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.
At an early age, I was drawn to watching, listening to people. I come from a long line of people watchers. My mom loved observing folks. My mom’s dad (my grandpa) would plop himself down in the middle of the mall (as my grandmother would shop) and just watch people...for hours. I’m the same way. I’m absolutely fascinated with understanding people. But without a doubt my favorite people to understand have one thing in common: Success. And I’m not just talking the wealthy, successful celebrity type of success. I’m talking the everyday full of joy, living your WHY type of success.
There’s a lady who works the deli counter at Yoke’s (my neighborhood fresh market). She’s a heavy set, older hispanic bundle of passion! She smiles, and greets all her customers and treats EVERYONE LIKE FAMILY! She remembers people’s names, usual orders and family dynamics. If I go in there without my wife, she’ll invariably ask me questions about Jen, my dogs, my students at work, etc. She’s an outgoing people-person who LOVES serving others! She never misses a day of work as she can’t comprehend, not being there. This woman absolutely fascinates me. She is a success by all accounts and I love being around her. How did she become this positive force of nature? Where did her passion for choosing love and kindness come from? Has she always been a success? Who inspired her to be her best self? Why is she so committed to living such an authentic existence? Why does she treat every customer with the same respect and patience as a dear family member? These are just a few questions I have for her? Clearly, my underlying question is where did her Character come from?
We may be drawn to someone’s personality, appearance, or talent but we stay because of their character.
Think about some of the people in your life. Initially, we become friends with folks because we have things in common, similar personalities, or even proximity. We’ll say things like “she makes me laugh”, “he’s just fun to be around”, “we like to do the same things.” But if a new friendship is going to last, I’ll bet Character becomes important. Can I be myself with them? Do we have mutual trust? Forgiveness? Do we respect one another?
Beyond friendships, lasting romantic relationships often hinge on character. While severe character flaws might be the doom of a marriage or partnership, a high character spouse is incredibly desirable for investing one’s self, raising children, and or merging lives. With trust, respect, and intimacy comes the real magic of a romantic relationship. This magic certainly needs a spark and or chemistry but the effort to #ChooseLove through life’s challenges requires a strong character.
Passion for other’s character isn’t restricted to people we know personally. Think about those celebrities I mentioned earlier. We all have famous people we admire or look up to. And most of the time our interest is purely surface level. Maybe their attractive, or funny, or we envy their talent in some way. Perhaps, they entertain us with their skill and ability. But every once in while, we become fascinated with a successful person because we think we understand their Character. Here’s the litmus test I use to determine people’s true interest in a celebrity: How much would a famous person’s fall from grace bother you, at your core?
Most people wouldn’t be surprised or impacted if a Reality Star was mixed up in something ugly. Some fans might be temporarily upset but for most a revealed character flaw wouldn’t be a deal breaker. Why? Because people don’t follow these celebrities because of their perceived character? In fact, many times we’re drawn to personalities like these because of the drama and sensationalism that’s connected to them. Character is not even in the conversation. Thus, a fall from grace would have little impact to us as fans.
However, let’s examine the outcry of passionate disgust that people like Tiger Woods, Bill Cosby, and Joe Paterno have garnered. Without even getting into specific cases with these three men, why did their fall from grace create such a lasting powerful thud? Because society didn’t just love them for their talent, humor, or greatness. People loved them because they thought they knew something meaningful about their Character. An entire generation grew up with Bill Cosby as the perfect father on TV. Joe Paterno was celebrated for his grit, commitment, and toughness as a football coach. We watched Tiger grow up on the biggest stage, right in front of our eyes...with his huge smile and powerful charisma. We felt like we knew something about them...but maybe we were wrong.
Understanding successful people’s Character makeup can be illuminating and inspiring. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of organizing a group of students to attend the SERVUS conference in Western Washington. It’s an incredibly powerful event being surrounded by 5000+ students and educators who are all equally passionate and talented with servant leadership. Imagine creating a space for some of the most highly successful and motivated individuals, putting them all in a room, and saying….now learn from one another. It’s EPIC! There are world class speakers, storytellers, and athletes with inspiring messages for all attendees. At this year’s event one of the headliners was Naomi Ban, a 95 year old, award winning teacher, holocaust survivor and living legend. Here's a clip from a recent interview with Naomi. With her broken english, humor, and incredible life story she held the room captive. Perhaps the most powerful takeaway from her speech for us centered around the importance of forgiveness. Despite everything this hero had been through, she said "if I have hate in my heart I'm not free. I'm being a prisoner of my own heart." During her 90 minute presentation, she detailed for our students what it meant to demonstrate forgiveness, grit, and love. Part way through her presentation, I asked myself a question: What is the common link between all of the incredible speakers, I had enjoyed listening to that day? Character.
