Monday, July 2, 2012

Fowl Behavior is "not the normal bullying lecture"

This blog is not that active at the present time. I'm too busy presenting Fowl Behavior, a school program for k-12, college students and adults to talk about bullying through the eyes of  a chicken who got bullied and became a bully.

For more information about this interesting chicken and the stories she illustrates about human and chicken bullying, visit my site and learn more about Kids at Shawsheen Elementary School in Andover, Mass. meet Mooey.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chicken coop renovations will keep the peace

Last winter five of my chickens ganged up on Mooey, and pecked out all of her back feathers.
One reason was because the coop was damp and wet. My son Ian and husband Bob renovated the coop to have yet one more door -- to collect eggs without tracking snow or water into the coop. See video at left. Now there's a human door, two chicken doors and an egg-collecting door. They did this last spring, and I've been enjoying the egg-collecting door all summer.
I'm looking forward to using the egg-collecting door this winter as the weather gets colder and the snow flies.  Although Mooey's plight has created a very interesting true bullying story that I share with students from K to 12 in elementary, middle and high schools. Kids relate to Mooey's plight, her position at the bottom of the pecking order and even to her becoming a bully when I brought four new chickens into the flock.

She became a brutal bully, and has pecked out the comb of two chickens, and drawn blood. It's very gory. Only look at the picture below if you can bear it. Mooey lacks empathy. She does to other chickens what was done to her, and worse and meaner. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The tiniest teachers: how babies teach empathy

Mooey the bullied chicken is my ambassador of empathy for kids of all ages. One of my favorite parts of spending the day in a middle or high school is when word gets out that there's a live chicken in Ms. Gonzales' class. Groups of kids gather outside of the door to confirm, "Mrs. Gonzales, is there really a live chicken in here?!" and "Mrs. Gonzales, can I come into your class this period?"

Something about Mooey evokes empathy. Students feel sorry for her because she was the target of bullying. It galls me that she became a bully -- a much more brutal bully than those who pecked on her. I ask the kids, "Do you feel more compassion for Mooey as a target or as a bully?" The audience is always split.

I feel more empathy for her as a bully. Empathy is the key word here. How to get kids to develop empathy is a challenge because empathy must be experienced in order to learn it. Canadian educator Mary Gordon founded a program in 1996 called Roots of Empathy. A community member brings an infant into an elementary classroom several times over the year to help children identify and think about their own feelings and thoughts, and what other people might feel.

According to research, the program works. See more at this post, sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company.  More than 12,000 Canadian schools have hosted the program and it's starting to immigrate to the USA.

Chickens and babies can open the door to our hearts in ways that big humans don't. It all boils down to empathy -- the ability to understand how others may feel.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Students remember how I make them feel

I just read feedback from middle school students in Worcester where I delivered "Fowl Behavior and What it Teaches us  about Empathy" and some of them made me cry.

From an eighth grade girl:
"I really liked that it taught us about how a victim of a bully could become a bully. It also taught me how to try to talk to the special ed kids because some of them may not even have friends.  It also taught me that if I am a bystander, I should help and to empathy for others."
"I felt sorry for you when you were in school, but I think you're really smart on how you used this to teach us something. And I think this would improve lots of kids so don't stop doing this because you're a great person."

Wow. Coming from an eighth grader that means a lot to me.

This one got me, too, from a seventh grade girl.
"I like how the program talked about being bullied and I knew how it felt. I really like it but it did make me tear (up)."

I share with them how it felt to be on the receiving end of different types of bullying. It's really hard for me to revisit that feeling and time in my life. However, the better I am able to go back in time, the more effectively I connect with the students. The more I do it, the easier it gets.

The worst part of being bullied was feeling alone and being socially ostracized because I was different  I empathize with children, tweens and teens who have been a victim of bullying, and anyone who is treated differently because they look different or are differently-abled.

If sharing my story and Mooey's story makes a difference in the intense world of school, then I feel good because being bullied is lonesome and full of dread.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mooey goes from victim to being a bully

Mooey started as a victim of bullying in the hen house during the long cold winter when the other chickens pecked out her back feathers out of stress and discomfort.

This summer, I added five new chickens to the flock -- four pullets who are four months old (like teenagers), and a one-year-old hen. Mooey has made it her business to bully the new young chickens, even though she has been victim herself.

This picture was taken after the bleeding stopped. When my husband found Henrietta, her head was bloodied from the pecking and she had flown the coop. The photo with a bloody head is too gruesome to show. I set up a "sick bay" for Henrietta adjacent to the chicken yard with food and water. She evaded capture an spent a night and a day AWOL.

