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.
Children growing up with adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) become experts in taking the temperature of the room. They’re often able to predict others behavior from subtle indiscriminate signs, words, and feelings that most people might completely overlook. I knew with almost certainty, what type of evening or weekend it was going to be, based on how the back door slammed.
Typically, my dad would arrive home from work Monday-Friday, between 5-6pm. On a good day, the door would quietly latch, closing behind my dad, as he breezed through the door with an ere of enchantment. Dad would invariably be in a festive mood and the house somehow felt lighter and full of energy. On average days, the door would creek closed as he grudgingly made his way into the house with exhaustion, irritation, and annoyance. But there was a different sound that I sometimes heard. This sound is challenging to articulate to those who were fortunate enough to grow up in happy, healthy homes. However, having talked to numerous survivors, it’s a sound that far too many of our students at school have memorized…
On the bad days, I would hear the door well before my dad entered as he aggressively attacked the door knob, gripping it with force as he ripped open the door. Often times the back of the door would slam into the garage wall before he would charge through. As the door gained intense energy from the wall, it would wildly pick up speed as it returned to it’s frame with a loud careening: BANG!!! It was such a loud SLAM, that I often wondered if the entire frame might just fall off the wall. The hypervigilance that I experienced listening for this terrifyingly specific sound was exhausting.
On these days, I would immediately scatter and demonstrate my best disappearing act.
Through the years, school became a safe haven for me. It was a welcomed respite from the chaotic tornado that would blow through my existence at home. For those who wonder where my passion for kindness and school culture came from...the roots can be directly traced back to these early moments in education. Not to say that school was easy for me, as I could fill books on my own personal challenges, from the middle school learning environment. Still, education was a place I could be assured of safety, peace, and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to be age appropriate. At school, no one expected me to solve complicated adult emotional problems. It was glorious! As I got older, sports became my vehicle to avoid home while subsequently pouring anger, resentment, and fear into a healthy endeavor. Additionally, friends, video games, and reading books on the magical arts were a wonderful distraction in between sporting opportunities.
As a highly introspective, reflective kid, I was attuned to how these distractions aided my own mental health and in college, I shifted from aspirations of a career in magic into a counseling/educational/helping profession. I self identified how these unhealthy moments of emotional hand holding with my parents; ironically, prepared me for a life of serving others. I was always that kid who’s friends confided in him, picked for programs like natural helpers and just seemed to be an empathic listener. As an adult now, I’m able to look back at my childhood as a gift; to better understand abuse, trauma, and divorce in ways that I certainly wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Truthfully, there are students who experience far more horrific childhoods. But alas, it’s not a competition. As educators we have a moral imperative to create spaces for healing, growth, and safety. There are students in your offices, classrooms, and schools who are watching EVERYTHING you and their peers do. They want to see how you handle frustrations, disappointments, and challenges.
Some educators get stuck on a tunnel-like vision for their own content and forget that the REAL life lessons being taught may have much more to do with emotional regulation, relationships, and character. Imagine the grownup child of trauma who’s never given the tools to properly cope with the stress, pain, and loss from their upbringing. I shudder to think, who I might have become, if I hadn’t had Character Strong educators teaching me FAR MORE than math, science, and history. And isn’t preparing students for life the REAL WORK? Isn’t that the good stuff? The real reason that most of us actually went into education. Perhaps, content is just a vehicle to teach students what matters most...
Award Winning Culture provides a safe and healthy physical, emotional, and verbal space for all students to heal through learning.
**Do you RAISE your voice at school?
**Do you fail to follow through on your promises or words?
**What role does shame, fear, and compliancy have in your classroom, office, or school?
**How often do your own actions ALIGN with your words?
**Are students encouraged to take RISKS in your space?
**When you make mistakes do you APOLOGIZE and/or own up to your failure?
**How do you keep your own challenges in your personal life, from negatively seeping into your work space?
**What impact does HOMEWORK have on your ACE’s students?
**How are you intentionally building regular CHECK-INS with all your students?
**If you’re the ONLY positive adult in your students life today, how might you MAXIMIZE this opportunity?
**To what degree are you aware of your students' experience in your learning environment.
**Are you brave enough to seek out both formal and informal honest feedback from your students?
**How might feedback shape your planning, preparation, and practice?
As educators we have tremendous leverage with our own sphere of influence. Many of our students DESPERATELY need us to carefully craft Award Winning Cultures that insulate them from toxicity; thereby facilitating windows of time to discover their JOY through learning. As you enthusiastically enter your students' world this week and invariably open up doors to education, perhaps the biggest question remains…
Will you let the back door SLAM, as you walk in?
**Looking for resources on Fostering Resilient Learners? I HIGHLY recommend you check out the work, trainings, and teachings of Pete Hall and Kristin Souers. Their work is absolutely TOP NOTCH and widely considered the gold standard for creating award winning culture with students of trauma.
