Written By: Hans Appel
Yesterday, I was thrilled to be at a Washington State ASCD sponsored training with Kristin Souers. Kristin is an expert in creating Trauma Invested schools. She’s the co-author of “Fostering Resilient Learners” along withPete Hall. Their second book: “Relationships, Responsibility, and Regulation” will be released this December and their highly anticipated inaugural “Trauma Invested Institute for Fostering Resilient Learners” is available to educators next summer in Seattle, Wa. As a licensed mental health counselor, professor, speaker and consultant on trauma, Kristin’s work pairs perfectly with the Whole Child work of Character Strong.
As is often the case, when I find myself in the presence of greatness, I come away energized, refreshed, and full of introspection. There were pages of notes, insights, and inspiration. But perhaps one unintended takeaway came in the form of a quick conversation with an educator from another district. Like me, she comes from a Character Strong infused school who’s currently working on upping their game in becoming trauma sensitive. During a reflection activity, she mentioned that Souers’ trauma work is similar to John Norlin & Houston Kraft’s Character Strong work in one critical sense: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ADULTS. She said to me: "this work is more for US than it is for our kids." The underlying message being that if we take the time to work on ourselves, we have the opportunity to greatly impact our students. Her reflection fit with something I’ve heard John and Houston say a zillion times:
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.
Written By: Hans Appel
In November, our school brought in West Richland police officer, David Veloz to speak about his time in the military, as part of our Veteran’s Day Assembly. He’s a smart engaging man full of energy and life with a spirit of making a difference. Beyond all of the inspiring takeaways from his presentation to our students, the one that stuck most with me had little to do with his time on the front lines. He told a brief story about a chance encounter with a man who paid for him to ride in first class on a airplane. It was David’s first and only experience riding in first class. This random act of kindness belonged to NBA owner Marc Cuban, on a plane ride home from one of David’s military missions. At the time, he had no idea who Cuban was but enjoyed talking with the outgoing fellow from Texas. Cuban was beyond interested and respectful of David while he sat in his full military uniform. David explained how the billionaire asked him insightful questions, demonstrated significant respect and interest and clearly thought the world of David's service to our country. David’s story about Cuban’s kind words that day struck me in a way that got me thinking….
Character is revealed by what you do when you think no one else is watching. But here’s the thing….often times...someone is watching and we’re just unaware.
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.