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Posted by on Jul 9, 2015 | 0 comments

Jena Ball – Taking Down the Walls


Take Down the Walls2
I believe one of THE most important things we can do for our kids is to give them an opportunity to experience their own power. By power I mean the chance to articulate and share something that has meaning for them and get a response from the world. It is by finding their voice  (their own unique ways to express their thoughts and opinions) that they discover they have a role to play and their participation in our collective process is vital to its success. These are the kind of adults we want and need to be raising – caring, compassionate, engaged and above all capable of using their unique abilities to have a positive impact.

Engagement with the “real world” in the form of project based learning is built into the CritterKin stories and every project we run at every school, camp and after school program. We not only read stories, but ask kids to research and tell their own stories so that they are heard and have the chance to see that what they create has an impact on others.

This summer, CritterKin is working with 150 students in the Valley View School District in Illinois who are currently reading about and formulating their own ideas on how best to educate a local community about pit bulls. After reading the book, Lead With Your Heart with me, they are forming and articulating their own opinions by writing, drawing, making videos, taking photographs and creating collaborative “Kindness Quilts.” The quits will be on display at the end of our six weeks along with the students’ stories of how the process unfolded for them.

To see some of the kids’ amazing work, visit their Pinterest boards here:

I couldn’t be prouder of these kids, but more importantly they are living proof that when the walls to our schools are permeable the lives of our kids expand and are enriched.  Thanks to six committed and patient teachers, and a supportive tech and administrative staff, I visit these classes virtually once a week.  For one hour, we take down the walls between my world in North Carolina and theirs in Illinois and explore important topics like feeling different, bullying and how to handle prejudice and fear. We also have an enormous amount of fun, which after all is the most important fuel for my own and the students’ learning. Seeing their smiles and the sparkle in their eyes when they think of something they want to share is what gets me up in the morning. It’s the thing that makes being an author-educator one of the best jobs in the world.

If you would like to help take down the walls, consider joining the Not Perfect Ha Club Blog It Challenge (#NPHCBlogIt)  this fall, or give us a call to discuss how we might customize a CritterKin program for your school. We’d be delighted to hear from you!

NPHC BlogIt - Announcement

Click HERE or On the Image Above to Learn About #NPHC Blog It

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Posted by on Jul 6, 2015 | 0 comments

Jena Ball – Reasons to Smile


Collage - reading and drawing1B


I have concluded that teaching is one of the most, if not THE most challenging professions anyone can choose. In addition to subject area expertise, a teacher must have the ability to walk into a room full of unique individuals (each of whom has his/her own set of ever changing challenges) and somehow inspire, cajole and otherwise entice them into learning. Things are made more difficult by an education system that expects all students to learn the same things the same way, and by rigid schedules that have a tendency to interrupt learning just as it gets started. But this is not a rant about our education system, it is a celebration of what I am seeing as I have the pleasure of working with 6 teachers and 150 students in the Valley View School District in Illinois this summer. They not only give me reasons to smile, but reaffirm my belief that human beings – an in particular children – have a deep and joyful desire to learn as well. Given environments where they are able to explore and express what they’re taught, they flourish.  Here then, are some smile inducing highlights!


Acrostic Collage - Jamie1

Creative Kindness is Alive and Well

As part of making kindness real for students, we ask them to come up with words that mean kind (in Spanish too) and then use those words as the basis to write and illustrate acrostic poems.  The results pictured here, and proudly displayed in the hallway of their school, are nothing short of astonishing. They are a reminder that if we provide the reason and the tools, kids will run with and make a project their own. I LOVE these poems, don’t you?

These particular acrostic poems are by Jamie Harbacek’s terrific kids. To see more of their work, visit:

Design My Own Shoe2
Click HERE or on the image above to watch a video of the kids explaining their shoes

Design My Own Shoe

In Lead With Your Heart, one of the main characters decorates her white tennis shoes to express her creativity and kindness. Student in the Valley View Summer Enrichment Program did the same with wonderful results. The images pictured above and in the video come from Yvette Almaraz’s class. You can see more of their wonderful work here:

Jamie-Pawprint Collage1B

Paws for Reflection

We’ve been talking a lot about how each person (and each dog) is unique, with special abilities to be discovered and practiced. Here the kids were asked to imagine what their unique paw print might look like and what those prints say about what makes them unique. These paw prints will be part of the artwork that forms the outer edge of the classes’ Kindness Quilts.

These particular paws come from Jamie Harbaeck’s wonderful group of kids. To see more of what Jamie’s kids are working on, visit:

Acrostic Poem3

CritterKin’s Quilting for Kindness-Yvette

This PowerPoint shares the highlights of our four weeks working together on a variety of exercises to make our quilt.  We think the smiles say it all 🙂

Peter - Acrostic1Peter – Acrostic Poems Collected

This remarkable collection of Peter Kujawa’s students’  acrostic poems will make you smile.

Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved,









Creative Self Reflection

Students have been thinking of paw prints as finger prints. What would your paw print say about you f you were one of the dogs in CritterKin book, Lead With Your Heart?








Acrostic Poem - Team3-V3

Kindness is Alive and Well






Acrostic Poem - Team3-V3

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Posted by on Jul 1, 2015 | 0 comments

Jena Ball – Jailbreak!


Take Down the Walls 1000x1000

We all have them – those rigid ways of thinking, seeing and being in the world that stand between us and new ideas like bars in a jail cell. They are the byproduct of many things – our upbringing, experiences in school and the workplace, even the books we’ve read. The good news  is that human beings are hardwired for change – to look beyond the limits of our current beliefs and wonder, “Is there a way to make things better? How can I contribute by challenging and growing myself?”

One of the best barometers of the need for change is our emotional well-being.  We know, for example, that children who feel safe, understood and supported learn more effectively. Likewise, teachers who are trusted and encouraged to expand their horizons pass their passion for learning on to their students. So why is it that our schools are plagued by violence and bullying? More importantly, what are we going to do about it?

My own approach to this challenge is the “Not Perfect Hat Club,” a book and program designed to give every kid a place to hang a hat while teaching them to value and embrace what makes them unique. In Australia, the response to the Not Perfect Hat Club has been gratifyingly positive. Unlike U.S. schools, where teachers are often discouraged from teaching “soft skills,” Australian educators have the flexibility to incorporate social-emotional learning into their classrooms. They are also open and eager to find and utilize programs and tools that increase their students’ well-being.

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to see me lobbying for a “jailbreak” in U.S. based Twitter chats. I believe we must take down the walls of our schools – literally and figuratively. This means exposing students to a wide variety of people, cultures, beliefs and ways of being in the world. It means giving them the tools they need (both emotionally and mentally) to make sense of what they experience and ways to share what they discover with others.  With CritterKin, we are doing this through a combination of multimedia storytelling and project based learning (PBL), but there are many others as well.

So I urge you to join us in our quest to teach the whole child – to address our students’ emotional as well as intellectual well-being. Get out your pickaxes and hacksaws to take down the walls. Become meddlers in the middle who encourage your counterparts around the world to question what and how to teach. Dare yourselves and your students to care more about the process than the tests; or as Ms. Frizzle would say, “take chances, make mistakes and get messy.”

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Posted by on Jul 1, 2015 | 0 comments

Jena Ball – Catapulted





Catapulted – Education Goes Global

Until about two years ago, I told anyone who asked me that I was a writer. Since I’ve spent the better part of my life penning everything from marketing material and textbooks to speeches for SONY’s founder Akio Morita, this made perfect sense, except for one thing. The brightly colored thread stitching everything together has been education. Whether it was creating custom ESL manuals for Japanese businessmen traveling to the States or developing an online writing course for “underachieving” teens in Nevada, education has been central to my writing life.

Then in 2013 I came up with the idea for a series of children’s books called CritterKin. I loved the idea of giving kids a chance to experience the world through the eyes of a pack of mixed breed dogs. Animals (critters) have always felt like family (kin) to me, and have been some of my most loyal friends and teachers.  However, I had no idea that CritterKin would catapult me out of my comfy writer’s niche into the arena of global education.

Within weeks after publishing the first CritterKin book, Poco a Poco, I was reading to kids at local summer camps and elementary schools. Within six months I was not only reading, but developing projects designed to translate the messages in the books into empowering, real-world experiences. When I began connecting with educators from all parts of the world via Twitter, and accepting invitations to visit classrooms around the world via Skype and GHO, I abandoned all pretense of being “just a writer.” It was clear that my words and work were being sewn into the fabric of a larger movement – a movement being fashioned by the many colorful and creative souls determined to transform what it means to be “educated.”

Which brings me to the point of this post. The seed was fittingly planted in #WhatisSchool and sustained by comments from educators in #Edtechbridge, #INZpired #NT2t, #Sunchat and #AussieEd, and is as simple as it is elegant.

We can no longer afford to support education systems that are competitive, hierarchical and perpetuate the illusion that certain people are better or more deserving than others. We must abandon the one size fits all manufacturing model for education that quality tests kids like cars on an assembly line. But most important of all, we must accept that each child, each human being, is unique and has something of value to contribute to the world.

What does this mean in practical terms?

  • First and foremost it means abandoning the belief that we are in competition with one another and coming together as a global community;
  • It means accepting that education, like the rest of life, is an iterative process. Not only is there no one right way to teach, but the ways will always change and evolve based on the unique circumstances and needs of our students;
  •  It means sharing our successes, failures and everything in between so that we all benefit; and
  • It means acknowledging that we have as much to learn from our students as they from us. Sometimes a child’s perspective is exactly what is needed to tackle a particular task or problem See:

And so I leave you with this challenge. How will you, as a 21st century educator, connect with and contribute your voice and your gifts to the global community we are forging? How will you “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy” as Ms. Frizzle would say, so that all children are given the chance to explore their innate gifts and share them with the world?

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