Written by: Jennifer Appel
In a time filled with trauma, inequity, and fear, creating a healthy imaginative world focused on emotional regulation seems like a revelatory antidote to the world’s disconnection and anxiety stemming from social distancing. As children navigate forced remote learning and hybrid models, parents and educators are desperately seeking a myriad of ways to infuse joy back into students’ lives.
I’m Who, beautifully lays out a high interest picture book for children of all ages to wrestle with their own uncomfortable feelings as they redefine their everyday coping strategies through the eyes of a furry dog named Ginger. The heartfelt story centers around a seemingly perfect dog who’s haunted with conquering daily negative thoughts and stress. With the help of a wise old friend, vivid imagery, and calm surroundings, children vicariously learn how to take back control of their own world.
Our children today have an overwhelming sense of anxiety. We can teach young readers how to overcome these internal barriers to joy with literacy based social emotional learning.
Growing up with childhood testing anxiety, from an undiagnosed reading disability, I recognize the immense pressure to fit it and pretend like everything’s alright on the outside. Children spend tremendous energy sustaining the illusion of what society tells us is normalcy. This dissonance between thoughts, feelings, and behavior directly interferes with a child’s ability to learn. Psychological research refers to this faking of one’s feelings as emotional labor. Emotional labor often forces people to constantly remain in an inauthentic or forced space through surface acting. Obviously, surface acting is exhausting!
Parents often experience their anxious child’s exhaustion at night, boil over after hours of ‘keeping it together’ at school. It’s critical to help our learners understand that it’s ok to not be ok and that their intense feelings are actually completely manageable.
“The average student today has as much anxiety, as the average psychiatric patient of the 1950’s” (American Psychological Association)
Picture books deliver an awesome conversation starter for kids to discover and develop their best selves by being a catalyst for teachers and parents to carve out their own Award Winning Culture.
As a long-time lover of the power of visual storytelling, I’m thrilled to have created this canine universe to help shape the minds and hearts of our young people. Teaching social emotional learning and character education are not just a good idea but are crucial to helping children thrive in an ever-changing world. From my own experience, I know that books like--I'm Who--reinforce an internal belief that young readers determine their attitude and path forward.
In addition to offering free elementary lesson plans, we’re able to provide virtual read alouds to further support literacy based SEL. It’s no longer acceptable, safe or even efficient to exclusively focus on academic content to the detriment of children’s mental health. Supporting healthy learners in this crazy world is everyone’s job!
Parents and teachers now have a wonderful resource at their fingertips to support youth mental health by instilling self hope that “I’m Who controls my own anxiety.”
This week, think of one child who might benefit from this life impacting learning.
Who knows...maybe...You Too Can Be Who.
About The Author
Jennifer Appel is an educator, coach, speaker, and writer. She’s the Chief Heart Officer for the Teach Better Team, Co-host of the Award Winning Culture podcast, and the Co-Creator of Award Winning Culture. She’s the author of a line of picture books focusing on social emotional learning and character education which includes, “Award Winning Dog and I’m WHO.” Furthermore, Jennifer has been a contributor on two books: Teacher’s Deserve It and an upcoming project yet to be titled.
Written by: Hans Appel
“Success is more than achieving your goals. It’s living your values.”
I’m incessantly attracted to successful people! I love learning from leaders who are at the top in their industry no-matter what their industry might be. I know that examining what creates game-winning athletes, must see performers, or mind-bending corporate champions are often a mix of similar drive, talent, and practice. But the people who most peak my interest are the influencers who actually live out their inspiring vision-like values in their daily lives. These edu-stars teach beyond their words as they captivate with their authentic action.
While William Shakespeare famously shared that “all the world’s a stage…” I would argue that:
All the world’s a classroom and these culture building educators are generously sharing a VIP pass behind the curtain of life-changing learning.
Welcome to my 3rd annual 50 must follow educators! This year, our list focuses exclusively on Culture and Climate edu-stars that push, challenge, and encourage me to be BETTER.
With the close of 2020, I find myself taking stock of the educators who continue to inspire me to chase an Award Winning Culture. And while I generated a list of nearly 200 difference makers initially, the following 50 Culture Builders continue to reach rarified air. As a dream team of disruptors, difference makers, and dynamic do-gooders--I’m truly in awe of the work these educators are creating. Rather than simply consuming content their breathing whole child life into classrooms all around the world, by sharing their knowledge and secrets with all of us.
