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
No examination of creating an "AWARD WINNING CULTURE" is complete without a deep dive into the world of Kindness.
We’ve all seen acts of grand gestures from famous, wealthy people on tv and in the movies. Oprah’s over the top antics of “You get a Car and you get a car” made for great television and reinforced her as a positive leader in the world. People like Ellen have taken this mantle and made it a daily part of her show, with “be Kind to one another.” Orly Wahba created a youtube sensation with the Kindness Boomerang and Leon Logothetis’ “Kindness Diaries” on Netflix offers a wonderful perspective on the capacity for kindness by everyday folks. And while these mega stars and movies like “Pay it Forward” inspire us, we often overlook the impact that we can have in our daily lives.
About 10 years ago, my wife Jen, (who works, as a teacher, at EMS with me) was approached by a former student. The student was all grown up and was beginning her career as an elementary teacher. After the initial hellos and catch up, this girl began to detail a college essay that she had written about Jen. She explained that Jen was one of the chief reasons that she was inspired to become a teacher and how much she meant to this girl. Now to be honest, this girl was quiet, got good grades, and was absolutely self-motivated. Teachers might recognize this self-sufficient type student as the one who barely needs your help in class. As Jen started to think back about how she may have influenced this girl, the girl started to tell Jen a story about one day.
Apparently, one day in 6th grade, the girl had shown up to school wearing new shoes that her parents had picked out for her. They were bright and different than her usual accessories and being a middle schooler, she found herself quite nervous about what others might think. In fact, she was so freaked out by the prospect of wearing them to school, she got into an argument with her mom, before coming to school that morning. As she walked into Jen's classroom, she was greeted by Jen in the hallway, like any other day. Jen made a brief connection and commented on how “cool” her shoes were. The entire interaction took literally LESS THAN 10 SECONDS. As we now know, this 10 seconds meant the world to this girl. She proudly paraded her shoes all over the school for the next few months with my wife being completely unaware of the impact she’d made with her. And while this set off a 3-year relationship, as she attended middle school, it was this 10 second moment of kindness that made the most impact on her. As you can imagine, there were tears, laughs, and hugs as this story was shared. If a 10 second interaction can inspire someone to pursue a life of serving others; perhaps, I didn’t fully understand this “Kindness thing” very well, at all.
A few years ago, a friend at work mentioned how me unlocking her door always “made” her day. What? Made her day? I just take 30 seconds to open all the office doors near mine. No big deal! I had been doing it for years and never thought anything of it. To be honest, I started to blow off this postive feedback from her when she explained that she always has a bunch of things in her arms that she’s carrying. Not having to scramble to dig through her purse, to locate her keys, helped her to start her day in a positive less frantic way. This surprising interaction about this small simple gesture got me thinking…..
Written By: Hans Appel
A month ago, we dove into the deep end of the technology world with the launch of our #AwardWinningCulture Podcast. Over the next year, I’ll be detailing specific ups and downs of this journey; while peppering key takeaways along the way. Our plan is to release 1 or 2 new episodes each month.
After extensive practice and conducting several student-led interviews so far, here’s some big picture early thoughts on fostering Student Voice through Podcasts:
**Students are capable of WAY MORE than we give them credit for. WAY MORE! I’ve been completely blown away by how much better they are at picking up podcasting techniques compaired to the adult educators involved. In fact, several of my student leaders had never even listened to a podcast and were making incredible suggestions and mind blowing ideas DAY ONE. This generation has grown up with social media and technology in such a way that their skills are malleable beyond belief. I look forward to highlighting our kids brilliant thoughts and insights this year.
**We’re not there YET. But, we’re improving EVERYDAY. By keeping centered on a growth mindset, we're all able to focus on incremental improvements with continuous and obsessive passion for getting better. I’m so excited to see where we are in a year from now but would NEVER want to skip over the JOY that we’re all having on the daily grind towards success. We’re coming for IT!
**There’s a learning curve to students getting accustomed to their voice: both literally and figuratively. Allowing practice time for students to listen, evaluate, and alter voice recording is critical. Tone, pitch, rate, etc. all play a role in how they sound. This can only be realized through personal observation of one’s own voice. Additionally, finding their own style and comfort level takes time. If your a regular subscriber to our show, you’ll see an incredible evolution of sense of self for these 12-13 year olds over the next 6-9 months. What a fun way to help foster self discovery!
Written By: Hans Appel
Years ago, a high level administrator asked us: “what’s the point of middle school?” At the time, it felt like an insulting question to a group bound together with the crazy singular purpose of teaching young hormonal minds and hearts. But at the the core of the question was: WHO is Enterprise Middle School? And maybe more importantly: WHY EMS?
What is your school about? What makes your building unique? How do you convey that message to your various stakeholders? What perception do students, staff, and community have about your school?
Branding refers to a name, term, decision, symbol or other feature that distinguishes an organization or product from it’s rivals in the eyes of the customers.
We can all recognize uber popular brands like: Nike, Apple, or the LA Lakers. We’ve grown up on McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and Disney. Through the years, our world has been turned upside down with brand giants like Google, Netflix, and Amazon.