Every speaker we listened to that day had unbelievably strong character and were eager to share their life’s insights into becoming successful to an arena sized group of character-focused leaders. The truth is people love learning and understanding what makes successful people...well...Successful. And invariably...very often success can be traced back to Character. Robert Half says that “hard work without talent is a shame, but talent without hard work is a tragedy.” People love to surround themselves with successful people. At that moment, as I hung on every word Naomi spoke, I had an ephiany. What if we could create a space….a format if you will...that would allow our students to surround themselves with successful people, even if it was only for a few moments? What if they could ask insightful questions to help them understand the Character, Excellence, and Community behind leadership, service, and success? Imagine the personal growth that some students could gain by learning what makes these individuals tick. And beyond that...what if we could make this available to other students, educators, and people interested in successful people?
I guess the benefits outweigh any internal fear or anxiety I may have about not being able to deliver an incredibly rich platform. Our students deserve the opportunity to learn from some of the most successful people around. Since that day at the conference, I've been diligently tracking down funding for equipment, scheduling interviews, creating a branding platform, and teaching myself how to podcast. Because our kids deserve a platform like this.
Award Winning Culture should provide students the opportunity to learn, interact and share with successful CharacterStrong individuals.
My promise to you, is to share the highs and lows of this Award Winning Culture podcast, in upcoming blogs.
But until then, how might you use student voice, integration of technology, and/or step outside YOUR comfort zone to help your students find success?
In the end, maybe the 'successful leaders' that I spoke about aren't the individuals being interviewed...they're not the authors, adult educators and experts...perhaps, through this podcasting experience, the 'successful leaders' are indeed our students. Imagine what an intentional focus on creating student leaders might do for our school, community and world.
About the Author
Hans Appel has been a school counselor in the Richland School District for the past 17 years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened. He's passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness.
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..
Media: A recurring theme throughout the conference was media….as in social media. The ever increasing need to tell our school's story. Lots of folks shared this sentiment but none better than Beth Houf, principal at Fulton Middle School in Missouri. After enjoying Beth’s landmark book "Lead Like a Pirate", I was eager to meet, listen, and interact with Beth. She simply did NOT disappoint! Her FACETWEETINSTASNAP presentation was a master class in how to effectively use social media to tell your school’s story. And her title of “Rethinking Social Media to BOOST School Culture” is the perfect introduction for schools to either take the plunge or reinvigorate their efforts to share their school’s message. She shared a litany of ideas, thoughts, resources that can only come from someone who has been in the trenches reimagining their own school’s story. I look forward to sharing the next chapter of #WildcatNation with our community.