This is not simply a list of my favorite people, PLN, or best friends--in fact, a few people here don’t even know I exist. Instead, it’s a carefully curated group of people who YOU need to be connected to. The world desperately needs to hear their messages and I encourage each of you to lean forward and listen closely. In no particular order, I present to you the 2020 TOP 50 Culture Builders:
Jorge Valenzuela: Jorge is an award winning educational coach, thought leader, and author of Rev Up Robotics. He’s the creator of LifeLong Learning Defined, and offers PD for Teach Better and PBL Works. He’s a social justice advocate, SEL resource, and general superstar!
Houston Kraft: Houston is a Speaker, Curriculum Developer, Kindness Advocate and Professional Hugger. He’s the Co-founder of CharacterStrong and author of Deep Kindness. He’s a must follow because he’s actively teaching the WORLD how to live, practice, and think more intentionally about kindness!
Evan Whitehead: Evan is a district administrator, national consultant for the Aha Process, Mental Health Advocate, and soon to be author. His #BalanceBoundariesandBreaks platform has been a refreshing lens for understanding Self-Care in the context of valuing mental health. He makes vulnerability cool!
Jami Fowler-White: Jami is an administrator, Founder & CEO of Digital PD For You, Podcaster, Speaker, and author of Educator Reflection Tips. Along with her husband, Dr. Frederick White, they offer an outstanding presentation called: Colorism: The Unspoken Ace.
Randy Russell: is a Superintendent, Founder of RLR Leadership Consulting, Podcaster, and author of The 3 Ships: Relationships, Leadership, and Partnership. Randy truly lives his WHY out on a daily basis and he practices what he preaches!
Livia Chan: Livia is a Head Teacher, Ambassador and Digital Content Editor for the Teach Better Team, and soon to be author. She’s a talented blogger and joyful leader who lives out Maya Angelou’s famous words into existence: “they’ll remember how you made them feel.” She’s a rising educational star who models humility, kindness, and compassion on a daily basis.
Lindsay Titus: Lindsay K-12 Educational Behavior Specialist, Teach Better Ambassador, Podcast Host, Speaker, Coach, Founder of Define YOUniversity and upcoming author of the Define YOU Journal. Whenever Lindsay speaks, I find myself taking copious notes. She’s an authentic, Rachel Hollis-like educator who lifts others to incredible heights!
Jeff Gargas: Jeff is the COO and Co-founder of the Teach Better Team. He’s a speaker, champion for educators and co-author of Teach Better. But more than all the accolades, accomplishments, and achievements--Jeff is on a ridiculously spectacular quest to reimagine education.
Nicole Biscotti: Nicole is an educator, parent advocate, and the upcoming author of I Can Learn When I’m Moving: Going to School with ADHD. She’s the creator of ADHD Global Convo and provides incredible parental resources!
Jennifer Appel: Jennifer is an award winning Educator, Speaker, Podcaster, Co-Founder of Award Winning Culture, Chief Heart Officer of the Teach Better Team, and author of multiple books: Award Winning Dog and I’m Who. Additionally, in the spring of 2021 she’ll be releasing the sequel to Award Winning Culture. Simply put--Jennifer’s a game-changing educational thought leader who believes in the power of JOY!
Traci Browder: Traci is an award winning teacher, global thinker, and podcast host of Intelligogy. She’s an upcoming author of her highly anticipated BetterFlies Book. She’s a gifted communicator with a servant’s heart who’s become a go-to resource for understanding equitable education.
Sheldon Eakins: Dr. Eakins is an administrator, Co-Founder of the Leading Equity Center, and Host of the Leading Equity Podcast. He has a talented way of bringing visionary clarity to complex social issues to a diverse group of educators. He’s empowering, unifying, and culturally collaborative!
Tre Gammage: Tre is an administrator, educational SEL Consultant, Teach Better Speaker, Host of the Dash Podcast, and author of Every Decision Counts: 8 Lessons I Wish They Taught Me in School. Tre brings a special passion to reaching and teaching adult SEL!
Mariah Rackley: Dr. Rackley is an award winning administrator, lead learning change agent. She’s built an incredible school culture by influencing student voice, choice, and agency. She inspires educators to become a digital leader!
Evan Robb: is an award winning administrator, keynote speaker, co-host of the Robb Review podcast and blogger. He’s the author of, The 10-Minute Principal, Team Makers, and The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook. Evan believes in creating a culture of reading that transforms a school of students into a community of learners!
Joshua Stamper: Josh is an exceptional administrator, Teach Better Podcast Network Manager, and Host of the award winning Aspire Podcast. He’s an upcoming author and recognized speaker on Trauma and Restorative Practices. Josh has a passion for blending creative content with supportive connection to build aspiring leaders!
