Last Thanksgiving, one of my life-long best friends suffered a cardiac arrest on the way home from a basketball team retreat. Thanks to the quick actions of two CPR-trained, Character-Strong friends of ours, they were able to get the help he needed, in a timely fashion.
Almost a year removed from this scary incident, my long time buddy and fellow Wildcat Nation educator, Ben Brost, has made a full recovery! It feels appropriate to share a moment of thanks and insight learned from his ordeal. Brost is that guy in your life, who would give anyone the shirt off his back. He’s a servant leader in its truest definition and he sees the good in everyone and is truly a friend to many. He’s a guy that has a million best friends and eager to support all of them.
In the months that followed, people stepped up to support Brost and his family in ways that are unimaginable. Friends and family dealt with insurance, lesson plans, child care, pet care, meals, doctors appointments, and coordination of travel arrangements. People gave ridiculous amounts of money, time, and countless energy to support Brost’s family. It's mind-blowing to imagine how many little and big life details someone needs during a health scare. While Brost’s recovery easily qualified as a miracle, our communities strength proved equally as miraculous!
An event like this can trigger reflection on mortality in a way that everyday life often ignores. Some folks discover who their true friends are when challenges arise. The sheer number and force of caring people were...at times...emotionally overwhelming for Brost and his family.
Separated from the intensity of feelings that I experienced last year, I’m now in a better place to seek out learning and self-discovery to help codify this painful tribulation into a life reminder.
When talking with youth, adults tend to place a heavy emphasis on encouraging young people to surround themselves with friends they can count on. It makes sense! This bit of frequently doled out wisdom seems like a sure fire way to help folks identify positive relationships while sidestepping social toxicity. In other words, it pays to identify who truly has your back, in times of need. And while there’s a natural curiosity to question, wonder or internally explore which people in our own lives would support us, I’d suggest that perhaps we should flip the internal query around.
Rather than focusing on who might have my back, when difficult circumstances arise, I find myself thinking about who’s back do I truly have? In moments of need, who am I willing to go the extra mile for? In what ways am I capable of stepping up for someone? Frankly, our communities willingness to support and help Brost came as no surprise to him, his family or of course….myself. Brost’s circle of influence was created through years of relationship building, service, and love. But this traumatic experience got me thinking about what conditions, people, and settings, I’d be compelled to step-up as a leader of Character to help. Sure...I supported my long time friend during a life threatening period, but do I attack everyday service with the same fervor?
Would it matter how I felt about the person? How might convenience play a role in my attunement to other’s needs? Am I only willing to step up in times of severe tragedy or am I the same Character Strong person in life’s daily challenges? Perhaps, the most intriguing question of all:
How am I communicating that...I gotcha?
There’s so many people in my life who’s back I truly do have. Friends, family, students, co-workers, PLN. I wonder if they know. Well...
Do you know?
Of course human instinct occasionally devolves into me wondering who in my life has my back. But the truth is, I have zero control over who’s willing to support me. Instead, my influence is limited to who, how, and what I intentionally do for others. I suppose the best ways to indicate my ability to step-up is by intentionally modeling a willingness to help others.
I’ll bet students, peers, and even friends and family are giving us daily opportunities to put character into action (A.K.A Leadership). Perhaps, they’re even testing us with the little stuff to see if we’re ready and willing to help with the big stuff. Who’s testing you?
Sometimes the best gift we can give others is to give them our full attention.
Are you seeing and hearing the students, staff, and peers, who need your help?
Maybe rather than keeping relationship score based on likes, retweets, and followers we should CONNECT with people in a deeper way.
I think an Award Winning Culture establishes conditions where people seek true human connection by how they’re willing to serve others.
I wonder if this age old adage from adult to youth of the need to ‘surround yourself with people who YOU can count on’, is too simplistic and short-sided. Students must learn to measure success in relationships by how THEY'RE willing to serve, nurture, and foster their ability to Choose Love on a daily basis.
#LoveWorks (Thanks Jess!)
Afterall, the real joy, in life is not simply derived on receiving love but moreover in GIVING LOVE.
**What if our schools were filled with students whose self-esteem was directly tied to the positive impact they had on others?
**What if our communities celebrated kindness, service, and empathy above status, money, and attractiveness.
**What if WE evaluated our day based on the number of hearts we touched?
Award Winning Culture is about creating an “I Gotcha” mindset...
How will you communicate “I GOTCHA,” to the people in YOUR life?
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
How often do YOU...work on...YOU?
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 with Pete 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:
Question: “Who needs Character Development?”
Answer: “WE ALL DO!"
While this may seem like an obvious point, I think it’s FREQUENTLY overlooked by educators everyday…
Last year, in our early stages towards building an Award Winning Culture a veteran colleague said to me: “this is all great stuff Hans, but it’s all gonna come down to whether our leadership kids buy-in to this work and keep it going.” While I’m the first one to recognize the impact that a group of talented leaders can have on a school’s culture and commitment to creating a safe environment, her words really bothered me that fall windy day last October. In essence, she was underselling the influence of all the other students, staff, and parents on our school’s quest to infuse character and social emotional learning into the daily fabric of our school. Additionally, and perhaps more alarming; her narrow scope of impact was reducing her own effect on Enterprise Middle School's culture to that of a non-factor. Thus, she was putting the fate of our school culture in others' hands.
As we all know, the only thing we actually control is ourselves. Hoping that someone else’s influence will create the experience you seek...is futile. But one’s actions, attitudes, and aurora can create a ripple of positive change that’s astronomical!
Award Winning Culture is about creating a mindset that focuses on Character, Excellence, and Community in all areas of our lives.
By taking the time to work on ourselves, educators align themselves with an intentional mission to create their own Award Winning Culture within their individual sphere of influence.
My challenge to educators is to shift your mindset. Reposition your own professional learning to focus on YOU, not just your work. Stop thinking in terms of strategies, interventions, and techniques. This is why I’m such a proponent on something I’ve deemed Educational Cross-Training. If I take the time to work on me, I’m invariably improving my students' educational experience. When I grow as a person, I provide my students and peers an opportunity for growth.
Harness the magic of your own strengths while aggressively moving outside of your own comfort zone into spaces like vulnerability, reflection, and self discovery.
In the end, your students educational experience will be positively correlated to the work you do on YOU…
About the Author
Hans Appel has been 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.
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.