About the Author
Hans Appel has worked as a counselor in the Richland School District for the past 18 years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened. He’s passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness. In 2018, EMS was awarded the ASCD Whole Child Award for the State of Washington and the Global “Class Act Award” for creating a culture of excellence through kindness, service, and empathy. Recently, Hans launched his own blog about School Culture and this fall rolled out a student-led leadership podcast called Award Winning Culture: Hosted by Wildcat Nation, which can be subscribed, listened or reviewed on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, and Libsyn. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow Hans on twitter @hansappel094. Follow AWC on twitter at @awculture or Instagram @awardwinningculture. Wildcat Nation at @emswildcats1 and Instagram @emscounseling #WildcatNation #AwardWinningCulture
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.
Written By: Hans Appel
A few months ago, I was asked to review Jimmy Casas and Jeffrey Zoul’s OUTSTANDING new book “Stop. Right. Now.” It’s the type of book that entices you to examine educational practices with fresh eyes. Stop. Right. Now. offers readers thirty-nine culture killers coupled with an exceptional how-to guide to avoid common pitfalls. I’d like to add #40 to the list...
In my district, secondary schools start at 7:55a.m. Many students arrive to school around 7:15-7:45a.m...with the bulk of students showing up by car, bus, or bike around 7:30. Other parts of the country operate on different daily bell schedules but the overall timeline of students arriving approximately 20-30 minutes prior to school starting seems to be fairly universal.
There are schools around the country that INTENTIONALLY lock students out of hallways in the morning until the first bell. This leaves most of the students unsupervised, unconnected, and out in the cold weather for nearly 20-30+ minutes. Some school houses do allow students into the building (usually a cafeteria or gym) but do not let them down the hallway or into classrooms until the bell rings.
Written By: Hans Appel
“Empathy is the root of humanity and the foundation that helps our children become good, caring people. But the Empathy Advantage gives them a huge edge at happiness and success”
-Dr. Michele Borba, Author of “Unselfie”
Dr. Tim Elmore, from growing leaders says that the average student today has as much anxiety as the average psychiatric patient of the 1950’s. In an increasingly anxiety ridden society it’s scary to know that Borba’s research indicates that as anxiety goes up empathy goes down. In fact, just since 2012, empathy has dropped 29% in college age students which came on the heels of a 40% drop in empathy among college students between 2000-2010. This frightening inverse relationship between anxiety and empathy makes sense; if students are more stressed, worried, and anxious about their own lives, its harder to focus on what’s going on in other’s lives.
Award Winning Culture welcomes ongoing critical examination of a school’s current educational practices, and intentionally infuses relevant Whole Child strategies into the school’s ecosystem.
It’s no surprise that empathy is a key soft skill that Whole Child focused schools are actively teaching. Thanks to programs like Character Strong, empathy is becoming a point of emphasis in the same vein as core subject areas (Math, Science, ELA, etc.) have always been. By zeroing in on empathy, kindness, and service, Character Strong’s servant leadership model of social emotional learning and character development offers a powerful and necessary #FutureDriven approach to education. Indeed, in an ever changing, unstable world filled with technology, fear, and a me-first mentality, empathy and kindness seem to be a revelatory anecdote to hate.
Our Award Winning Culture (AWC) Podcast students are some of our strongest leaders at Wildcat Nation. These students lead daily efforts in making kindness normal at Enterprise Middle School and help set the standard for positive school culture. Frankly, in 18 years of education, some of my brightest, most talented high character leaders are found in my current AWC podcast group.
Written By: Hans Appel
Does your school culture evoke tears of joy?
A little over a year ago, I arranged for our local KNDU/NBC news station to send someone out to do a story on our school during the Anti-Bullying month of October. I was told that they’d be there no longer than 45 minutes, as they had an important story on the other side of town that same morning. While the manager allowed for ¾ of an hour he fully expected his reporter to be in and out in about 20 minutes.
As the news reporter arrived on campus nearly 30 minutes before school was to start she was struck by our daily Wildcat Nation greeting. At Enterprise Middle School, we start every day with high fives, fist bumps, music and warm hellos as people walk in the main entrances. It’s an intentional move to increase school positivity and school spirit through personal connection.
After taking footage and soaking up our spectacular start to school she was off to do some student interviews. She asked students what it’s like to go to EMS, what Wildcat Nation really means, and how our Character Strong program changed things. What started off as a 45 minute stop in West Richland, turned into over 3 hours! Frankly, we couldn’t get her to leave. She was having an absolute blast! She interviewed dozens of students, teachers, even attended a leadership class.
Award Winning Culture has NOTHING to do with winning actual awards. It’s about creating a mindset of INTENTIONALITY. A daily mantra to make our circle of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Throughout the next year, I’ll be highlighting educators, companies, and even students who are dialed in to a winning approach to LEARNING. Here are the 50 educators that have simply INSPIRED me in 2018 because of their intentionality with education. They’ve tweeted, blogged, and written incredible work. They’ve delivered inspiring speeches and created epic podcasts. They’ve produced impactful graphics, ideas, and slogans. But...most importantly, they helped RAISE education to incredible new heights! To kick off this year-long focus on OUTSTANDING...here are MY Award Winning Culture educational disruptors (in no particular order)...
