Written By: Hans Appel
“It is the supreme art of the teacher
to awaken JOY in creative
expression and knowledge.”
During my 4th grade year, on a cold snowy day in December, I went sled riding on Carmichael hill. In the Tri-cities, Carmichael hill is well known at providing kids a steep and slippery adventure, to race down. Like many bundled up 10 year olds, I was a mix of anticipation and intrepidness as I ventured up and down this legendary wintery spot. After multiple runs on tires and makeshift plastic mats, I moved my attention to a red wooden sled. It had the ability to turn with smooth precision to expertly manaevue around the snow. During one unlucky run, I found myself positioned a little outside my normal target zone. After several quick turns to narrowly avoid kids walking back up the hill, I abruptly ran smack into a long metal fence on the far right outskirts, of the hill. Immediately after the collision, I knew things were not right. My leg hurt and I couldn’t stand up. My dad quickly raced down the hill and then slowly carried me back up, to get in the car to venture to our local hospital.
Upon arrival at the hospital’s ER, nurses and doctors quickly cut my pants off to get a look at my injured leg. I had suffered a broken tibia during the sled riding accident and would need a cast and 6 weeks to recover. Interestingly, we found out that afternoon that 2 other injured adults were brought to the hospital that same day: one with a broken back and the other with a broken neck. While all three injuries occured in almost the same spot on the hill (running into the fence), I was the most fortunate as my injuries would require a comparatively shorter recovery.
[Out of towners might be intrigued to know that while Carmichael hill was shut down for a very brief period of time, it’s been back open for years and is still a dangerous yet heavily sought out location for would be snow enthusiasts.]
This inconvenient accident coincided with an important assignment in Mrs. Nussbaum’s class. Mrs. Nussbaum was one of my all time favorite teachers! She was a perfect blend of challenging and supportive. We knew she LOVED us and yet fostered a joy of learning through high standards.
A couple days prior to the injury, she had assigned us a research project on a country of our choosing, which I had been working on diligently. We were expected to include, notecards, illustrations, rough draft, final copy, and then present our research in front of the class. I recall feeling a bundle of nerves and nausea, at the thought of presenting this project to the class. Truly, I think every kid in that class was worried about sharing their work in such a visible and vulnerable way. I believe it was our first full oral presentation at Sacy Elementary School. With this ready made opt out option, I briefly considered bailing on the project. How would I finish my research and writing on time? How could I be expected to stand up and maneuver around the front of the room presenting to my classmates on crutches? No one would blame me for simply starting my winter break a couple days early to aide my recovery...RIGHT??
Despite pain and discomfort from a broken leg, I managed to finish the entire project ON TIME!
I remember feeling so compelled to get everything finalized to present my project to the class. Mrs. Nussbaum would have surely given me a grace period on completing my Germany project...she even told my parents not to have me worry about completing it at all. As I recovered for a couple days, at home, they informed me that I was under no obligation to make it back to present on time and that she’d actually excused me from the project, given the timing of my injury. That being said, I was determined to deliver. Ultimately, I presented it without incident to Mrs. Nussbaum and my class of peers. In addition to meeting the expectations, my presentation included food, props, a demonstration of German Language, and an ere of unbridled passion.
You might not be surprised to know, that I still have this research project. While it's housed in a dusty box in the garage, I can't bare the thought of throwing it away. Why did this project matter so much to me? I can tell you...since then I’ve had plenty of other due dates that I missed or generally cared less about. Three things really stand out from the 30+ years removed from my crutch-filled presentation, on essentially one good leg.
First of all, I had already spent a lot of time researching, writing, drawing, etc about Germany. While there were parameters to fulfill, I was given a lot of autonomy, to pursue a country I was interested in and the time and support to tell that country’s story. Sharing your learning can be an incredible catalyst to overcoming discomfort. In my mind, I was the class expert on Germany and I believed I had some interesting insights, facts, and anecdotes to share.
Additionally, I loved Mrs. Nussbaum and I knew she thought very highly of me. I couldn’t bare the thought of possibly letting her down by taking the easy way out. Incidentally, I got a 96% on the research project. She deducted points for sloppy penmanship and uninspired illustrations [two skills I never mastered despite Mrs. Nussbaum and other educator's countless best efforts].
Lastly, I imagined what my peers might have thought if I was simply excused from the assignment. Would they think less of me? Would they be envious that I hadn’t had to stand up in front of the class? Would they have failed to learn about Germany; since no one else had researched that country. In my mind, we were all nervous and I respected them enough to be part of this experience.
Looking back at a challenging elementary injury, I recall less and less about the slippery slope of Carmichael Hill or the pain of my first broken bone. These days I remember with great pride the completion of my first research project. More to the point, I'm filled with pride and an internal reminder that I persevered through a challenging time, to produce quality content for myself and my learning community. How ironic that the classroom culture that Mrs. Nussbaum established filled me with self belief, mastery, and a joy of learning despite what could have been a negative and physically painful memory...
Award Winning Culture inspires students to achieve MORE than they think they’re capable of by relying on the 4 E’s of Excellence: Engagement, Empowerment, Experiential, and EPIC while fostering a sense of Character and Community through a relationship driven attitude.
How might YOU foster relationships, learning, and school community in such a profound way as to create a culture of excellence?
My challenge to educators is to create an environment of inspired learning where students feel COMPELLED to complete exceptional work for their peers, adult educators, and most importantly...FOR THEMSELVES!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Hans on twitter @hansappel094. Follow AWC on twitter at @awculture or Instagram @awardwinningculture. Wildcat Nation at @emswildcats1 and Instagram @emscounseling #WildcatNation #AwardWinningCulture
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.