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!
Click HERE or on the image above to watch the video.
For Information Contact
Phone: 647 – 478 – 5618
Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
Bullying Has No Borders. Neither Does The Heart!
“Be Nice” our moms said to us. And, it was usually followed by “…to your little sister or brother.” Or she simply said, “play nice with the other kids” before we went out the door. And, it was implied when she said, “How many times have I told you, don’t pull the dog’s tail!”
While we would all like “be nice” to equal “be kind” experiences in our children’s lives, as parents and educators we know better. We also know today it is very important for us to say and do more. Nothing has brought the need for the Be Nice=Be Kind message home louder than cyber-bullying and the tragic loss of young lives we’ve witnessed in the last few years.
Bullying prevention is everyone’s job (adults and kids) and that is why tomorrow’s #whatisschool chat is so important. As my friend Kevin Epling, who became an activist and bullying prevention hero because of the tragic loss of his son Matt to bullycide, said to me after I wrote to him about tomorrow’s #whatisschool Twitter chat:
“Bullying has gone from the one thing everyone thought they knew everything about, to the one they actually knew nothing about, and technology has complicated that 1,000 fold. The tremendous long term ignorance of the devastation bullying causes has spread from school to school, town to town, state to state and across vast oceans to create a global web of pain for our youth. It’s not that we CAN do better…it’s that Together we MUST do better for our students.”
Here in North America, school is out or almost out for most kids. So it’s a good time for this conversation, and reflections about it, to take place. But wherever you live, cyber-bullying, teasing, pushing, shoving – indeed any act that diminishes children’s sense of self-worth and belief in themselves – is where we need to talk about and take action against bullying. This is what Kevin has told thousands of kids, teachers and parents. It is a global conversation that we should embrace and promote. It will lead to teaching practices that make a difference in the lives of ALL children – beginning at an early age.
At CritterKin We Start With the Heart
Jena Ball created the CritterKin series of books because she believes that if you start with the heart kindness will follow. It’s inherent in her words: Critters [Animals] are Kin [Family] by which she means all of us are family! Kindness is at the heart of her characters and stories, and the reason they connect in a powerful way with children and their real-world experiences.
Bullying is the central challenge addressed in the third CritterKin book, Lead With Your Heart. The maincharacters are Lance (a misunderstood pit bull), and his special friend Reny, who must overcome her fears to help Lance. The power of the story and the characters are what have made this book the centerpiece of CritterKin’s Quilting for Kindness project and an official selection of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Led by Executive Director Julie Hertzog, a national recognized leader on bullying prevention, it is an organization whose support we deeply appreciate.
CritterKin “Be Kind” projects have been rich and diverse. Beginning with a school-wide, “Start with Your Heart” project in Texas, and moving on to a “Kindness Garden” in Illinois, a “Quilting for Kindness” project in Nebraska (where quilts became part of a museum exhibition), a newspaper and play in Iowa, a mural in New York, and now to a district-wide launch of the “Quilting for Kindness” program in the Valley View School District this summer, CritterKin is making kindness real for thousands of kids..
Bullying Has No Borders. Neither does the Heart!
“It is critically important to spread the message about bullying prevention globally,” Ross Ellis Founder and CEO of STOMP Out Bullying, said to me when I wrote to her about the #whatisschool chat. “Bullying doesn’t take place just in the U.S. It happens all over the world,” said Ross, who pioneered global connections on this issue. “By spreading the message, it’s a great way to share best practices and make bullying prevention a top priority across the globe.”
It’s no secret that a global crisis demands a global response. The #whatisschool chat is an important example of how we as educators can make a difference when we connect globally. Let’s lead with our hearts!
Click HERE or on the Image Above to watch the Interview with Dana Ziegler and Christina Luce
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.
Click on the image above to play the video
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.
Click on the Image Above to Watch the YouTube
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
See more images of our Not Perfect Hat Club adventures here: https://www.pinterest.com/critterkin/nphc-and-nate-perry/
Panthers are not the kind of animal you usually associate with kindness. They’re big, powerful cats (weighing in at 130 to 160 lbs.) with a reputation for being stealthy and efficient hunters. Happily, the panthers CritterKin has been working with for the past two years at Nate Perry Elementary School in Liverpool, New York are a different breed of cat all together. Open-minded, curious and eager to collaborate, the only things the educators at Nate Perry are interested in hunting are ways to expand and enhance their students’ worlds.
Nate Perry was one of the first to reach out to us about incorporating the CritterKin Kindness programs into their school, and have become beloved members of CritterKin’s growing global family. The latest collaboration between CritterKin and Nate Perry is The Not Perfect Hat Club. The school helped us raise funds for the completion of the new “Not Perfect Hat Club” book and will be hosting a Not Perfect Hat Club Day at their school on May 26th.
In preparation for the big day, Ms. Jenaia stopped by Nate Perry via Google Hangouts to read the first chapter of the book and discuss what it means to be “Not Perfect.” As always, the students’ responses were eye-opening and revealing. Some of the adjectives used to describe “Not Perfect” included “ugly, stupid, not happy, mad at myself,” and “not natural.” Clearly students have internalized the belief that they are expected to be perfect, and judge themselves harshly when they can’t be. In response, we share the “Famous Failures” video below with them, and had a good discussion afterwards about the importance of accepting that no one is perfect and that people learn by making mistakes.
Click here or on the image above to see the video
Our time together ended with each student drawing and sharing a Not Perfect Hat that reflected what makes him or her perfectly Not Perfect. The students’ drawings were creative, playful and full of self-awareness. As one 5th grader put it, “I’m pretty outgoing and creative. I’m just me!” We thought that was a perfect response!
If you would like to know more about CritterKin and the Not Perfect Hat Club, please visit: http://notperfecthatclub.com/ and http://critterkin.com/success-stories/
Better yet, bring the Not Perfect Hat Club to your school! To find out how, please give us a call or send us an email. We’d love to have you and your school become members of the CritterKin family.
Karin Lippert: (647) 478 – 5618
Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.