National Coloring Book Day!



NPHC-Coloring Book Day

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 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:



CritterKin, Kids and SEL

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Questions for the Chat are Below

CritterKin is hosting a Twitter chat as part of this year’s EdCampGlobal entitled, “CritterKin, Kids and Social Emotional Learning.”   To access the chat, type in the hashtag #CKSEL into the search bar on Twitter and you will be taken to the live feed. We will hope to see you at 6:00 am on August 1st. Questions for the chat are below:

Welcome!  Today’s topic focuses on how CritterKin (animal family) can be used to foster emotional literacy skills (SEL). #CKSEL

Introductions: Please share your name, location & 1 thing your CritterKin (animal family) has taught you about SEL. #CKSEL

Q1: SEL is often described as teaching “soft skills.” Are soft skills less important than traditional ones? #CKSEL

Q2: How can cultivating empathy, compassion & kindness contribute 2 enhanced academic & cognitive performance? #CKSEL

Q3: CritterKin uses stories told from dogs’ view 2 explore human behavior. What’re advantages 2 this approach? #CKSEL

Q4: How can story-driven PBL be used to reinforce SEL and empower students to have a voice in the world?#CKSEL

Q5: A central CritterKin theme is that no one is perfect & one size does not fit all? How can we reinforce this in the classroom?

Q6: Share some examples of ways you have brought Social Emotional Learning into your classroom.

Challenge: Give your students a chance to experience SEL with others around the world. Sign up for #NPHCBlogIt


Q & A in Illinois

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Click HERE or On the Image Above to Watch a Q and A with second and third graders in Illinois

There’s nothing better than talking to kids, and I always make sure to leave some time for them to ask questions. I’ve been asked everything from my age to whether or not I think I was a dog before, so almost nothing fazes me. The one thing they never seem to expect is when I ask a question of my own. It’s only fair, right?

In addition to in-person and virtual visits via GHO Skype, I’ve done quite a few real-time Twitter chats. Just another way to engage and give kids the chance to practice their writing skills. One hundred and forty characters is a challenge for everyone!

To Schedule Your Own Visit, Contact Me:


Phone: (919) 615 – 0666

Teaching Kindness Little by Little

Poco a Poco Collage1A
Click HERE to Get Your Free Copy of Poco a Poco

When I first heard about the dogs being left at the garbage dump in Cozumel, Mexico I was horrified. Then the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) introduced me to the people who were saving those dogs lives and I realized there was a story that needed to be told. It is a heartbreaking story, to be sure. No one likes to think of dogs being left at a dump, but for every act of abandonment there has been an equally compelling act of kindness and courage, often by those in desperate straits themselves.

Poco a Poco is based on actual events and was written to support the IFAW’s new “Cats, Dogs and Us” program, designed to educate people worldwide about the unique relationship between human beings and their pets. I hope you will get your free copy today and help spread the word about how best to care for our furry friends.  To get your Free copy, click HERE.

Spending Time in Texas

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Click HERE or on Image to Read About My Visit to Warren Elementary

It’s true what they say about Texas. Everything is a little bit bigger there, including the hearts of the people. I spent an amazing two days with the teachers and students at Warren Elementary, after more than a year of working with them virtually. Don’t get me wrong. I love virtual visits, but there’s nothing quite like being hugged by 600 kids to make your heart happy.

Thank you to all the wonderful folks who collaborated to make this happen. You can read all about my visit here:

To learn more about how you can bring CritterKin to your school, visit the Program Page:

And don’t forget to check out the amazing stories of joyful collaboration and project based learning here:

Jena Ball – What Do Your Shoes Say About You?


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We’d been talking about what it means to feel different – to be misunderstood because of how you look, the clothes you wear or the language you speak. The conversations stemmed from a book we were reading called Lead With Your Heart in which the main character decorates an ugly pair of white tennis shoes and wears them to school. The reaction of the other students was predictably unkind at first, and most of the students reading the story with me could understand why. As one eleven year old put it, “She was asking for trouble. You don’t want to mess with the fashion police.”

Fast forward a week. The students had had a chance to read how the challenge was resolved in the book, but more importantly had been asked to design their own shoes. We asked them to decorate their shoes so they showed what they were like on the inside.  As usual the kids surprised and delighted me with their creativity and candor as they revealed their love of rainbows and stained glass, pit bulls and Jurassic Park, and Notre Dame football. But don’t take my word for it. Here is what some of the 2nd – 4th graders had to say about their shoes:

Bianca – Go Black Hawks!

My shoes have a lot to say. I put bows on here because I have lots of friends. The rainbow shoelaces show I am a happy person, and the hearts show I am a hugger. I like to hug people. I also love cats, so there is a cat down here on the side beside the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is there because I am part French. Oh, and I love the Black Hawks! Go Black Hawks!

Emily – My Dog Shoes

My shoes show that I love my dogs and they love me. I love them like they are human. My mom has three pit bulls and my grandma has two. Grandma also has a border collie named Rocky. Pit bulls are the best dogs. They are loving and kind and sweet.

Elyssa – Bob’s Shoes

I love Bob’s Shoes because they make purple and green shoes and those are my favorite colors.  Green is also my Mom’s favorite color. Blue makes me think of watching TV. I used orange because it shows I like playing and purple because it makes me think of playing outside.

Gloria – Fuschia Shoes

I really like to paint things pink. These lines show water moving. I like the way water sounds when it moves. These lines here show trees blowing in the wind.

Arjum – You Rock!

My shoes have stars because I rock. I also made them red and green because I like Christmas. The purple and yellow are to show a cool pattern, and the blue reminds me of water.

Caleb – Notre Dame Shoes

These are my Notre Dame shoes. I made them because my brother plays football for Notre Dame. He is a defensive lineman. I love football, but I miss my brother. He left in September and I hope he comes home soon to visit.

Diego – Stained Glass Shoes

I like rainbows and stained glass a lot. I used blue because it’s my favorite color.

Shivam – Jurassic World Shoes

I made Jurassic World shoes cuz I love Jurassic World. I used yellow in my shoes because yellow is the color of a lot of dinosaurs. I used blue to show the creatures that live in the water and green to show the leaf eaters. I used red to show the meat eater animals. In my Jurassic World you can level up so I created a three star system.


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Okay, so now it’s your turn! What do your shoes say about you?







Jena Ball – Taking Down the Walls


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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

Jena Ball – Reasons to Smile


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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!


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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:

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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:

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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:

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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

Jena Ball – Jailbreak!


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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.”

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?

Join the CritterKin Pack!

Kids Love the CritterKin Books

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