Awesomizers: To steal Jimmy Casas word, I was blown away by the number of “awesomizers” I met. Starting with Jimmy! Coming on the heels of reading his outstanding book "Culturize", I had the chance to hear him speak on a couple of occasions at #NPC18 and he absolutely lived up to all expectations. He makes no apologies for wanting to take education to incredible heights of excellence and has the passion, experience, and credibility to help lead the way. I have so many notes from his book and presentation that his work will be sprinkled out over numerous blogs I write this year. Great stuff! But beyond that, there were too many awesomizers to pick just one. The #Relentless passionate Hamish Brewer took the house down with his intensely special mantra: “Don’t Live in Fear of What Others May Think.” Message received Hamish! I was also lucky enough to meet Allyson Apsey. Allyson is a rockstar principal from Michigan and the author of "Path 2 Serendipity" (which I’ll be sharing thoughts from in the coming weeks). Wonderful book! She was smart, sweet, and sassy all while being humble about her fantastic book. She’s just one of those people that you enjoy being around. One of my favorite awesomizer was Jennifer Hoggan. Jennifer is a National Assistant Principal of the Year nominee from Alabama, avid blogger, and uber compelled educator. She’s got a confident energy that makes you feel comfortable and a passion to inspire others to reach for next level special. She oozes authenticity, kindness, and integrity. I look forward to learning more from all of these awesomizers in the future…
Growth: I was trying to think of one word to describe all the incredible people I met and listened to…..Passionate? Excellence? Leadership? It finally dawned on me that everyone at the conference was focused on Growth. Why else would educators from around the country, flock to Chicago in the middle of the summer? This common Growth Mindset came through in questions raised, collegial collaboration, and learning outcomes. Folks were not there to go through the motions. Everyone wanted to get better and strive toward excellence. This was not the conference where attendees skipped sessions or left a day early. The session I attended at 7:30a.m on the last day of the conference was packed with eager learners! Administrators were there to improve, share, and connect and this growth mindset was on display throughout the week. It was like a 2000 person live demonstration of the #ThePepperEffect (Thanks Sean Gaillard!) By modeling this growth mindset, these leaders are sure to create positive spheres of influence in their teams, schools, and communities.
Innovation: George Curous would have been proud! “The Innovator's Mindset” was ever present at #NPC18. There were companies like PBIS Rewards simply changing the game in how to Reward, Track, and Redeem positive behaviors with cutting edge technology. I learned the in’s and outs of flexible seating from Virco Manufacturing Corporation and Ergotron Incorporated. But beyond the exhibits and companies administrators like David Guerin reminded us that “most schools are designed to prepare kids for a world that no longer exists.” David is the principal of Bolvar High School in Missouri and the author of “Future Driven.” David encouraged all leaders to be risk taking difference makers by creating a culture of YES!!! My favorite message that he shared was if our classrooms look like they did from 20 years ago, we’re probably not teaching to the future. I’m confident that David and many other forward thinking administrators at #NPC18 would agree with Curous heartfelt plea to move from a culture of compliance to a culture of empowerment. I’m eager to share my innovation takeaways with my team at EMS!
Character: Perhaps, no innovative concept permeated the conference more than the idea of teaching our students to become Character Strong. Almost every speaker, keynote, and attendee that I came in contact with was sharing a similar message for the need to teach Character and SEL in our schools. Researcher, Author, and speaker, Scott Barry Kaufman outlined the 4 character traits most predictive of well being in life as: gratitude, curiosity, hope, and love and his work with Angela Duckworth’s Grit are well documented. Dr. Adolph Brown cited Character as a key to preparing tomorrow’s youth. John Norlin presented his SERVE model to administrators to infuse social emotional learning into the fabric of our schools. Indeed, it felt like everywhere I turned around, people were talking about how they might weave these critical factors or traits of student success into their learning communities.
Hanging out at the Character Strong booth felt very much like what I imagine it was like to see Lebron James play basketball as a senior in high school. Anyone who watched Lebron as an 18 year budding superstar knew they were witnessing a generational game changer. In only a few short months, Lebron would take the NBA by storm. I would also liken the booth experience to what it may have felt like if you were lucky enough to hold Netflix stock, prior to streaming (you know...back when they just did mail order DVD’s) or to get a sneak peak at the Iphone, prior to launch. It’s an amazing feeling being aware that something or someone is about to turn the world upside down. My wife and I love seeing stand-up comedy live and in person. And while we enjoy headliners (folks from TV/Movies) there’s something epic about going to a comedy club and discovering someone that is not quite a household name. We take great pleasure in coming across comedic actors and saying “Hey, wait...didn’t we see them at the comedy club last year.” It’s pretty cool to watch others reaction to what you’ve already identified as greatness.
While Character Strong probably won’t get their own shoe deal or may never trade publicly on the stock exchange, make no mistake….the team at Character Strong have created an education-changing Whole Child program that is quickly making competitors obsolete. Attendees who came by for a demonstration, listened to John speak or have followed Character Strong’s meteoric rise are clamoring to see how they can fit this gem into their schools. Character Strong was so populated with administrative attendees other vendors were coming down to see what the buzz was all about. In the world of Social Emotional Learning and Character Ed….the gauntlet has officially been thrown down and the game has been changed forever.