Neil Gupta: Dr. Gupta is a Director of Secondary Education, ASCD Board Vice President, Creator of Farther Together, and a Teach Better Speaker. He’s a cultural energizer capable of walking arm and arm with educators on their quest to create exceptional learning spaces!
Chad Ostrowski: Chad is the CEO of the Teach Better Team, creator and mastermind behind The Grid Method, speaker, trainer, and author of Teach Better. Chad is uber committed to supporting, connecting, and inspiring educators to be BETTER TODAY than yesterday, and BETTER TOMORROW than today!
Jacie Maslyk: Dr. Maslyk is an administrator, speaker, blogger, Solution Tree Associate, and author of: Steam Makers, Remaking Literacy, Connect to Lead, Unlock Creativity, and All-In. She flourishes in leadership and learning through relationship development!
Steve Sostak: Steve is the Director of Inspire Citizens, Director of IC Master Teach Endorsement, author of Global Impact School Self Study, and a facilitator of Sustainable Development Goals. Steve’s dedicated to positively influencing the whole child to impact communities around the globe!
Barbara Bray: Barbara is a coach, blogger, speaker, host of the Rethink Learning Podcast, and author of Define Your Why. She’s a brilliant advocate for student agency, voice, and choice through learner centered classroom!
Rae Hughart: Rae is an award winning teacher, keynote speaker, blogger, creator of Teach Further Model, trainer, the Chief Marketing Officer for the Teach Better Team, Host of the Teach Better Talk Podcast, and the author of Teacher’s Deserve It and Teach Better.
David Geurin: David is an award winning principal, keynote speaker, blogger, an author of Future Driven. He’s an advocate for reimagining our schools to reach the whole child and prepare our students for both their current realities and a future unknown!
Amy Fast: Dr. Fast is a Principal, Education Commentator, speaker, and author of It’s the Mission Not the Mandates. She’s a boots on the ground educator who has masterfully crafted award winning school culture and climate in McMinnville Oregon by focusing on the real “sweet spot” in education!
George Couros: George is a teacher, keynote speaker, blogger, podcast host, and author of The Innovator’s Mindset and co-author of Innovate Inside the Box. George is a generational thought leader who continues to raise education and learning culture to inexplicable heights!
Brian Aspinall: Brian is the founder of CodeBreakerEdu, Keynote Speaker, University Instructor, and author of Risk Taker and Block Breaker. Brian’s ability to inspire educators to infuse coding, critical thinking, and problem solving into their school wide community is unmatched!
Eric Sheninger: Eric is an award winning principal, ICLE Associate Partner, international keynote speaker, and best-selling author of Digital Leadership, Learning Transformed, Uncommon Learning, and Brand ED. Eric is at the forefront of innovative leadership!
Jimmy Casas: Jimmy is an award winning educator, the CEO & President of J Casas & Associates, leadership coach, Future Ready Faculty, and author of Culturize and Live Your Excellence. He’s a charismatic and gifted speaker and lead learner who believes: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever it Takes.
Elisabeth Bostwick: Elisabeth is an award winning educator, speaker, coach, blogger and the author of Take the Leap. Elisabeth is a passionate whole learner advocate who believes in igniting innovation to better serve each student!
Dave Burgess & Shelly Burgess: Dave and Shelly are award winning educators, keynote speakers, publishers, and authors of Teach Like a Pirate and Lead Like a Pirate. Dave Burgess Consulting continues to push the envelope in high impact literature focused on all areas of school culture!
Marlena Gross-Taylor: Marlena is a district administrator, publisher, speaker, founder of Edu-Gladiators, and author. Her passion to create exceptional learning communities makes her a game-changer in all educational spaces!
Brian Mendler: Brian is a former special education teacher, dynamic staff developer, host of the Brian Mendler Show Podcast, and author of That One Kid and Watch Your Mouth, Tips For Teachers, Power Struggles, and Turning Tough Parents into Strong Partners. Brian is kid behavior expert who’s driven to make school amazing for each and every learner!
Pete Hall & Kristin Souers: Pete and Kristin are a dynamic duo of leadership and learning. They provide incredible professional development and are the authors of Fostering Resilient Learners and Relationship, Responsibility, and Regulation. By combining forces to create Fostering Resilient Learners, Pete and Kristin are widely recognized experts in trauma informed practices!
Wendy Turner: Wendy is an award winning teacher, SEL Warrior, speaker, writer, and trainer. She’s an SEL expert who practices what she preaches in her own classroom.
Tara Martin: Tara is an educator, coach, national speaker, PR & Communications Director of Dave Burgess Consulting, Host of the Real Journey Podcast, creator of BookSnaps, and author of Be Real and Cannonball In.
