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, there are some fundamental and compelling themes humankind has been grappling with forever. They are at the heart of who we aspire to be and a measure of how far we have to go. So to Brandon’s eloquent piece, I’d like to add, by all means keep learning new “things,” but be sure to touch base with your internal compass. Weigh your intellectual knowledge against your moral and emotional center. Does the information or skill you are acquiring help you become a better person? How can it be used to facilitate understanding, make another person’s life easier, clarify an issue or a problem, or connect people whose work or interests complement one another? Finally, does learning this skill or acquiring this information contribute to my personal joy and satisfaction? These are the questions I ask myself before I download an app, purchase a new smart phone, or sign up to learn the latest and greatest SM marketing tool. You see I’m on a mission to address some of the pressing issues we’re facing by using “learning” to recall myself and others to their “best” selves. Which of course doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good game of Angry Birds or Pokemon GO every once in awhile 😉 – Jena Ball Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.Read More
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.
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 the barbs into place so their flight will be effortless and true. Finally, I let myself feel the arrowhead itself – shaped and sharpened with the ability to kill. An arrow like this must only be shot with clear intent – with all the creative chuzpah your heart can muster while focused on the goal – my goal – of expressing, sharing and being abundantly supported for who and what I am in the world.
I take one last deep breath and settle in, gathering my strength, mustering my courage as I pull the string back close to my cheek. When I exhale, the arrow flies, driven by love. I don’t hold back. – Jena Ball
To learn more about that goal I’m shooting for visit: http://NotPerfectHatClub.com
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.
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.Read More
Yikes! It’s National Coloring Book Day and we almost missed it. The mutts would never forgive us if we didn’t give the kids in the Not Perfect Hat Club a page from their coloring book to color. It’s just the first in a series that will be made available to all the kids who sign up for the Not Perfect Hat Club global blogging event. To learn more about the event (fun stuff) visit www.nphcblogit.com and sign up.
But in the meantime, just right click and save the image to your computer, print and color. It’s that simple. We’d love to see the results of course. Please post to social media and send us the link. Better yet, Tweet it out to our wonderful PLN on Twitter: @jenaiamorane, @BevLadd and @martysnowpaw
Email Jena: JenaBall@CritterKin.com