Now the real question for me and all attendees...how can we bottle up this Synergy from #NPC18 and take it back to our buildings?
After all, an Award Winning Culture is possible when we intentionally infuse M.A.G.I.C into our schools?
About the Author
Hans Appel has been a school counselor in the Richland School District for the past 17 years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened. He's passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness.
Written By: Hans Appel
A few years ago, I remember having a conversation with a friend who shared that he would NEVER leave education because of the students. We all have those students who push us to our core. They test our patience. They require us to learn new skills and strategies. They’re...just...not...easy. In fact, some days we’re not sure we’re making a difference at all. But, no matter how challenging a student might be, the successes and overall mission always inspire us to keep moving forward. We remember the students who come back and share incredible stories of success. We hold dear letters, e-mails, and conversations of how we made a difference in some young person’s life. Years ago, my former assistant principal encouraged me to create a file folder of these memories. Keeping a running record of gratitude and joy kept me grounded in the bigger mission. Educators all over the globe have some version of this well documented reminder of what this profession is all about. On those, less than stellar days, I can look back and recall how I impacted someone.
Check out this heartwarming video from Sumner School District and John Norlin on “The Heart of Teaching.” Good luck not getting choked up!
Go Ahead...I’ll wait.
However, my friend went on to explain that the one variable that could drive him out of education might be the ADULTS. Teachers that are less passionate than we wish them to be. Politicians who just seem to “care” a little less about education than everyone else. Or maybe it’s the parent who disagrees with everything we believe. Perhaps, it’s a district level administrator shoving some new initiative down our throat. He was convinced that there would never be a time that students would push him to leave a profession he loved but that the adults……….might….So I started thinking.
Educator turnover is at alarming rates! In a recent blog by Mandy Froelich, she sites all of the following reasons for teacher disengagement: personal hurt, professional hurt, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress. Educators begin their careers as inspiring change agents and many walk away because of systems, peers, boses, politics, stress, distrust, and workplace culture. Kristin Souers and Pete Hall would remind us of the criticalness of using selfcare in their outstanding book: "Fostering Resilient Learners." If my friend was right about adults being the root of disengagement; Perhaps, gratitude could be the ultimate guide to self care. Indeed, few adults ever leave the profession because of the kids. I wanted to find a new way to #chooselove for the adults I interacted with because as Dr. Jessica Stephens says #LoveWorks.
On the other hand, I’m lucky to work at a school with an award winning culture. We’ve got rockstar teachers, administrators, and support staff. Let me tell you about a few of them:
**We have a science teacher who might very well be the KINDEST, sweetest teacher in America. She’s like a warm blanket on a rainy day! She oozes comfort and compassion as she connects with her students. She frequently gives up her student-free lunch to share her time and classroom with students who may not fit in with their peers. She’s universally loved and I feel so lucky to have her at EMS.
**Or maybe I should tell you about a math teacher who works with our struggling students with equal success to the brightest of the bright. His classload consists of gifted math students and students who have such low skills they hate math. He’s that teacher who refuses to give up on a student. He gets to school at 5 a.m….when school doesn’t start until 7:55. His COMMITMENT is unmatched. He believes in the power of education, has a passion for math, and the art and skill to coax out greatness in his students. Check out this incredible blog he wrote on: Getting Gritty with math students.
**I should definitely mention our veteran PE teacher….who was incidentally MY middle school PE teacher. She has more energy in her little finger than I have in my entire body. She’s a positive force who is the poster child of HUMILITY! It’s impossible not to smile when you’re around her. She sings happy birthday to each individual student throughout the school year and then relishes in demonstrating her badminton or b-ball skills. In 30 years knowing this woman, I’ve never heard anyone say a negative word about her.
**Our speech therapist who provides humor, PATIENCE, and high expectations all rolled into a 5 foot frame. She works with all levels of students with ease and grace and instills hope in each student. They simply leave middle school with a belief in themselves because of this woman. She brings “IT” everyday and treats each student with the respect and dignity they deserve. #Thankyou
**We have a leadership teacher who we simply give the toughest students in the school and tell her….”turn them into leaders.” She has a knack for RESPECTING those challenging, hyperactive boys in the same way that she can gently connect with the quiet anxiety ridden girl. She’s all in on teaching kindness, service and empathy in and out of her classroom by modeling what it means to be Character Strong. She has no kids of her own so her students are her children.
