Written By: Hans Appel
“Leadership is the skill of influencing people to action, with character that inspires confidence and excellence.”
-James C Hunter
Last week, our school was thrilled to bring in leadership expert James C Hunter to speak to our district about the incredible influence educators have on the world. Hunter is a bestselling author, world renowned speaker, and leadership consultant. He works with fortune 500 companies, all the military branches, and countless organizations around the world. His work with servant leadership, character, and creating excellence have become the backbone to the Character Strong program, which EMS implemented last year. After spending the past week in Brazil, he flew into the Tri-Cities to check out our Award Winning Culture.
Written By: Hans Appel
“We build a culture of readers by establishing a school-wide learning community where students have equal access and opportunity to books, activities, adult models of readers, and reinforcement of the value of reading.”
In her landmark book, “Lead with Literacy”, Ellis makes a strong case urging educators to lead with: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask & Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. Furthermore, she explains “If we as leaders and educators aren’t serving as strong models of lifelong reading, we cannot expect our students to become readers; they will follow our example far more readily than they will heed our words.”
Following Ellis’ advice, I’ve been reading, writing and thinking A LOT about what makes an #AwardWinningCulture...
Award Winning Culture thrives when educational leaders create special opportunities designed to promote personalized literacy exploration.
Written By: Hans Appel
17+ years ago, when I began my career,
I was a counselor who worked in education.
But time, experience, and perspective have a funny way of changing your sense of self.
Warning to educators reading this, you might be upset by what I’m about to say. Ok, here goes:
In my experience SOME educators spend too much time focusing on what their title and/or role ‘should be’ and not enough time integrating into the school system.
I know. I told you this would be controversial. But far to often I hear things like “that’s not my job” “they can’t make us do that” and “this is not what we really should be doing.”
Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to have a 250 to 1 student/counselor ratio; which the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends. I fully believe in the ASCA national model of Academic, Personal Social, and College/Career focus. Additionally, I think it’s my job to educate students, staff, and parents how I fit into the school system. But, educating others about what I do isn’t enough and certainly doesn’t ensure me to “Be REAL” (Thanks Tara Martin!) within the school system. In her incredible book, Tara argues that educators might strive to being:
-R Be Relatable
-E Expose Vulnerability
-A Always be Approachable
-L Constantly Learn through real-life experiences
If educators were more focused on being REAL, perhaps our profession would be even stronger! In Heidy LaFleur’s book “Hop on the Clue Bus”, LaFleur adroitly invites educators to a common sense approach to leadership. LaFleur inspires through age old futuristic concepts like listening, empathy, and relationships. She reminds us that integrating ourselves into a school system isn’t rocket science but instead: human science. Her style is transparently refreshing as she abandons games and mind tricks and falls back on compassion, accountability, and love. She’s the kind of educator who seems to have worn many hats throughout her experience and understands others’ roles expertly!
Written By: Hans Appel
I recently had the pleasure of reading Allyson Apsey’s OUTSTANDING book “Path 2 Serendipity,” Allyson has crafted a beautifully written guide to self-discovery, self actualization, and empowerment! In "Path 2 Serendipity", she weaves heart felt stories with humorous anecdotes to create a treasure trove of authentic life learnings that can only come from experience and introspection. It's the type of JOYFUL expression that inspires one to read, write, and strive to become a better person. I eagerly await Allyson's next literary journey but for now, inspired by Allyson's willingness to share her most vulnerable paths, I find myself compelled to write about a painful loss...and the character lessons I learned...
Almost a year ago, I found myself sitting in a Character Strong training. I can sincerely tell you that in 17+ years of education, it was hands down the best professional development, I’ve ever been to. I came away energized, empowered, and eager to help turn Enterprise Middle School into an Award Winning Culture. Part way through the experience, John Norlin, asked us to think about who was the one person that had the most influence on our lives. Some people reflected on a family member, a coach, or even a teacher. But for me, the choice was obvious: Mom.
As I worked through's John's leadership activity, I found myself thinking about some of the character lessons I associate with my mom.
