“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” — W. Dyer
This quote by Wayne Dyer haunts me. It first appeared in my social media feed several years ago after a friend became homeless. Rather than search frantically for another minimum wage job, she chose to move into and start selling jewelry from her van. I was horrified. She, on the other hand, was strangely content. Instead of bemoaning her situation, she kept her focus on three goals: make and sell jewelry, meet and help good people, and find ways to overcome her health challenges.
Over the years, my friend’s adventures have taught me many things. I learned to look past outer appearances; to see homelessness as a symptom of how we are failing one another rather than an indication of how an individual has failed at life. I discovered that often it is those with the least who give the most — who refuse to look away, who show up and share their last cup of rice, who move heaven and earth to find a temporary home for a dog while his person is in the hospital…the list goes on and on.
Then eight months ago, the mirror of judgment turned on me. Suddenly I was the one without a penny to my name; the one who couldn’t find a job; the one who was eating nothing but oatmeal and facing eviction from my home. Everywhere I turned, people I thought were friends judged me harshly. They were annoyed that I wanted to talk about my predicament, and either offered unhelpful advice or disappeared all together.
At first, I was indignant and hurt. I was the same person I’d always been — the one working 50 or 60 hours a week to keep my business afloat — the one who was now devoting every waking moment to finding a job. But that didn’t seem to matter. It was as if I had become a pariah, a symbol of something they found pitiable or distasteful. Then it hit me. They were afraid. I was living their own worst nightmare, and they couldn’t get away from me fast enough.
As a recovering perfectionist, I was intimately acquainted with this mindset. I grew up judging myself and others by how I looked, how fast I swam and how I performed on tests. I learned that I was in competition with others for love, grades and jobs. My survival depended less on who I was than on how well I was able to please others. It took me many years, and lots of help, to get past this way of seeing and being in the world. Now, thanks to a simple twist of fate (and we all have them), it was my turn to love and validate myself — to ask for help and accept it knowing I was not only worth it, but would be able to pay it forward one day.
Today, Wayne Dyer’s quote reappeared and I have the chance to make that payment. I have been asked to help a friend of a friend named Lisa; someone whose story is long and complex. All you really need to know is that she is a good, kind, hardworking soul who has been diagnosed with NINDS Nuromyelitis Optica (NMO). NMO is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system in which the body mistakenly attacks healthy cells and proteins in the body. It is both excruciatingly painful and incurable. As a result of her condition, and her attempts to find medical care, Lisa is homeless and living in her truck with her best canine buddy Bella-Boo. The good news is that Lisa has both a job and a place to live lined up if she can get the money needed to repair her truck and pay the deposit for her apartment. The even better news is that we have the chance to make this happen together. It doesn’t have to be a lot. It doesn’t even have to be money. It can be as simple as forwarding this post to someone with a note saying, “thought you might be able to help.”
Let’s be there for Lisa and for ourselves. Let’s see past the labels and remind one another that we are better together, and that what helps one helps us all.
– Jena Ball
To read Lisa’s story and donate, go here:https://www.gofundme.com/2gs2aknt
To learn more about her condition, go here:http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/neuromyelitis_optica/neuromyelitis_optica.htm
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
We all know that books and reading are vital to a child’s intellectual and emotional development. And by books, I mean any form that stories take, any way that we can immerse ourselves in the lives of others, learn empathy and compassion and ignite the power of the imagination. This is how human beings learn best – how we make sense of our worlds and take down the walls of fear and prejudice to discover we’re better together.
That said, there is something to be said for a compelling photo that reaches out and grabs your heart. In this case it was a photo sent by the grandmother of a second grader whose class I’d spent time with. The little boy’s name is Mason, and he was one of 600 students in first through fifth grades that I talked to that day. I remember him because he came up while I was talking to his teacher, quietly took my hand and squeezed. No words, just the gentle touch that let me know he was there. When I looked down and said hi, he asked, “Can you sign my book?”
So when the photo arrived later that night I remembered Mason, but was unprepared for how it touched me. The sight of him fast asleep with The Not Perfect Hat Club tucked in the crook of his arm brought tears to my eyes. His grandmother’s email read, “Thought you might like to know Mason fell asleep with his beloved book in his arms. Thank you for making his day.”
I guess I don’t have to tell you he made my day as well. For me, there is nothing better than the love of a child. It’s why I do what I do; why I am so determined to give them the chance to find and celebrate what makes them each perfectly not perfect. I hope you will grab a copy of The Not Perfect Hat Club and let it speak to you as well. Step into my world and take down the walls between us.
