Written By: Hans Appel
“We all possess the need to dream.”
As a magic aficionado growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, there was no bigger attraction than David Copperfield. For years, like millions of fans, I had religiously obsessed over Copperfield’s yearly television specials in between my own pursuits of illusion, legerdemain, and artifice. Throughout my childhood, I DESPERATELY wanted to see his show live. Although he had toured the world for decades, his travels and my availability never coalesced. Finally, after my sophomore year of college, I found myself with planets aligned in a way that would provide me the opportunity to finally attend his current show: "Dreams and Nightmares." My parents purchased tickets for our family and my girlfriend’s family to attend Copperfield, later that summer, at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. I could not have been more excited! I had no idea how applicable the title of his show would become to my life...
On July 20, 1996 I had the privilege of fulfilling one of my bucket list items as I was kept spellbound by a master showman for nearly 2 hours. Seeing Copperfield perform miracles was one of the best moments of my life. The audience was filled with an electric energy throughout the night as people gave love and ovation to a guy literally living out his own childhood dreams on stage. I’ll never forget turning around at intermission to see a newly wed couple, in tuxedo and wedding dress, enjoying this special magical performance. It still cracks me up that a couple would opt to spend, part of their wedding night at a magic show or really any show but I guess Love is Magic. If this remembrance was simply a show review, I’d detail how I witnessed Copperfield flying, appearing, and disappearing. Indeed, the magic that night was so spectacular that one might forget their own life problems for a few hours.
But that warm summer day, doesn’t stand out to me ONLY because of Copperfield’s showmanship, sleight of hand, and legerdemain. In addition, to being one of my fondest memories, it was on the eve of a painful emotional ravine. Just after purchasing tickets to the show, in late June, my parents sat me down and announced that they would be getting a DIVORCE. For those that know my story this materialized after years of painful conflict and trauma. The next month was filled with nasty anger-filled awkwardness that’s challenging to put into words. The decision had been made for my mom to move back home to Texas that summer as her job prospects were promising, as was her family support there. Knowing that I’d be returning to college, at the end of the summer, my mom thought it best to get a jump start on reviving her life. Parents often put their child’s needs and wants in front of their own. Despite their own unease, they decided to follow through on taking me and my girlfriend’s family to the upcoming Copperfield performance. This plan meant that my mom would essentially fly out of Seattle on the morning of July 21. As you can imagine, out of towners attending a show, meant hotel, dinner, etc. The tension and weirdness in the 3 ½ drive to Seattle, family dinner, etc was uncomfortably tragic. Something I had looked forward to for most of my life was being inconveniently entangled with something I had worried about, since my earliest childhood memories.
Ironically, Copperfield's miracles had helped me escape painful conflict growing up...and now...as a young adult, I hoped that he could offer me one more episode of emotional relief. The title of "Dreams and Nightmares" seemed to fit in such a perfectly movie-esque story that the entire experience was quite other worldly. The symbolism of closing a chapter of my childhood and being thrust into a quick trajectory toward adulthood was not lost on me.
But, this story isn’t about feeling sorry for me that my parents divorced or convincing you that David Copperfield is the greatest illusionist of the modern area (he really is though) What I find most compelling about this experience was how incredible Copperfield made me and our entire party feel during those 2 hours. Despite all the emotional angst that I personally was going through, Copperfield created an exceptional cultural environment that allowed me to escape into a land of make believe that evening.
Granted he couldn’t make my problems disappear or my parents love for one another reappear...nonetheless, he WAS able to transport me, to an Award Winning Culture that provided me with
peace, inspiration, and hope.
Think about all the ugly, trauma, and pain that our students experience before they arrive with us. Maybe they’ve survived physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Perhaps, they’ve witnessed domestic violence, substance abuse or mental illness. They may have overcome parent divorce, seperation, or incarceration. Still other kids have dealt with neglect, poverty, or bullying. They may not even have had their basic needs met that day. Some of your students show up to school with all of these challenges.
As you know, our students experience trauma, social unrest, and daily tribulations that would bring the strongest of us, to our knees. Our job as educators is to provide a safe space in our offices, classrooms, and schools to help students let go of the nightmares...even if it’s only temporary.
Award Winning Culture allows students to DREAM by instilling safety, inspiration, and hope...in an enchantingly
magical world called: Curiosity.
