Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jun 25, 2015 | 0 comments

Jena Ball – The Heart of Kindness



Valley View Collage - Heart of Kindness1A

Sometimes, when you’re focusing on the day-to-day aspects of teaching – making sure the kids have their supplies, covering the material in your lesson plans, coping with a lost book or an upset student – it’s easy to forget that you are having a huge impact on how kids see themselves and the world. That’s why I couldn’t be more excited to share what the teachers and students at Valley View School District in Illinois are doing this summer. They are working hard on reading, writing, vocabulary, creative self-expression and presentation skills, but they are doing it all under the umbrella of kindness.

If that sounds a little vague, let me explain. The kids are reading the book, Lead With Your Heart, that focuses squarely on themes we all struggle with at all ages – being different, making mistakes, finding and celebrating our own unique qualities, and of course the occasional person who tries to make us feel inadequate or bad. The stories in the book are designed to entertain AND engage students in lively debates about what it means to be kind and how it can be demonstrated in very practical terms.  We talk, write and come up with creative expressions of our understanding.  The results, being chronicled in their blogs and paper journals, show that they are really thinking about and coming to terms with the topics:

“Sometimes being different isn’t easy. People have many differences and it is important to remember that being different can be amazing. Imagine if everyone in this world looked and acted exactly the same. How boring would that be? Being different is interesting and we are all unique and one of a kind. Our skin color is different, we look different, we have different personalities and that is great! In the book, Reny is different because she hates wearing shoes! Don’t worry about being like anyone else. Be YOU!”

“I do not like making mistakes but when I do I learn from it . Also when I see people make mistakes I feel bad for them because sometimes people get in trouble and I will be very nice to them because they might be sad so I comfort them and make the person happy And even if the person is mean I will be nice to them . But when I make a lot of mistakes my tummy hurts and I do not feel good of how much effort I put in it so I work super hard the next time and I do really good . And that makes me super happy and I know I did the best I can do . But when I see kids make mistakes and try harder the next time I feel good for them .That is how I feel about making mistakes.” 

“Lots of people are different. some people are different because… they have different hair , faces, bodies and the way you don’t have to change your style because you want someone to be nice to you. remember this goes to all of my readers ‘don’t judge a good book by its cover. please don’t steal anything . also don’t say mean stuff behind a friends back because if they find out you will be in very big trouble. trust me I’ve been throe one of these things . My best friend Emily didn’t invite me to her birthday because she said I was black .”

But the most smile-inducing part of this project for me, is seeing how the kids translate their understanding into the creative process. Each of the six classes is creating its own “Kindness Quilt.”  They are a team, but also an individual effort. Each student takes part in group work to create the collaborative pieces, but each also creates and talks about his or her understanding through multi-media storytelling. The kids are just now finishing the centers of their quilt and have begun work on their individual quilt squares. Stay tuned for what promises to be SIX brilliant works of art showing the  kids’  hearts of kindness.


To follow what each class is doing, check out their Pinterest boards below:

Peter Kujawa:

Yvette Almaraz:

Lisa Sawyer:

Jamie Harbacek:

Amy Baldridge:

Brandon Guernsey:

Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 23, 2015 | 0 comments

Jena Ball – Stories, Quilts and Kindness


Meghan - Video2

Click HERE or on the image above to watch a video from CritterKin’s Quilting for Kindness Project

 Story Quilts are something that I’ve been using for two years now. They give kids a creative way to think about and share their reactions to the CritterKin stories. Stories are a wonderful way to engage the imagination, but it’s important to give kids the space and tools to reflect on and integrate their experiences.

Enter the Story Quilt

CritterKin Story Quilts – also known as Kindness Quilts – center around the story of a misunderstood pit bull named Lance and his best friend Reny. Together they tackle a wide range of issues – feeling different, making mistakes, prejudice, fear and bullies – with the help of family, friends and other talented canines.  The purpose of the quilt is to give the kids the space and tools to respond to those issues by creating and sharing their own stories.

Stories, as we all  know, are how human beings make sense of their world and one another.  The CritterKin Story Quilts give students the opportunity to tell their stories both collaboratively and as individuals (as seen the acrostic poems in the presentation below). We also use a wide range of tools and technology – everything from paper and pencils to blogs, digital drawing programs and video creation apps – to help insure that all kinds of learners have ways to tell their stories.


Peter Acrostic1

CritterKin Acrostic – Peter

To see more of the amazing work being done, by all students enrolled in the “Quilting for Kindness” summer program at Valley View School District, visit the class links below and visit this blog often for updates!

Peter Kujawa:

Yvette Almaraz:

Lisa Sawyer:

Jamie Harbacek:

Amy Baldridge:

Brandon Guernsey:

Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 15, 2015 | 0 comments

Jena Ball – There’s Something About Rainbows

There's something about Rainbows

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: @butterfli820 . 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!

Why CritterKin - Erin and Ana

Click HERE or on the image above to watch the video.

For Information  Contact

Karin Lippert
Phone: 647 – 478 – 5618

Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 10, 2015 | 0 comments

Karin Lippert – Bullying Has No Borders. Neither Does The Heart!



Bullying Knows No Borders1A

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!

Read More

Posted by on Jun 2, 2015 | 0 comments

Karin Lippert – What is the DNA of a Great School?


The Instigators1C
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

Read More