exactly what his or her hat said about his or her personality. “I’m a birthday kind of girl,” said Amy. “I like tall hats and lots of presents.” Billy said that he liked frogs and blueberries. The connection between the two still isn’t clear to me, but judging by the big grin on his face, it was something funny. Then there was Joshua who drew what looked like a house, but turned out to be a “Hat Jar”for jelly beans (he likes the orange ones best).
All in all, it was a laughter filled hour in which the kids and I discussed everything from why certain colors make us smile and why it’s impossible to be perfect. We also had a lively debate about Joshua’s jelly beans and decided that butterflies should come in shades of aqua marine, hot pink and lime green. It was quite a visit that left me feeling energized and amazed by the curiosity, creativity and compassion that come so naturally to kids.
It also left me with a question. Instead of trying to “teach” and “test” our kids, why don’t we empower them to explore who and what they want to be? Why don’t we encourage and help them to develop the emotional skills they’ll need to cope in an increasingly complex world? Most important of all, why don’t we allow them to teach us? Let them remind us what it means to be curious, playful and willing to throw our whole hearts into something knowing that no one is perfect and making mistakes is all part of this ongoing process called life?
Many thanks for the learning today kids. To be continued!
To Schedule Your Own Not Perfect Hat Club Visit, Contact”
Phone: (647) 478 – 5618