Jeff Kubiak: Jeff is an educator, speaker, advocate for ALL KIDS, and author of One Drop of Kindness and It’s Me. He’s a big hearted edu-star who’s kindness first focus is changing the narrative on equity, inclusion, and acceptance in school houses around the globe!
Sara Johnson: Sarah is an educator, speaker, coach, host of the In Awe Podcast, and author of Lead with Faith and Balance Like a Pirate. She's a nationally recognized consultant supporting educators with her message of balance, building resiliency, and empowerment!
Chuck Poole: Chuck is a classroom teacher, founder of Teachonomy & Teach Success Summit, podcaster, blogger, and author of Unforgettable. Chuck supports educators through virtual and asynchronous learning opportunities designed to lift learning everywhere!
Chris Woods: Chris is a teacher, speaker, host of the STEM everyday podcast, and author of Daily Stem. He’s a forward thinking lead learner modeling how to infuse STEM into the daily fabric of the school!
LaVonna Roth: LaVonna is an international keynote speaker, consultant, author, and Chief Illuminator of Ignite Your Shine. She’s a highly impacted presenter and coach of social emotional empowerment driven to help all learners discover their inner SHINE!
Kris Felicello: Kris is a superintendent, blogger, speaker, Co-Founder of The Teacher and The Admin, and author of The Teacher and the Admin. Kris is a master teacher, leader, and culture building dynamo who believes in the limitless power of teacher and administration collaboration!
Kristen Nan: Kristen is an award winning teacher, speaker, and BELIEVER in SEL, Risk Taking, and reaching the whole child. In addition to being a heartfelt blogger, she’s the co-author of All In: Taking a Gamble in Education. Kristen oozes authenticity in her actions, words, and life!
Joe Sanfelippo: Joe is an award winning superintendent, next level keynote speaker, and author of Hacking Leadership, The Power of Branding, and Principal Professional Development. He’s an electric and energizing leader who brings out the best in educators around the world!
Kevin Butler: Kevin is an off-the-charts engaging teacher, director of curriculum and instruction, keynote speaker, PD facilitator, blogger, and host of the LIghts, Camera, Action Podcast. Kevin’s classroom for both students and educators is the type of MUST SEE experience that you’d buy a ticket for!
John Norlin: John is a former district level administrator of the whole child, master SEL and character education trainer, keynote speaker, curriculum developer, Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, the host of the CharacterStrong Podcast. As a recognized leader in reaching and teaching the whole child, John has taken his experiential leadership skills and married them with research based best practice science to offer the GOLD STANDARD in professional development and curriculum within social emotional learning!
Evo Hannan: Evo is an international administrator and speaker specializing in design, innovation, and agency on a global level. He's also the host of the Ed Talks Live. His collaborative style in building people up has earned him a reputation for exceptional school culture and climate that knows no borders!
Michael Earnshaw: Michael is a punk rock principal, speaker, and inspirer. He’s the co-host of the Punk Rock Classrooms, blogger and the upcoming author of Edu-Culture Cookbook. Michael’s authentic style leadership makes him an irresistible influencer capable of transforming the thermostat of any room!
Sarah Thomas: Dr. Thomas is a 100% educator who balances between regional tech coordinator and founder and CEO of Edu-Match. Edu-match is a publishing company who specializes in working with educators who have diverse stories and messages to inspire the world!
Dwayne Reed: Dwayne is a rapping teacher, keynote speaker, and author of Simon B Rhymin. He provides daily inspiration to his students, social media followers, and educators around the world!
CJ Reynolds: CJ is a breathtakingly REAL teacher, speaker, and author of Teach Your Class Off. Additionally, he’s the star of Real Rap with Reynolds, a viral YouTube Channel devoted to his brand of comedy, engagement, and relationship building directly from his own classroom!
About the Author
Hans Appel is an educator, speaker, and writer deeply committed to inspiring the whole child. He’s the author of, Award Winning Culture: Building School-Wide Intentionality and Action Through Character, Excellence, and Community. Additionally, he’s the Director of Culture for the Teach Better Team, Co-host of the Award Winning Culture podcast, and the Co-Creator of Award Winning Culture.
Award Winning Culture was created by Hans and Jennifer Appel with the sole purpose of creating an educational mindset of Positive INTENTIONALITY and ACTION; with a daily mantra to make our sphere of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Part of AWC's mission is to highlight outstanding educators, companies, and resources that support an Award Winning Culture. Both Jennifer and Hans work at Enterprise Middle School aka Wildcat Nation. Wildcat Nation received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness.