Cracking the Foundation of Education

    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...

#WhatisSchool Questions

#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

  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...

Humanity is Not a Species

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...

There’s Learning and Then There’s Learning!

  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,...