In recent years, there’s been an exponentially stronger push in public education to effectively brand individual schools and/or districts. Perhaps, this branding need is in response to negative public perceptions about education. Or maybe it’s correlated to increased numbers of private, charter, and independent schools. It could be that in some areas, there is increased competition for enrollment. While all of these may be factors, I think it’s most important because branding our school allows others to see the magic that we see everyday...
Branding isn’t just about school choice, it’s a way of creating a community and shared belief system for your school culture.
Written By: Hans Appel
“Leadership is the skill of influencing people to action, with character that inspires confidence and excellence.”
-James C Hunter
Last week, our school was thrilled to bring in leadership expert James C Hunter to speak to our district about the incredible influence educators have on the world. Hunter is a bestselling author, world renowned speaker, and leadership consultant. He works with fortune 500 companies, all the military branches, and countless organizations around the world. His work with servant leadership, character, and creating excellence have become the backbone to the Character Strong program, which EMS implemented last year. After spending the past week in Brazil, he flew into the Tri-Cities to check out our Award Winning Culture.
Written By: Hans Appel
“We build a culture of readers by establishing a school-wide learning community where students have equal access and opportunity to books, activities, adult models of readers, and reinforcement of the value of reading.”
In her landmark book, “Lead with Literacy”, Ellis makes a strong case urging educators to lead with: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask & Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. Furthermore, she explains “If we as leaders and educators aren’t serving as strong models of lifelong reading, we cannot expect our students to become readers; they will follow our example far more readily than they will heed our words.”
Following Ellis’ advice, I’ve been reading, writing and thinking A LOT about what makes an #AwardWinningCulture...
Award Winning Culture thrives when educational leaders create special opportunities designed to promote personalized literacy exploration.
Written By: Hans Appel
17+ years ago, when I began my career,
I was a counselor who worked in education.
But time, experience, and perspective have a funny way of changing your sense of self.
Warning to educators reading this, you might be upset by what I’m about to say. Ok, here goes:
In my experience SOME educators spend too much time focusing on what their title and/or role ‘should be’ and not enough time integrating into the school system.
I know. I told you this would be controversial. But far to often I hear things like “that’s not my job” “they can’t make us do that” and “this is not what we really should be doing.”
Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to have a 250 to 1 student/counselor ratio; which the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends. I fully believe in the ASCA national model of Academic, Personal Social, and College/Career focus. Additionally, I think it’s my job to educate students, staff, and parents how I fit into the school system. But, educating others about what I do isn’t enough and certainly doesn’t ensure me to “Be REAL” (Thanks Tara Martin!) within the school system. In her incredible book, Tara argues that educators might strive to being:
-R Be Relatable
-E Expose Vulnerability
-A Always be Approachable
-L Constantly Learn through real-life experiences
If educators were more focused on being REAL, perhaps our profession would be even stronger! In Heidy LaFleur’s book “Hop on the Clue Bus”, LaFleur adroitly invites educators to a common sense approach to leadership. LaFleur inspires through age old futuristic concepts like listening, empathy, and relationships. She reminds us that integrating ourselves into a school system isn’t rocket science but instead: human science. Her style is transparently refreshing as she abandons games and mind tricks and falls back on compassion, accountability, and love. She’s the kind of educator who seems to have worn many hats throughout her experience and understands others’ roles expertly!
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
This fall I’m launching a student-led leadership podcast called Award Winning Culture. Students will be talking about topics like Character, Excellence, and Community all under the Wildcat Nation umbrella. They’ll have a chance to dig deep into concepts like kindness, empathy, and service and understand how these impact student learning. As part of this project, I’ve set up interviews with authors, business leaders, educators, and cultural experts. Additionally, they’ll have the opportunity to chat with leadership students around the country. As you can imagine, this is a HUGELY ambitious project that’s inherently fraught with a gigantic learning curve. I assure you that we’ll be making mistakes all along the way. Did I mention, I know almost nothing about creating a podcast? I mean, I've certainly enjoyed listening to them but until recently, I had no idea how to put one together. Yes, I've gotten a few eye rolls and a couple collegues have asked me questions like: “don’t you already have enough on your plate?” Yes! I certainly don’t need anything else. And if I was less passionate about this adventure, I would and maybe SHOULD have a healthy dose of fear about creating something with students that I have no expertise in. So, why would I venture into the unknown for our students this year?
As human beings, were drawn to successful influential people. We study them, watch them, and try and be near them; all along hoping to learn the secrets of life. People watch documentaries and interviews all to garner a glimmer of insight into what makes successful people tick. We read autobiographies, stalk them on social media and aspire to figure out how they became a success. Even the most successful people in the world love to surround themselves with other successful folks in hopes of taking a tiny nugget of wisdom.
Written By: Hans Appel
I recently got back from the National Principals Conference (#NPC18) in Chicago. As a pizza loving die-hard Bears fan, Chicago provided the perfect backdrop to some summer learning. And despite the fact that I’m a school counselor...I can assure you it will not be my last Principal’s Conference. It was pretty incredible! I came away inspired, empowered, and full of hope for our profession. 5 distinct themes presented themselves throughout the week. Let me share with you the M.A.G.I.C of #NPC18..
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.