Don’t Hold Back

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. I pause. 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...

Why Do Students Think They Have to Be Perfect?

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...

NPHC Goes to Argentina

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: @vivilopez2 Malena Accomazzo Scotti: @Malena_Acco 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 This slideshow requires...

The Mirror Turns…

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” — W. Dyer This quote by Wayne Dyer haunts me. It first appeared in my social media feed several years ago after a friend became homeless. Rather than search frantically for another minimum wage job, she chose to move into and start selling jewelry from her van. I was horrified. She, on the other hand, was strangely content. Rather than bemoan her situation, she kept her focus on three goals: make and sell jewelry, meet and help good people, and find ways to overcome her health challenges. Over the years, my friend’s adventures have taught me many things. I learned to look past outer appearances; to see homelessness as a symptom of how we are failing one another rather than an indication of how an individual has failed at life. I discovered that often it is those with the least who give the most — who refuse to look away, who show up and share their last cup of rice, who move heaven and earth to find a temporary home for a dog while his person is in the hospital…the list goes on and on. Then eight months ago, the mirror of judgment turned on me. Suddenly I was the one without a penny to my name; the one who couldn’t find a job; the one who was eating nothing but oatmeal and facing eviction from my home. Everywhere I turned, people I thought were friends judged me harshly. They were annoyed that I wanted to talk about my predicament, and either offered unhelpful advice or disappeared all together. At first,...

Books are the Stuff of Dreams

We all know that books and reading are vital to a child’s intellectual and emotional development. And by books, I mean any form that stories take, any way that we can immerse ourselves in the lives of others, learn empathy and compassion and ignite the power of the imagination. This is how human beings learn best – how we make sense of our worlds and take down the walls of fear and prejudice to discover we’re better together. That said, there is something to be said for a compelling photo that reaches out and grabs your heart. In this case it was a photo sent by the grandmother of a second grader whose class I’d spent time with. The little boy’s name is Mason, and he was one of 600 students in first through fifth grades that I talked to that day. I remember him because he came up while I was talking to his teacher, quietly took my hand and squeezed. No words, just the gentle touch that let me know he was there. When I looked down and said hi, he asked, “Can you sign my book?” So when the photo arrived later that night I remembered Mason, but was unprepared for how it touched me. The sight of him fast asleep with The Not Perfect Hat Club tucked in the crook of his arm brought tears to my eyes. His grandmother’s email read, “Thought you might like to know Mason fell asleep with his beloved book in his arms. Thank you for making his day.” I guess I don’t have to tell you he made my day...