**I’m not ashamed to admit that one of our ELA teachers recently brought me to tears as he presented and celebrated his students outstanding growth on a recent standardized test. His heartfelt, intentional, HONEST words had everyone in the room, reaching for the nearest tissue. He’s the guy who greets every student at his door with unique handshake and personalized hello. He’s special because he recognizes the need to put relationships first and then focus on challenging the best out of his kids. #Authentic
**There’s a 20-ish year old history teacher who infuses technology and innovation in the coolest ways. He’s always trying something new or pushing himself and his students in an exciting new direction. He makes history come to life with stories, personality, humor, and conviction. Beyond that he’s SELFLESS when helping others learn how to integrate technology in the classroom. And EMS is better off for having him.
**We have a special education teacher who works with our most behaviorally challenged students, in the entire district. He chooses FORGIVENESS every day for the choices they make by giving them a fresh start to make it a great day. His laid back style of relationship building ensures these students have the best possible chance for success.
Any parent would be thrilled to have their child connected to these incredible educators and countless others…..I’m leaving out stories about our team-focused relationship-driven principal, school board recognized secretary, and hard working custodian. There simply isn’t enough time to share about a teddy bear-like science teacher, a college inspiring counselor who leads our College/Career Day, or our award winning jazz band conductor. I definitely should have shared about the PE teacher who overcame his wife’s health scare to flourish as our new athletic director, a math teacher who helped save our science teachers life with CPR, and a history teacher demonstrating GRIT by showing up to work everyday as she fought and survived breast cancer, while undergoing Chemo treatments.
But here’s what’s truly interesting….these teachers, educators, and support folks aren’t unique to EMS. They aren’t even unique to Richland School District or Washington State. While they are special and amazing people...these types of heroes aren’t unique to our profession. These outstanding adults exist all around the country. Educators like this are in La Crosse, Wisconsin…..Westfield, New Jersey...and….Chicago, Illinois. In fact, they exist outside of our country as well. There are dedicated educational leaders in every city, country, and community around the globe. They might have different names, faces or personalities but I’d be willing to bet that you recognize some of the character traits in these heroes that you have in your own buildings. Schools around the world are filled with incredible Edu Superstars that make the difference in kids’ lives. They bring out the best in their peers and push education to new heights. One outstanding principal from Texas is using his platform to share how "Every Story Matters," when it comes to these educators. In addition to being the principal at Webb Elementary school, Todd Nesloney is a speaker author and champion of sharing his teachers' "Stories from Webb." His work reminds us all of incredible heroes in our profession. Furthermore, Luis Ortega believes that "change starts with your story." The question is, are we brave enough to share our story? And...more importantly, are you willing to listen and truly hear others stories....
Isn’t it funny that an educator will stay committed to this profession for life with the occasional student success story as the catalyst to continue on this path. Because the truth is, we never know how many student lives we touch. Despite all the challenging students, through the years, these successes keep us moving forward. But that same educator is willing to walk away from their “life’s work” because of the “adults” even though so many of our peers are doing such outstanding work. Perhaps, we need a way to recall the amazingness from our profession. Something we can refer back to and use as a beacon of hope to help keep us on track during times of collaborative frustration.
But, wait….I can already hear the outcry. Those folks saying ‘Hans, you got the wrong adult….it’s not about our peers’. The adults that are driving us out of education are the PARENTS! I get it. In 17 years in education, I’ve run into my fair share of difficult parents. I’ve received more than enough anger, frustration and rage. Although, most counselors will tell you the parents that keep us up….late at night….are the ones who don’t seem to care. You contact them regarding their suicidal child and they don’t get it. Or you report a badly assaulted victim to Child Protective Services and nothing changes. These absent, neglectful unknowing parents are incredibly deflating.