John Norlin: John is simply the MOST dynamic trainer of professional learning I’ve ever been around. His lifelong work with Character Strong has greatly influenced the way I think, behave, and feel about school culture, Whole Child education, and leadership. I feel fortunate to call him a friend. See you next week buddy! (John's Website)
Written By: Hans Appel
As a long time champion of Chicago Sports (BEAR DOWN!!), I’ve been thrilled to follow Sarah Spain’s career rise to the national sports scene (former Chicago Sports Reporter turned ESPN mainstay). I enjoy watching her on shows like “Mike & Mike,” “His & Hers,” “First Take,” “The Sports Reporters,” and “Outside the Lines.” So, naturally when she created a sports related podcast, I quickly jumped on, to be both subscriber and fan. As an early Spain bandwagoner, I appreciate her insight, intelligence, and candour through a Chicago sports lens. Spain was and continues to be a female journalistic trailblazer!
In April of 2016 Spain joined Julie Dicaro to participate in a #MoreThanMean PSA for Women in Sports who face online harassment. What started as a simple click of the mouse, impacted me and millions of others in a deeply profound way. Take a few minutes to search #MoreThanMean on You Tube and watch this graphically uncomfortable yet powerfully important clip. You'll see the impact that JUST READING hurtful derogatory words from Spain and Dicaro's social media feeds, had on these unsuspecting men. **(Warning-This video contains heavy profanity laden examples of sexual harassment and cyberbullying and promises to evoke intense emotional reactions)
Written By: Hans Appel
As a kid, I struggled with asthma while growing up in an environment filled with sage brush, dust and pollen. The Tri-cities was indeed a hotbed of allergies for me. Despite being a competitive athlete, I routinely found myself dealing with some yearly sickness during the winter months. And while I eventually outgrow asthma, it created a lot of personal challenges to overcome.
Without question, my 10th grade year proved to be my toughest in terms of health and wellness. In late December of 1991, I came down with a full blown case of Pneumonia; which in turn, landed me in the hospital. During my time away from high school, our head varsity coach had also been fired. This unexpected shakeup to my beloved sports team, was hard to comprehend. Additionally, I had missed numerous assignments, projects, and tests. Furthermore, this health ordeal coinciding with my 16th birthday as I literally was hospitalized 2 days after recieving my driver’s license (FYI: I was born on Christmas Eve...so for those reading closely, you probably guessed that my Christmas looked a little different than most).
As you can imagine, losing 15 lbs, missing multiple basketball games, and over 2 straight weeks of school might prove to be extremely anxiety provoking.
How would I get caught up? Did I lose my spot on the team? Will I be interrogated about my excessive absences? Do I remember how to drive my car? Will my friends care than I'm gone?
Luckily for me, I had numerous teachers, coaches, and educators who prescribed to an Award Winning Culture. These Character Strong educators visited me in the hospital, brought me cards, assignments, and encouragement. Personal connection can be incredibly healing to the mind, body, and soul. Then, as I recovered at home, folks were lined up to wish me well, check-in on me, call me on the phone, and generally facilitate my transition back to LIFE at school. They even continued this wellness watch as I returned in mid-January by greeting me with smiles, “Welcome Back Hans,” and helping me prioritize and strategize how to tackle the MOUND of school work.
Nearly 27 years removed from this health tribulation, I occasionally find myself wondering what might have happened if I wasn’t intentionally treated with such positivity, dignity, and respect.
During my time as an educator, I’ve witnessed and taken part in all forms of response to student absence. Some comments seem to do real damage:
Written By: Hans Appel
Last Thanksgiving, one of my life-long best friends suffered a cardiac arrest on the way home from a basketball team retreat. Thanks to the quick actions of two CPR-trained, Character-Strong friends of ours, they were able to get the help he needed, in a timely fashion.
Almost a year removed from this scary incident, my long time buddy and fellow Wildcat Nation educator, Ben Brost, has made a full recovery! It feels appropriate to share a moment of thanks and insight learned from his ordeal. Brost is that guy in your life, who would give anyone the shirt off his back. He’s a servant leader in its truest definition and he sees the good in everyone and is truly a friend to many. He’s a guy that has a million best friends and eager to support all of them.
In the months that followed, people stepped up to support Brost and his family in ways that are unimaginable. Friends and family dealt with insurance, lesson plans, child care, pet care, meals, doctors appointments, and coordination of travel arrangements. People gave ridiculous amounts of money, time, and countless energy to support Brost’s family. It's mind-blowing to imagine how many little and big life details someone needs during a health scare. While Brost’s recovery easily qualified as a miracle, our communities strength proved equally as miraculous!
Award Winning Culture was created by Hans and Jennifer Appel with the sole purpose of creating an educational mindset of INTENTIONALITY; with a daily mantra to make our circle 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.