#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,...

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...