But the truth is...this is only a small fraction of the parents out there. In the same way that I might detail amazing teachers at EMS, I could do the same thing for parents. If we had time, I’d share about a mom who drives her child 30 minutes one way EVERYDAY to attend EMS. Or the dad who takes off his migrant field work to come speak with his kids’ teachers. I’d tell you how humbling it is to see a dad donate money to our school for every 3 point shot the basketball team makes. You’d probably love to hear about the mom who whips up an elaborate luncheon for staff appreciation week. I’ll bet you’d be inspired by the mom who supports her son’s quest for equality in schools. I’d certainly want you to see an email from a mom/dad thanking a history teacher for both loving their daughter and holding her accountable. We all can identify amazing parents who understand the value of education, deeply love their child, and would do ANYTHING to ensure success. These parents exist in every school and in every community.
So, why do we hold on so tightly to a few challenging adults? I think a key to creating an award winning culture is to assume the best in both students AND ADULTS!
Choosing Love is sometimes easier with students than adults, but it’s no less important. Sure, from time to time….we’ll be let down. But perhaps the key to persevering through these challenging adult relationships is an intentional focus on all the amazingness around us. What if….rather than leaving our “life calling” behind.....we instead intentionally and regularly demonstrated gratitude for the incredible people in our lives. Perhaps, this positive mindset would allow us to reset more quickly when dealing with that difficult adult and create increased joy in our profession. Brene Brown, author, speaker, and researcher believes in the connection between joy and gratitude. In this video clip from Brown, she explains how “practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives."
On the other hand, assuming the BEST in others doesn’t mean we should simply be a doormat. We still have to hold others accountable, speak our truth, and advocate for students at the highest of levels. I don’t think assuming good in adults opts us out of difficult conversations or challenging paths. What it does, however; is keep us aware of gratitude. Gratitude keeps us grounded to the mission and confident in our own ability to stay Character Strong in the face of adversity. Because students are worth it! We're worth it!
My challenge to our profession is to seek out and celebrate the adults around us. Create files, lists, pictures, videos that document all the magic you witness. Your co-workers, colleagues, and parents are doing unbelievable things for education. Recognize them. Appreciate them. Remember them.
Maybe you’ll start to #ChooseLove
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.
We often naively believe that we truly know a celebrity. Like….because we’ve watched them on TV, listened to their song, or follow them on social media….that we somehow are a part of their life. But the truth is, celebrities often reveal only a perfectly scripted look of their world. Rare is the famous being who authentically lets it all hang out. A few years ago, a group of buddies and I drove down to the Lake Tahoe for the American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament. It’s a fabulous way to spend a weekend. There’s opportunity to mingle with sports and television stars as they play in a fun low key tournament. Great food, fun events, all in small little casino town. We all had a blast! We took pictures, got autographs and shook hands with lots a well known people. Some folks were exactly what you might expect and others were completely different. In a few of these moments away from cameras, media, and crowds we were able to get a peak behind the curtain at some of these famous folks. Our observations were proof, that someone is always watching when your famous. We saw athletes throw the football around with fans, hug small children, and visit with regular folk for long periods of time. Several of these rich and famous truly seemed to live up to our expectations. Of course, people watching isn’t limited to celebrities.
Years ago, when I had grandiose dreams of being a professional magician, I found myself in a situation that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I was hired to perform magic at a grand opening at a Walmart in a small town in Oregon. Essentially, I was hired to walk around the store and perform magic up close as new customers shopped, for the first time. (Yes, you guessed it….this was a strange and sometimes awkward encounter). But I had a good time meeting lots of unsuspecting families throughout the store. Just before I was about to finish up for the day a young man pushed an older gentleman’s wheelchair into my path. Naturally, I did a quick bit of magic for the young man. While he seemed to have fun, I noticed that the wheelchair bound fellow, was not reacting. To be honest, he was wearing sunglasses and so I wasn’t really sure what his reactions to my magic were….but he seemed less than enthused. As I turned to move past them, the young man explained that his grandfather was blind and had never been able to see magic before but that he had described a few things to his grandfather from television shows featuring David Copperfield. He explained that they understood that I wouldn’t be able to show him anything but that they appreciate me being at the grand opening. I smiled, took a step to the side and mentally planned to pack up, say goodbye to the manager, and drive home. I was certainly under no obligation or expectation to perform magic for a vision impaired man. Plus, I had another gig that evening and needed to leave immediately to be ready in time for the next event. But then I stopped, whipped around with idea in mind, and said very casually “can I try just one thing.” I proceeded to do a simple trick with two sponge balls in the man’s hands. The sponge balls disappeared, multiplied, and jumped around while his grandson provided commentary of what was happening. He smiled, laughed, and genuinely had a few beautiful moments of wonder. And while he couldn’t see anything, he SAW EVERYTHING. He certainly got to feel both in his hands and heart that magic was happening. The entire interaction lasted maybe 3 minutes. I said my goodbyes, headed back to the front manager’s office and proceeded to pack up. Just before I left, a teary-eyed mom, stopped me on the way out and informed me “that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” In talking with her, she had apparently been standing at the far end of the aisle watching me perform magic for this visually impaired man. She was moved to tears, knowing that I included the older gentleman into my world of wonder. Now, if I’m being REAL with myself, at 22 years old, Character was the last thing on my mind! I wasn't trying to impress anyone or make some equal rights statement. Being a highly competitive, former athlete who was presented with a challenge, I simply wanted to figure out a way to entertain the man. It certainly wasn’t any higher noble purpose. I was completely unaware of the emotionally moved mom, but she was watching.