My mom was an exceptional person! We were close, my entire life, and we grew even closer as I morphed into adulthood. I know I’ll be sharing funny and touching stories about my mom in upcoming blogs but today I'll share some the character lessons I learned overcoming her loss.
When I was in college, after my parents divorce, my mom moved back to Texas (her family and close childhood friends created a safe landing back for this southern belle). While we didn’t see each other nearly as often, as I was thousands of miles away in Washington State; our long phone calls kept us as connected as ever when I transitioned from college to professional school counselor.
In May of 2003, I received a frightening phone call from my mom where she explained that she had stage 4 Breast Cancer and that they would be starting Chemo immediately. She explained that mastectomy was not an option as the cancer was highly aggressive and had already spread. I was 27 years old at the time, while mom would soon turn 54. While I knew almost nothing about breast cancer at the time, I was aware of one scary genetic fact. My mom’s mom died of breast cancer in her mid 30’s (when my mom was just a little girl). If I understood anything about this scary disease, it was that it was incredibly serious.
During the next few months my wife (Jen) and I traveled to visit my mom. We knew there wasn’t a lot we could do from thousands of miles away but were confident that our presence provided a little positive energy for her to endure chemo. Those of you whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer, or for that matter, CANCER, know what kind of AWFUL disease it is. But the Chemo used to treat cancer can be almost equally damaging to the body.
Upon our first visit, my mom had lost all her hair, looked very weak but was steadfast with her humor and passion for taking care of others. After much cajoling we convinced my mom to let us clean her house. She was very prideful and used to keeping her home up to a pristine state. But with the illness, her usual house routines had taken a back seat and we knew she needed help. While I visited and entertained mom, Jen took the next few hours and cleaned her entire home from top to bottom...inside and out. It was immaculate when Jen was finished! Afterwards, my mom began to cry and express gratitude; she shared that no one had ever done anything like that for her before. At first, we weren’t sure what she meant. Cleaning the house? No, “serving me in such a meaningful and loving way.” My mom and Jen spent the next few moments laughing and crying. That experience left a lasting bond for both of them and it taught me valuable lesson: Serving others can have a positive influence on everyone involved! As the weekend drew to a close, we committed to our next visit. Throughout that summer we spent as much time as possible with my mom. But at the end of August, school was starting and it was time to refocus on our lives in Washington. My wife had a classroom to get ready for students and I had schedules to prepare. Over the next few weeks, I kept tabs on her ups and downs of treatment from a far.
On Friday September 12th, 2003, I received a phone call that my mom had passed away in the night due to complications of the cancer spreading to her brain and other organs. It was one day before her 54th birthday.
Flooded with emotion, Jen and I boarded a plane and spent the next week and a half grieving, planning a funeral service, and dealing with decisions outside my emotional capability. For those who have lost a parent, you understand the complexity and multitude of tasks that need to be taken care of. Beyond the pain and loss there were dozens of decisions and items to be completed. Flowers and Casket to buy. A house to pack up. Calls to make. Financial decisions to be considered. Items to sell. Death certificates to obtain so that I could send them to various agencies. Being from out of state, provided additional challenges in dealing with the Will, estate, and court system because I had been named executor. There were loans and liens to work through. (My mom was an amazing woman but not as financially prepared as one might hope).
Through all the craziness my wife was an absolute rock! I couldn’t have gotten through all of it without her love and support. During one of the days, I felt compelled to write something to be read at my mom’s upcoming service. I had remembered back a few years earlier sitting in a district PD training with LA teacher and Richland High School Head Football Coach Mike Neidhold. (Side note: Mike just led his RHS Bombers to a State Championship this past season). During the ELA presentation, nearly 2 years prior to my mom's death, Mike talked about using vulnerability with his students and shared an essay he wrote about his father’s unexpected death. He read his moving and powerful tribute about his dad to us that day; in the same way he did for his students when sharing voice in writing. While he had had no idea the influence he might have on anyone (including me) that day, his words, actions, and thoughts stayed with me.
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.