– Jena Ball
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
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Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
Hello. My name is Oscar, and I am a very special cat. My job it to educate my person, which can a BIG challenge!
My mother was a large, sleek orange tabby cat. We lived in a barn with horses and cows, who would let us sleep on their backs at night to keep warm. My mother was an excellent mouser, and taught me everything I needed to know about people and the art of time shifting.
When the farm was sold, the new owners tore down the barn and put me in an animal shelter. The people at the shelter were kind and fed me fine food. They also introduced me to my person, Ms. Jenaia. My one complaint was having to share a smelly room with some cats who didn’t understand how to use a litterbox. But never mind. All of that is behind me now.
My person and I are currently writing my life story. If you have questions of suggestions, we would love to hear from you. Please Tweet to me at:
You can also talk to my person by sending an email or Tweet, or posting to Facebook or Instagram:
You may also subscribe to The Not Perfect Hat Club mailing list, so that we may stay in touch (no spam, we promise)
I must have listened to twelve-year-old Beau Dermott sing, “I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game,” (from Wicked) a dozen times now, and each time the power of her words and voice take my breath away. In them I hear not only echoes of my own attempts to defy gravity, but a reminder of what is at stake if we continue to accept the rules and limitations of an education system that is focused on corporate profits rather than what is best for our kids.
Each day I log onto Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and see brilliant posts by educators who clearly understand the importance of teaching the whole child, taking down the walls of our classrooms, incorporating PBL into our curriculums and making social-emotional learning a priority. But intellectual understanding is not enough. We must find ways to implement change; to challenge what we know doesn’t work and begin experimenting with techniques, programs and approaches that we believe will work. As the song says, we must be “through accepting limits because someone says they’re so.”
So where do we begin? We begin by asking – by making our beliefs, concerns and values as trained professionals known to those who hold the purse strings. We enlist the aid of our students, who after all should have a say in what and how they learn, and need opportunities to create presentations, write persuasive letters, and practice the research and math skills needed to hire and pay for programs. We create and sign petitions, write to our government officials, speak to our PTAs, parents, boards of education and community organizations. We join and take an active role in Edcamps, conferences and organizations that are committed to effective change. We rock the boat and make waves.
Finally, we keep challenging, questioning and supporting one another. We refuse to see others’ abilities as threats to our own. We share what we learn and celebrate what our colleagues accomplish because we realize one person’s success benefits us all – that we each have something unique and valuable to bring to the table and are indeed better together.
Make no mistake, the revolution that’s needed cannot be accomplished by a few souls working in isolation. The kind of change we’re talking about will require an army of committed, caring educators who believe that our future depends on giving all children the gravity defying tools they need to fly.
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
The Science of Kindness
Social-emotional skills are vitally important to the health and well-being of our children, but for decades they’ve been labelled “soft skills” and all but ignored in most classrooms. This despite the fact that any teachers worth their salt will tell you that how a student feels dramatically affects his/her ability to learn.
Happily, neuroscience is finally providing scientific proof that students who are anxious, fearful, hungry or angry are unable to learn well – literally. This is because negative emotions provoke the fright-flight-freeze response in the lower part of the brain, and shutdown higher cognitive functions. But don’t take my word for it, watch this simple, two-minute video explaining how it works by a pioneer in the field of neuroscience, Dr. Daniel Siegel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm9CIJ74Oxw
The other exciting development in neuroscience has to do with the brain’s plasticity, meaning its ability to change in response to experiences and training. Dr. Richard Davidson (the William James and Vilas Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, and Founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison) does a superb job of explaining neuroplasticity in this presentation entitled, “Well-being Is a Skill.” However, it all boils down to four scientific discoveries:
- The Brain Changes and Shapes Itself in Response to Experiences
Even though the brain is malleable and responds to training, most of us are simply reacting to the world around us. It’s important to realize that we can teach and give our children opportunities to practice healthy responses to adversity. A challenge then becomes a chance to learn rather than something to be feared and avoided.
- Genes are Dynamic
How our genes regulate and express themselves is dynamic. Davidson suggests we think of genes as having volume controls. The extent to which a gene’s volume is turned up or down, or even on or off, can be affected by experience.