Truthfully, someone is almost always watching. On a few recent occasions, I’ve had the pleasure of being the one witnessing when true Character is revealed. In January, this year, we brought in Houston Kraft to do an assembly on Kindness followed by a leadership workshop. The assembly was to last an hour in the gym, then we’d usher about 100 leadership students into the Commons to work with Houston on some more in depth Character development for another hour or so. The assembly was outstanding! Afterwards, we began sending students back to class and/or grabbing leadership students to head into the commons. We probably hadn’t allowed enough time in transition but we knew we could make it work. As the gym cleared out, a handful of adults began to escort Houston to the next location when we noticed a student was crying off in the corner. Now mind you, there were about 5-6 educators there. Guess who was the first person to make contact with the tearful teenager? Houston. He ended up sitting on the floor with her for the next 20 minutes listening, validating, and being present for her. Meanwhile, adults were getting antsy as 100 leadership students were ready to explode with anticipation of Houston’s arrival, down the hallway. As he kindly helped the student regain emotional control and finally made his way down to the leadership group, it struck me...that this guy really believes what he’s talking about. He has true conviction to “make kindness normal.” And even more importantly he acts with high character even when it’s not convenient. It would have been nice to have his technology equipment set up for the following leadership workshop. He certainly felt all the adult energy rise with each passing moment that he wasn’t on his way to the next activity. But Houston reinforced with me a valuable lesson that day, people are more important than agendas. People are more valuable than plans and timelines. In that moment, that student needed Houston and he was there for her. There’s something magical about witnessing a Character Strong moment.
A few months later, I found myself at an educator conference presenting and hanging out with John Norlin (Character Strong). Near the end of the day, I was helping him pack up….the vendor area was pretty empty. All of the educators had left the area and were onto the evening’s events. A custodian stopped by, clearly drawn in by the bright colorful images at the Character Strong booth. He asked John a simple question as he began cleaning up near us. Without missing a beat, John began to share about Character Strong, his mission, and even his WHY. We probably stood there another 10 minutes visiting with this nice fellow as he went about his job. Now make no mistake, there was NOTHING in it for John to engage this man. He was neither educator, nor potential customer of a school culture program. But John treated him with the utmost interest and respect as he openly shared with this man. Afterwards, I mentioned to John how I noticed this interaction and thought it was pretty cool that he put himself out there with someone who had no means or interest in benefiting John. His response was a simple “that’s just how I was raised.”
How ARE we “raising” our students? How are we TEACHING them Character? Who’s observing our Character? And what might they notice? Are you willing to engage someone who can’t possibly benefit you? Are you capable of putting your agenda aside for someone else in need? Who are you...when you think no one’s paying attention?
Award Winning Culture is only REAL, when Character exists in the absence of observation.
Maybe it's best to imagine that someone’s always watching. Years removed from my magic encounter with the visually impaired man, I recognize that despite his loss of sight he too was watching that day in Walmart.
I’d bet our students and co-workers are watching, even when we don’t realize their presence. I wonder what they’d say about me……
Enterprise Middle School received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness. By creating a culture of kindness, service, and empathy we've taken student leadership to an epic level.