Written By: Hans Appel
November is a traditional time for sharing gratitude and thanks in our family. As we shift into the holiday season , Thanksgiving usually offers a time for reflection on the year with family and friends. But this year, I felt like an unwilling passenger heading down a construction zone detour with no onramp back to my preferred highway.
If I’m being real, I’ve battled back issues, moments of anxiety, and bouts of low grade depression. I’ve been emotionally impacted by George Floyd and countless other black and brown injustices and been angered by political indifference. I felt robbed of vacation plans, speaking engagements, and the opportunity to impact students’ lives on a daily basis. I was stripped away of my freedom, mobility, and what it means to be an educator. My year has managed to pass through each stage of the COVID grief cycle.
Yet, I’ve spent more time writing, thinking, and reflecting on this soul-searching year than probably any year of my life. Because of this unexpected effort toward mindfulness, I restructured 2020 in my own mind as the year of: GRATITUDE.
Years from now, I’ll recall 2020 for the COVID global pandemic but I intentionally choose to REMEMBER the many opportunities to discover and develop my JOY.
After signing a 3 book deal, I managed to release, Award Winning Culture, last spring to inspire a school-wide framework to elevate educators' culture and climate. The feedback has been incredible as my idealistic vision seeps into communities around the globe. Jen recently submitted the sequel to this book; geared toward teachers in the classroom, and we’re thrilled to anticipate its release early spring.
Speaking of Jen, she created a picture book series about our dog, Maya + friends based on the big ideas from my book. I’m extremely proud of her effort to use her incredible talent, creativity, and passion to make the world better! By mixing heartfelt stories and partnering with award winning illustrator Herb Leonard, she’s infused social emotional and character education lessons for children of all ages to vicariously learn through a cast of fury friends. Award Winning Dog debuted in July; while, I’m Who was just released.
Forced social distancing meant frequent family dog walks which gave way to a crazy idea for us to start our own podcast: The Award Winning Culture Podcast. Having spent several years behind the scenes supporting our students with their Wildcat Nation podcast, it’s been fun to pull back the curtain and cannonball in, to share our regular conversations on all things school culture. As Jen and I debate, riff, and reveal our thoughts on education, we’ve had a blast putting this project together.
The Teach Better Team has become a large part of our world in 2020. From being hand selected for the Speakers Network, to joining the Podcast Network we’ve been fortunate to surround ourselves with high energy game-changing people who challenge us to become our best selves. The Teach Better Team imagines a world where:
“every educator is connected, supported, and inspired to be BETTER every day; so that all learners can discover and develop their passions to positively impact our communities.”
Isn’t this the world we all desire? The Teach Better family has been committed to providing dynamic professional development, educational content, and hope throughout the world. We’re grateful to be a part of something bigger than ourselves!
Beyond all of the momentum that our award winning culture work has been experiencing, Jen and I find ourselves in awe of our students, staff, and parents who have transformed their own skills, thinking, and actions to thrive in our new normal. It might be easy to look back at 2020 with wistful regret for the missed opportunities but I choose to see our educational pivot with hopeful optimism. Thanks to our global circumstances big ideas like equity, inclusion, and supporting the whole child--are now front and center.
This year has been a much needed reminder to s l o w d o w n and take stock of what’s truly important:
-Am I living out my why on a daily basis?
-How will I demonstrate love to friends and family?
-Forget the To-Do list---What’s on my To-BE list?
-Which people in my life truly bring out the best in me?
-How do I hope to be remembered?
-Do I really want to eat that or am I just bored, hurried, or lonely?
-What’s my legacy?
-Who’s opinion do I really care about?
-Am I the person my dog thinks I am?
-What lesson am I supposed to learn in 2020?
I’m grateful for the opportunity to create, connect, and re-calibrate myself. My bio now says, author, speaker, podcaster but my heart says: BETTER HUMAN BEING.
What is your heart grateful for, this THANKS--GIVING?
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.
Written By: Jennifer Appel
I LOVE picture books. They highlight the best parts of humanity while underscoring the most engaging aspects of great literature. Readers are able to understand an imaginative story through graphic pictures and a few powerful words--is there anything better?
When I was young, I grew up in a family full of educators; naturally, reading was a large part of our life. My mom and dad read stories to my brother and I at bedtime. Falling asleep to silly, spectacular and touching characters was a lovely part of my evening routine.
We regularly scheduled family reading time, in which we would sit around enjoying a good book by the fire. It was like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting. I’m grateful to my parents for modeling this intentional activity.
I always dreamed of one day writing a book; however, because I grew up having dyslexia, I never thought it would happen. In fact, it took me years before I even thought I was a capable reader---let alone a potential author. I put so much doubt in my head, it became my internal self talk.
A while back my husband (Hans) was determined to start writing a book which inadvertently began inspiring me to rekindle my desire to create something special. I observed how determined he was to pour his heart and passion into his book, Award Winning Culture.
While he was writing this school-wide framework to help educators foster exceptional culture and climate, I remember him saying to me:
“It’s weird I’m writing a book...I always thought you would be the one to write a book.”
His words slowly began to seep into my soul. I started reflecting on all of the literature I enjoyed over the years. Over time, I even brainstormed a few ideas. Nothing serious but the seeds of creativity were receiving plenty of water and oxygen. All I needed was a little sunlight to illuminate the possibility of bringing a picture book to life.
“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.”
-Anthony J DeAngelo
About a year later my internal narrative invited a ray of inspiration into my world. On a routine sunny dog walk, I finally had the courage to say out loud to myself and Hans:
“I want to write a book based on Maya’s life and I want to incorporate the themes: Character, Excellence, and Community, from your book.”
Saying the words out loud gave me permission to explore my dream in a tangible way. We brainstormed throughout the walk with a fully fleshed out premise of notes I spoke directly into my phone. Afterwards, we raced home and I frantically started typing it out. My dancing fingers on the keyboard could hardly keep up with my mind as I dove fully into this fantasy dog-based world of JOY. Approximately an hour later, I had my first rough draft and a beautifully sketched out web for 5 more picture books.
Why the Award Winning Dog series?
My mission is to share my love of reading with children all over the world. I want them to truly understand that they matter and how it feels to be recognized and celebrated for their unique gifts. The privilege of infusing character education and social emotional learnings into this canine universe is an awesome responsibility. Each colorful page offers a chance to touch the minds and hearts of our future young leaders.
"There are many ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all."
We are all better because of the literature we’re exposed to and these stories change our lives in very profound ways. If the Award Winning Dog series can be, even a small part of a child’s life, I will be eternally proud of my contribution to this rewarding space.
It’s a full circle life moment to recognize that my own dog Maya, named after my favorite author, Dr. Maya Angelou, is now the featured furry thread through this heartfelt series. My Maya reminds children of all ages that they alone have the power of making others feel special.
Through the years I learned that I have the gift to support, connect, and inspire young children to discover and develop their JOY.
...and you too can bring JOY to others TODAY!
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.
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.