The next day Henrietta stayed in her separate pen and I managed to catch her and put her in a small travel crate for the night. The other two nights she roosted in Bob's outdoor lumber shed. On the third day, she tried to push through the door to rejoin the flock, so I let her back in. The hell you know is better than solitary confinement for social animals like chickens and humans.

Mooey has become a regular threat in the barnyard. I delivered some stale breakfast cereal yesterday -- a real treat for the birds. When I gave the young birds a separate helping, Harriet flew away in terror. She was bleeding and panicked.

Notice the bit of blood around her comb from brutal bullying. From what I've seen in the barnyard, Mooey is the ringleader of the attacks. She makes it her business to peck at the younger chickens for no good reason.
The environment has become so caustic in the barnyard that I'm considering starting over with a new flock of chickens.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yes- there's really a live chicken at school today!

Students at Nashua North High School hear about Mooey.
No one can anticipate what Mooey will do during the presentation. 

It has been an exciting week presenting Mooey, the bullied chicken, and stories about how the pecking order of backyard chickens relates to instinct and intellect.

Students and teachers at Nashua North High School in New Hampshire, Washington Elementary in Lowell, Mass., Samoset Middle School in Leominster, Mass., and Greater Lowell Vo-Tech listened, participated and shared their stories about what it's like to be a victim of bullying.

It's always heart-breaking to hear students and teachers describe what it's like to be singled out because they're different, new or gifted. Like the red spot on Mooey's back, the impact of being bullying can last a long time.

Students at Samoset Middle School offered to revise my rap about the reasons why kids get bullied. They can only improve upon my rhyming. I can't wait to see the results and record their performance of the rap.

By next fall I'll have a set of follow-up activities and discussion questions for every grade. Mooey continues to amaze me at her ability to capture the attention of students and staff. One of the most fun aspects is that students elsewhere in the building hear about what's going on, stick their head in the door, and ask, "Is there really a live chicken in here?"

She leaves a memorable message about how the pecking order relates to how kids treat each other in their school community.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mooey opens doors to connect with kids of all ages

The preschoolers lasted about 20 minutes for the presentation.
Last week Mooey amazed me with her ability to connect to students at Cheshire Barn Preschool and Ayer High School. There's something about an animal, especially a hurt animal, that brings out compassion.

Both the preschool and high school students "got" the link between the pecking order of chickens and how humans exclude and mistreat each other. Some of the preschoolers were afraid of Mooey, which surprised me.
The kids enjoyed singing Down by the Bay, Where the Watermelons Grow with custom lyrics such as: Did you ever see a boy grab somebody's toy? Did you ever see a girl get hit and do nothing to stop it? Did you ever see a chicken take a lickin?

I created some more lyrics: Did you ever:
See a bear who didn't play fair?
See a whale mock someone who reads Braille?
Have a friend you didn't defend?
See a queen say something mean?
Mooey gets a little excited at Ayer High School.

The high school students didn't sing Down by the Bay, but they did engage in an animated discussion about raising chickens and why Mooey got bullied.

Their answers aligned with the typical reasons kids get bullied. Perhaps Mooey:
1. Wasn't assertive.
2. Looked different from the other chickens.
3. Something was wrong with her.
4. She acted annoyingly.
5. Was weaker/smaller than the other chickens.

It got them thinking and talking about the reasons for bullying and how to use their intellect instead of their instinct. The funniest moment in the program was when I put up the slide from my high school yearbook that shows how I look different from everyone else and someone said, "Which one are you?" Everyone laughed because the answer is obvious. The ninth-graders paid attention and participated. They were very interested in my stories about getting bullied in middle and high school. On the evaluation they wrote that it was a different angle than the usual lectures on bullying, bully awareness and bully prevention.

I'm looking forward to my next visit to a school or camp. June will be a long month for schools in Maine,  Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire because of the many snow days this winter that we'll have to pay the price for. Right now the program is being piloted, so there's no charge.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Composting is easy and organic

When I visit schools, I'm amazed at how many children don't know what compost is.

This photo is compost from our bucket. Coffee grounds in the middle are surrounded by tea bags, pineapple, cantaloupe, onion banana and grapefruit peel, a lettuce leaf and egg shells.

At the top left is dog hair. At the top right is a bite of leftover whole-grain pancake. I forgot to include one my chickens' all time favorite compost ingredient: Dandelion weeds. They LOVE weeds and grass. It motivates me to pull dandelions for them.

You can start your own compost pile. It's easy. Just start putting in vegetable and fruit leftovers along with yard waste.Avoid meat products, although I break that rule because my chickens adore leftovers and few wild predators are attracted to my compost because of our location.

Give composting a try. You don't need any fancy equipment. For small yards it's nice to have barrels to contain the compost.

My chickens enjoy ravaging the compost pile. And they do it in the pecking order -- the highest ranking bird gets at it first, followed by rank. See this video for a demonstration.