Today’s blog is a guest post from the ever amazing Jena Ball who is the author and illustrator and co-founder (with Marty Keltz) of CritterKin – a series of books and related projects that use story and creative activities to teach emotional and intellectual skills. Most recently she has been working on the launch of CritterKin’s latest project, The Not Perfect Hat Club and completing the accompanying book. When not writing and illustrating, Jena enjoys reading and writing poetry, swimming, walks in nature and spending time with homeless animals at her local SPCA. She likes to say that animals are her best teachers because they love unconditionally.
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 coloured 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 colourful 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
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?
For more information you can drop her a line at: JenaBall@CritterKin.com