Written By: Hans Appel
I’ll never forget Pete. Pete was a freckle faced, tall thin young man with thick coke bottle glasses. He had buck teeth, a goofy smile, and an impish disregard for following the rules. He was completely disinterested in traditional education and took painstaking opportunities to avoid work. Prior to middle school, he had been ‘gifted’ the labels of ADHD, Tourettes, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Learning Disabled, Behavior Problem, and general pain in the butt. He had tried counseling and medications throughout elementary school with little to no success. His parents were excruciatingly demanding, critical, and combative with their son’s school system. In nearly 18 years working in education, Pete was one of the most challenging students, I have ever worked with. If I’m being honest his mere name mentioned in some teacher circles in the Richland School District (RSD) brings about grunts and groans before eventually giving way to tiny smiles. Surviving Pete and his family was a badge of honor for some educators who had their patience, commitment, and forgiveness tested on a regular basis.
My first encounter with Pete, was in the spring of his 5th grade year as his elementary school led a transition meeting to get him “all set up for success in middle school.” I distinctly remember him openly explaining to all of us (probably 10 adults in attendance) that there was “no point in middle school” because he was “going to play video games for a living.” It’s the same type of grandiose proclamations we’ve all heard: “I’m gonna play in the NFL,” “I’m gonna marry someone rich” “I’m gonna be a Youtube star.” One time, I even had someone say to me: “I don’t need school cuz I’m gonna be a drug dealer.” (I CRINGE typing that last sentence). A story for another time.
In all transparency, I NEVER thought Pete would go on to play video games for a living. Back then, I’m not even sure I knew that was a potential career path. Certainly, I wanted to believe that Pete was capable of success. However, at 13 years old, I couldn’t fathom what success might look like for him.
In his time with us, Pete struggled academically, socially, and behaviorally EVERYDAY. We tried support classes, remedial classes, and no classes. We implemented behavior plans, academic plans and 504/IEP plans. In 3 years, we probably had dozens of parent meetings, staffings, and brainstorming sessions. While I could write about some of the crazy days I had with Pete and his family (there were plenty), there’s no need to do that here. You had or currently have a Pete in your school. He or she may look or sound slightly different. Probably goes by a different name but I’m confident you recognize the at-risk signs of despair. Your team of educators have identified him or her as a kid, who you fear, for many reasons, may not make it. You worry about him or her dropping out, passing state testing, and even getting mixed up into unhealthy or unsafe choices. But beyond school, you worry about his or her ability to function in society. Will he or she be capable of forming relationships or holding down a job? There’s little doubt that your Pete, keeps you and your educational team up at night, as you theorize ideas, solutions, or options to support him or her.
Written By: Hans Appel
Are you acutely aware of the subtle sounds of the back door?
During amazing days, we seemed liked the poster family for happiness. We were solidly middle class, had a nice home, and as an only child, I was quite literally the center of my parents universe. From the outside, we looked the part of a perfect family that had it all together. There were wonderful vacations, elaborate holidays, and spectacular arrays of fun. But, there were also dark days. And in comparison, these gloomy experiences were somehow traumatically burned into cognitive dissonance in ways that were hard to put into words.
As a child, growing up in an abusive home, I found myself highly attuned to my surroundings. Frequently my house resembled the verbal equivalent of a war zone. In a house filled with anger, tears, and unease, I became talented at navigating pain and suffering in reluctantly skillful ways. For years, I mediated heated arguments before I was old enough to even enjoy a PG movie. During particularly bad evenings, I’d cry myself to sleep clutching an oversized stuffed bunny rabbit named “Jumbo”; wondering if this would finally be the last straw that would end in divorce.
Written: Jennifer Appel
-Dr. Kate Siner
I’ve been practicing yoga for about 15 years. I love every aspect of yoga and would consider myself a yogi! [YES, I’m a card carrying vegetarian who drives a bright RED Prius] Indeed, I’ve experimented with all types of yoga: Vinyasa, Hatha, Buti, Beach, and even ‘Goat’ yoga! Recently, I was sitting on my mat at the beginning of class, like I have for the past 15 years and started reflecting about how cool it would be if our students thought of themselves in the same way that yogis think of their practice...
For those who are unfamiliar with yoga, each class begins with students being asked to meditate in some way and center themselves so that you can fully experience the practice of the day. While you are in this meditative state, you are asked to set an intention for your practice. You can think of a word or saying that sets your purpose for the day. While I have done this thousands of times it finally occurred to me that this is exactly what I’m asking my students to do every day, but I am not as articulate as my wonderful insightful yoga instructors.
What if we shifted the mindset of the learning target in school, into more of an INTENTION for the day?
Written By: Hans Appel
I was fortunate to attend one of the best counselor prep programs in the northwest. Central Washington University (CWU) in Ellensburg Washington is highly distinguished for 3 specific programs: Accounting, Teaching, and Counseling. Indeed, their counseling program is second to none, in my part of the country! Perhaps, the biggest distinction between CWU and other universities’ counseling programs is the experiential practicum that students receive in a real world clinic. While some programs are grounded in role playing, scenarios, and fake setups, CWU required me to complete nearly 2 years of individual and group counseling with actual clients. It was insanely rigourous and inordinately challenging. All 50 minute sessions were videotaped for us, our supervisor, and our student teams to review, annalyze, and critic. We spent hours transcribing words, interpreting non-verbals, and examining feelings or thoughts. If you’ve ever recorded yourself doing anything, you recognize that the camera catches everything. Frequent questions arose during viewing sessions that would make the most confident individual re-examine their future counseling path:
**Why did you cross your legs there?
**How come you leaned forward there?
**What message are you sending to the client with this greeting?
**How might you more accurately capture this person’s story?
**What transference or countertransference was observable in that clip?
As you might imagine every little component was picked over. In fact, I believe the saying ”leave no stone unturned” could have come from CWU’s clinical counseling program. It was a challenging and awesome experience and I loved everything about it! Frankly, we all knew that if we survived this program (and not everyone did) we’d be ready to flourish in the helping profession. Of all the memories, learnings, and take-aways from my time in the program, the one I continue to come back to is something I call The Tissue Lesson.
During one unforgettable review session, my supervisor (Dr. Collins) took a close look at a session I was confused by. During the session, the client and I seemed to be connecting well. We were building rapport and the she was slowly opening up. At one point, she began to cry and started to share some intense feelings. Suddenly, she stopped emoting and put up an invisible wall. It was clear that she no longer felt comfortable to explore her feelings in that moment. On video tape it became clear that she quickly clammed up and returned into her own head before moving the conversation into a different direction. As our team zeroed in on this piece of the tape, we tried to determine what might have gone wrong. Dr. Collins, an expert in human behavior and a passion for teaching future counselors made me replay a 20 second clip probably half a dozen times.
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.