- Bi-directional Highways Exist Between Body and Mind
The brain and body are interconnected and impact each other. Davidson calls these connections “bi-directional highways,” and the health of one directly affects the health of the other. It should come as no surprise then that people who are physically healthy tend to feel better emotionally and mentally. Likewise, we are discovering that by consciously directing our thoughts and feelings, we can affect our physical health.
- Innate Goodness
Human beings are born innately good. This means that even a six-month old baby, given a choice between a kind, warm hearted experience and one that is aggressive and selfish, will always choose kindness. It is interesting to note that Davidson compares this innate propensity for kindness to our inborn capacity for language. In order for children to develop language they must be immersed in and have plenty of opportunities to practice their language skills. The same is true for empathy, kindness and compassion. Children need to be part of a compassionate community that will nurture and encourage them to practice and strengthen their social-emotional skills to become kind and caring adults.
If you are like me, much of what I just explained seems obvious. It makes sense because it is what “feels” right, and is what we as parents, teachers, mentors and friends have seen and experienced with our own children. The fact that science is finally able to support what we know intuitively is just icing on the cake. However, it is icing that has the potential to make a huge difference in what and how our children are taught.
Those of you who have met me or read one of my books know how passionate I am about this subject. I believe that the health and well-being of the planet and our species depend on raising our kids to be creative, outside the box thinkers. They need to see and appreciate the value of differences, be willing to roll up their sleeves and collaborate, and see mistakes as opportunities to learn. Most important of all they need to get to know their own hearts and minds, to understand that the inevitable kerfuffles and snafus of life are just part of being human. – Jena Ball
To learn more about me and my work visit: http://notperfecthatclub.com
Becoming a character in a book you’ve written is a bit like discovering an alter ego. It starts with how you dress and speak, but quickly becomes another way of seeing and being in the world. At this point, I don’t just change into Ms. Jenaia’s baggy overalls, work boots and floppy green hat, I step into her personality – adopting her outgoing, upbeat attitude and commitment to making the world a better place for canines and kids.
For those who haven’t met her, Ms. Jenaia is one of the main characters in all the CritterKin books. A former teacher turned dog trainer, she makes her living teaching people and their dogs how to communicate. She is a champion of those who are misunderstood or a little bit different, determined to discover what is really going on beneath a dog’s unruly behavior or a child’s unexplained tears. She likes nothing more than a challenge, and works with good-natured tenacity on projects like helping people overcome their fear of pit bulls, finding new homes for abandoned dogs, and teaching teamwork and self-confidence by starting flyball teams. To say that Ms. Jenaia is a character is an understatement, but over time I have discovered that she is the expression of the best and brightest parts of me.
Visiting classrooms as Ms. Jenaia means ignoring all the negative, judgmental voices in my head – the ones with bad breath and raspy smokers’ coughs who tell me I am too loud, too hyper, too silly and worst of all too full of myself to be taken seriously. “What makes you think you’re so special?” a familiar voice whispers as I accept an author reading. “Stop fooling yourself and get a real job.”
Here’s the thing. It’s not that I think I’m special, it’s that I know I am unique. There’s a big difference. Special implies a hierarchy of entitlement. Unique simply acknowledges that I have a piece of our collective puzzle that no one else can provide. If that’s the case, then why waste time comparing, judging, testing and competing? Why not help each person find, develop and apply his/her unique abilities to the world’s problems? Why not teach our children that learning, like life, is an iterative process, and to be fearless in the face of failure? In fact, why call errors, experiments gone awry and unexpected outcomes failures at all? No experience in life is a failure unless we fail to learn and grow from it.
But back to Ms. Jenaia. Each and every time I step into Ms. Jenaia’s personality and clothes for a visit with kids; every time I shout, “helllloooo,” teach them to draw a dog, or ask them to share what makes them wonderfully imperfect , I am committing an act of courage, hope and defiance.
Courage because it takes guts to drop the polite, professional roles we’re taught to adopt in order to be “acceptable,” and dare to be creative, goofy and spontaneous.
Hope because I believe that the solutions to many of the world’s problems lie in our willingness to be more creative, goofy and spontaneous – to get out from behind our podiums to learn with and from our kids.
And defiance because I am daring to question the status quo. My little book, The Not Perfect Hat Club may seem like just a charming, entertaining read, but make no mistake about it. The messages in the book – no one is perfect; your job is not to pass tests, but discover what makes you unique; winning is about more than crossing the finish line first – run counter to what is being taught and experienced in most schools today. Standardized tests and curriculums that require all kids to learn the same things in the same way on the same schedule instill fear and intolerance. In an era when 65% of the jobs our children will hold have not yet been invented, and employers are looking to hire young people who are creative, adaptable, innovative and collaborative, doesn’t this seem a little ridiculous?
Courage, hope and defiance. I think about these words more and more each day – as I pull Ms. Jenaia’s overalls out of the closet to dress for a reading; as I eavesdrop on three frustrated teachers at Starbucks who say they’re so busy testing they don’t have time to teach; and as I put on what I fondly refer to as my “Clark Kent duds” to interview for one of those “real” jobs. I wonder how my prospective employers would react if they knew who they were really interviewing – if I suddenly leapt to my feet, ran to a telephone booth and emerged wearing Ms Jenaia’s signature floppy hat and carrying poop bags. Would they still frown over my resume, call me “dear,” and tell me I’m a little over qualified for the position they have open?
The funny thing is, I’m all but positive something like this is going to happen soon. Not the presto chango thing with the telephone booth, but the discovery of my alter ego and her like-minded counterparts in schools and classrooms around the world. On the surface of things we may look mild-mannered and unassuming. We may speak softly and do our best to cope with the increasing demands on our time, but when it comes to our kids we are fearless. Look for us in staff meetings and at parent-teacher nights, in virtual classrooms, Edcamps and global read alouds. Find and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and professional forums. We’ll be the ones who can’t contain our passion for teaching and new ideas, the ones urging and empowering our kids to leap tall buildings with a single bound, because we believe anything is possible with courage, hope and a little bit of defiance.
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
Every Author’s Dream
This Wednesday, September 23rd I had the good fortune to be invited to share my new book, The Not Perfect Hat Club, with the 600+ students at Pine Valley Elementary School in Wilmington, NC plus an additional 15 classes from five countries around the world.
I read, fielded questions, signed books and had held some Not Perfect Hat Club drawing and discussion sessions with 2nd. 3rd and 4th. graders. The kids knocked my socks off with their honesty, insights and creativity, proving yet again that given the chance they’ll shine.
But the most wonderful moment of all occurred almost 24 hours after my visit. It arrived via Twitter and was posted by the grandmother of the little boy in the picture above. “Mason fell asleep last night with his treasured signed book!” said Amy Riggs. The book he is holding close to his heart is the The Not Perfect Hat Club.
There’s no greater compliment for a writer than the love of a child, and in this case it was doubly sweet because I had met and chatted with Mason during my visit to Pine Valley. It was also a reminder that the message I am sharing in The Not Perfect Hat Club is one that children respond to and need to hear.
I hope you will all read The Not Perfect Hat Club and share its message with your family and friends. Let’s help raise a generation of kids who understand that there is no such thing as perfect, but each and every one of us has something special to share with the world.
Read and excerpt and get a copy here: http://bit.ly/1KEA54Q
This is for the shy ones,
The introverts, ready to observe.
This for the gregarious ones,
The extroverts, eager to be heard.
This is for quiet ones,
The ones waiting for their turn.
This is for the noisy ones,
Too squirmy to be still.
This is for all of these who seek perfection,
When none is to be had.
And here is the door wide open,
Welcome one and all!
By pure happenstance I came across a conversation on Twitter about The Not Perfect Hat Club and sat mesmerized, reading the tweets. But, being me, I quickly joined in with questions and comments. I loved the idea of silly hats and posted pictures of me and my get-ups.
Then I read blog posts from the #NOTPERFECTHATCLUB that @JenaiaMorane and @martysnowpaw founders of @CrittenKin . Adults shared heartfelt stories about feelings of being bullied, rejected, misunderstood and looking for perfection. My heart went out to them and to the stories that were shared about their students. Unfortunately, this was all too familiar to me from my own personal childhood stories, as a well as those of a parent and teacher. I was so excited to hear that a book was in the offing addressing these concerns, not for adults per se, but written for children! A book that children could identify with, in the characters of dogs and children facing their struggles. Then I felt I had to do more than just tweet and post pictures. I decided to support Jena and Marty in any way I could. I dedicated one of my Posts to them and joined their “club.”
I was so honored when Jena asked that I preview her book and I did:
Here is my review and her delightful graphic
I write this post to share with all of you a book that be a wonderful addition in every school and classroom library. Hope you get a chance to read it and explore it with your students.
Get Your Copy of The Not Perfect Hat Club Here: http://bit.ly/1jlk3XS