NPHC in Argentina

New Members of The Not Perfect Hat Club say, “Hellllooooo!” (To watch the entire visit click HERE) This joyful picture captures 50 fifth graders at Colegio Newlands School in Buenos Aires saying hello at the start of my virtual visit on September 12, 2017. The visit was the culmination of several months of reading, writing, and self-reflection as the kids worked their way through my book, The Not Perfect Hat Club. This was also the third year in a row that I have visited with students at the school, so there are now more than 150 members of the club spreading kindness, laughter, and creative chutzpah across Argentina. There is a lot I can say about how the book and programs have evolved thanks to the feedback and support of teachers, parents, and students like those at Newlands, but I think I’ll let the kids’ work speak for itself. The one thing I will say is that their enthusiasm, questions, and creativity have given the story new and unexpected meaning for me. I have learned as much as I’ve taught, and for that I am grateful. Remember it’s ALWAYS best to be YOU! Slam Poetry One of the main characters in The Not Perfect Hat Club is a test-challenged skateboarder named Jabber. Although he has a hard time taking tests, Jabber is a gifted wordsmith and likes to challenge himself and his friends to write about topics and people that they are struggling with. One of the creative exercises in the NPHC program is to write a slam poem and share it on FlipGrid for others to enjoy. Watch...

Going Awry

Audio version: https://soundcloud.com/critterkin-jena/going-awry How many of you have direct experience with of the old adage, “The best made plans of mice and men often go awry?” When it comes to teaching, I think that saying should be changed to read, “The best made plans of educators will almost certainly go awry at some point.” And I would argue that’s a good thing! Here’s why. Human beings are storytellers and trial and error learners. We’re hardwired to need excitement and challenges to grow. So when life becomes routine, or the outcomes of our stories predictable, we get antsy and bored, and start looking for new adventures. When I first met Gloriann two years ago, my latest plan (and I’ve had many in my life) had not only gone awry, but morphed into something I barely recognized. I’d just completed the 4th book in my children’s book series, CritterKin, and was all set to begin the 5th, when I started getting requests to do video conference calls with classrooms outside the United States. The next thing I knew, I was planning and hosting an eight-week, global reading, writing, and creativity challenge with 169 schools in 16 countries, and 99% of it was done virtually. Being a dutiful teacher, I had a three-part plan all laid out for those eight weeks. I wanted to help kids fall in love with reading and writing; I wanted to use story and creative projects to help kids experience and explore topics like being different, bullying, and perfection; and I wanted to use technology to teach some important 21st century skills like empathy, collaboration, and creative problem...

Your Reputation Precedes You

Launching new projects makes me nervous.  I’ve created something I’m excited to share, but what’s the best way to do that? We’ve all encountered entrepreneurs who can’t seem to stop talking about their ideas, and the thought of going to one more small business networking breakfast makes me cringe. Fortunately, I have an alternative this time. CritterKin has been in existence for almost eight years now – first as a single, free-to-download ebook, then as a series of print books, and now as global programs. Therefore, I’ve decided to let those who have experienced CritterKin firsthand do the talking for me.  Here’s the link: https://www.patreon.com/NotPerfectHatClub “I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the work Jena Ball is doing with kids and Emotional Intelligence / Self Awareness. If you are in the giving spirit, give her a boost. It’s a great way to support art, literature and kids!”  – Allen Partridge, Adobe Systems “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!” – Erin Preder, head librarian, John R. Tibbott Elementary School, Bolingbrook, Illinois “I am so very impressed at the changed mindset of our students! Proud Principal!” – Vicki Lofton, Principal, Citrus County, Florida “This has been one of the most wonderful experiences I have had in education. Jena, YOU are truly AMAZING and a very gifted writer. My students were glued to their spots on the floor every time I read to them, and they cheered like CRAZY when the story came to an end. Thank you!! Thank you!! Thank you!!!!”...

How About You?

Click the image above to see a video from that day 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....

For Love of Oscar

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,...

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...