Want to foster curiosity? Perhaps, Copperfield offers a blueprint by focusing on DREAMS.
DREAMS: (Dramatic, Relatable, Empowerment, Audience Impact, Misdirection, Suspense)
Dramatic: Master performers like Copperfield know that dramatic effects come about through purposeful passionate perspective. The structure of a teacher-directed lesson (just like an illusion) must be perfectly arranged with beginning, middle, and end. Instruction must have built-in opportunities of attention grabbing openers and show stopping climaxes that leave students wanting to explore, investigate, and create. Does your lesson conclude with a standing ovation? Probably not. But, hopefully, you’ve left your student audience FIRED-UP to learn more about the subject!
Relatable: Copperfield’s props, stories, and ultimately magic are highly relatable. Talented magicians can vanish, float, or disappear a litany of objects. However, they understand that their audience will only care if they can identify with the trick, message, or subtext in some way. What child has not dreamt of creating snow? When Copperfield produces snow on stage and THEN creates the illusion of snow in the entire audience...WOW! Educators can implement relatable content by seeking student feedback, putting students in the driver's seat of personalized learning, and making them co-directors of their own educational show.
Empowerment: Watching Copperfield pull off STEM defying feats of illusion empowers onlookers to believe that THEY THEMSELVES can accomplish incredible feats. Our work with students must include so much hope, positivity, and love that they feel inspired to dig deeper into their learning. Growth is not a painless endeavor. We have a chance each day, to lift kids up with our actions, words, and attitudes about how much we BELIEVE in them. Make it count!
Audience Impact: While many novice magicians frame their trick in terms of magician ease or perspective, Copperfield never loses sight of the audience’s frame of reference. He’s a master of putting himself in the audience’s seat and imagining how they experience the effect. The effect is everything! Educators must intentionally use empathy to view learning through the eyes, mind, and heart of their students. “If I was a student in this class, would this lesson, moment, or learning have a deep impact on me?” If not, is this just filler in my educational repertoire. Educators, just like performers, need to focus on only A-material. If it’s not an AWESOME lesson in the eyes of our students, it’s got to be cut!
Misdirection: Copperfield uses misdirection as a way of doing something secretive, while the audience is looking somewhere else. Misdirection is often defined as the action or process of directing someone to the wrong place or in the wrong direction. Interestingly, magicians have much more sophisticated understanding of the concept. Rather than trying to get you to NOT look at something, they will often make something else so INTERESTING you can’t help but give it your full attention. The following elements adapted from magicians applies perfectly to an educator trying to focus your interest in a classroom: the educators interest, storytelling, novel or newness of piece of content and/or class element, sound, movement, etc. When educators make an aspect of their lesson so inherently interesting, ENGAGEMENT is a natural byproduct. When students are engaged, they have the opportunity to become curious.
Suspense: Have you ever noticed that magicians rarely tell you EXACTLY what they're going to do? Copperfield has several built-in instances of presenting an object, situation, or moment with little to no context. Suspense builds an EXCITED anticipation and fosters a palatable feeling of curiosity. Some educators focus WAY too much on question/answer models. Don’t give them all the answers! Additionally, don’t give all the questions. Learning targets and routines can be helpful but they can also occasionally kill creativity, curiosity, and choice. Leave some mystery. Students are capable of so much more than simply answering problems. They’re capable of finding problems! Sacrificing some clarity can result in encouraging learning-focused risk takers who achieve beyond some canned curriculum.
Does your sphere of influence establish a culture that would lift someone, even on their WORST day?
Watching my childhood fear of parental divorce, mom leaving, and dad settling in to a place of emotional indifference play out, should have been the only memories from late July. Instead, thanks to a much needed emotional break by Copperfield, support from friends and eventual in-laws, and a little perspective, I was armed with a self assured HOPE that I was capable of working through this family pain. Indeed, if Copperfield could move objects with his mind, I somehow believed that I could harness my inner strength to move past my own family challenges.
Obviously, I don’t want to understate the need for our students to receive professional help in dealing with Adverse Childhood Experiences. Award Winning Culture isn’t enough to solve complicated issues or social inequalities. However, as educators we rarely find ourselves in a position to fix other people's problems.
Rather, often times it's about empowering others to chase their DREAMS through a consistent approach to Character, Excellence, and Community...and sidestep those NIGHTMARES.
Who will you magically inspire TODAY?
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
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.