Written By: Hans Appel
Award Winning Culture has NOTHING to do with winning actual awards. It’s about creating a mindset of INTENTIONALITY. A daily mantra to make our circle of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Throughout the next year, I’ll be highlighting educators, companies, and even students who are dialed in to a winning approach to LEARNING. Here are the 50 educators that have simply INSPIRED me in 2018 because of their intentionality with education. They’ve tweeted, blogged, and written incredible work. They’ve delivered inspiring speeches and created epic podcasts. They’ve produced impactful graphics, ideas, and slogans. But...most importantly, they helped RAISE education to incredible new heights! To kick off this year-long focus on OUTSTANDING...here are MY Award Winning Culture educational disruptors (in no particular order)...
John Norlin: John is simply the MOST dynamic trainer of professional learning I’ve ever been around. His lifelong work with Character Strong has greatly influenced the way I think, behave, and feel about school culture, Whole Child education, and leadership. I feel fortunate to call him a friend. See you next week buddy! (John's Website)
Houston Kraft: Houston is the most INSPIRING speaker I’ve ever seen! His mission to Make Kindness Normal and Choose Love has become the catalyst of Character Strong work around the world. He’s simply studied, thought, wrote, and spoke about kindness in a way that’s uniquely special. Hands down best motivational speaker for secondary students! Lucky to call him a friend. See you in January Houston! (Houston's Website)
David Geurin: Sparked by a chance encounter at the National Principals Conference last summer in Chicago, David’s book “Future Driven” (#FutureDriven) and his regular blog posts have probably had more impact on me than any other piece of writing this year. Beyond an expert author and award winning principal, David is just a FANTASTIC person! I feel like David and I are destined to work on a project of some sort. Hope to see you in Boston this summer David!
Amy Fast: Amy has the uncanny ability to deliver the most salient, on-point, bite-sized educational beliefs in education. I suppose, it’s no surprise that every tweet she sends goes viral, given the messages are directly taken from her inspirational own book: "It’s the Mission Not the Mandates." A must read for every educator. I’m hopeful that our paths will cross soon, since she’s relatively close proximity from my district (McMinnville, Or to West Richland Wa)...not that far! Amy is that rare rockstar who seems to be unfazed by her own popularity. #Humility Thanks for making education stronger!
Beth Hill: It's impossible not to be aware of Bethany Hill in Twitterverse. Her #JoyfulLeaders is just the start to her POSITIVE contributions in education. Although I only briefly met her this summer, I know we’ll connect again soon! She’s a must follow for sure! Looking forward to reading her upcoming book. If you need someone to review it Beth, I’d love to get a sneak peak! Thanks for sharing your JOY everyday!
Marissa Thompson: Marissa Thompson may be one of the best teachers in the country and wrote one of my favorite articles this year for DisruptED TV Magazine. She’s quickly become a key PLN member to me in student centered learning, flexible seating, and student engagement. Look forward to continuing to learn from Marissa in 2019 and beyond! Check out her article on DisruptED TV Magazine: "Education Without Limits."
Chuck Poole: Chuck is my daily inspiration! He works tirelessly to provide insights, love, and support to his fellow educators. He’s written a spectacular book: “Unforgettable”, and is a regular podcaster and blogger. His Techonomy resources are meaningful beyond words. Thanks for all your hard work to make me and other educators better everyday!
Meghan Lawson: Megan and I quickly bonded over our passion for kindness last year but have moved on to connect over student empowerment. She’s been a huge supporter of our student-led leadership podcast and was kind enough to give some of my students an opportunity to recently showcase their work to curriculum directors in the Cincinnati area. My wife and I were thrilled to observe our leadership podcasters presenting to adult educators over Skype. REAL WORLD LEARNING AT ITS BEST! Such an incredible learning opportunity for everyone involved. I just think the world of Megan and I’m grateful to be connected to her! Check out her incredible article in DisruptED TV Magazine: "What If Conversations Could Change out Schools."
Follow Meghan @Meghan_Lawson
Mariah Rackley: Mariah might be my biggest inspiration on telling my own school’s story. The volume of tweets, pictures, and videos that Mariah shares over social media about #CCMS or #FalconPride leave me in AWE! She’s so passionate and positive that I feel lucky to call her a colleague. I have no doubt that Mariah and I will collaborate on something special real soon! Here's a look at Mariah's Wakelet page. It's no wonder she won the 2018 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year!
Melissa Chouinard-Jahant: Melissa is one of my favorite people I’ve never met! She’s a source of ideas, support, and encouragement. Despite not having written a book yet (that I know of)...she’s probably the BEST WRITER on this list of 50 disruptors. She writes blogs, stories, poetry, and even screen plays! Her writing lives me speechless! In addition she moderates multiple twitter chats. Thanks Melissa! Here's her blog pages: Practical Rebellion and iteacher imother.
Rachelle Dene Poth: Rachelle is such a prolific writer! Her posts, articles, and boundary pushing indicate to me that she’s very often, the smartest person in the room. I’m overwhelmed by her work in edtech, student-centered classrooms, and PBL. Her writing will be a focal point for me this coming year. I look forward to continuing to learn from such a rock-star! Rachelle is a MUST WATCH in education for the coming year!
Kayla Delzer: Kayla and her TopDogTeaching company have flipped everything I thought about student seating. In fact, our school’s jump into flexible seating can be 100% directly tied to the influence and inspiration of Kayla! She’s a speaker, author, award winning teacher who totally gets classroom culture. Our student-led podcasters have been researching her and are excited to have her on the show! Thanks for always thinking outside the box Kayla!
Roman Nowak: Roman’s work with creating cultures of kindness through regular writing, chats (#BeKindEDU), and messaging continues to create a ripple of kindness around the world. We’re thrilled to have him as an upcoming guest on our Award Winning Culture show! Look forward to continuing to learn from this kindness expert! Roman's blog page.
Wendy Hankins: Another one of my favorite people, I’ve never met! Wendy wrote the most touching blog post, I read all last year. #BLOGBRAG She’s a regular source of positivity and all things great about humanity! She’s a dedicated teacher who removes all obstacles to support student success. Thanks for being AMAZING Wendy! #HearditfromHankins
Jeff Zoul: Jeff is another educational disrupter who’s work challenges me to think, behave, and explore school culture in exciting new ways. I deeply respect Jeff's drive for excellence. His latest STOP. RIGHT. NOW. falls into the same upper echelon of educational literature than will simply empower you to be a better version of yourself. He’s the real deal and I look forward to connecting with him in real life very soon! Thanks for striving for an Award Winning Culture everyday Jeff! Jeff's blog page.
Evan Robb: So, apparently I was living under a rock...as I only recently became aware of Evan’s work. The guy is absolutely crushing it! Impactful writing, podcasting, and speaking all while being a TRUE practitioner! He might be my favorite new twitter follow and I eagerly await learning from this super star in 2019. [Note to self: READ EVERYTHING Evan writes this year]. Blog Page
Danny Steele: I’ve probably liked, retweeted, or replied to more SteelThoughts than any other twitter handle. I’m eagerly anticipating the release of his first book. It’s gonna be a gold mine of wisdom! He’s a servant leader who LOVES kids and teachers. He really understands school culture and his regular reminders leave me filled with BELIEF in our profession! Thanks Danny! (Blog Page)
Dave Burgess: I’m eagerly anticipating Dave’s upcoming appearance on our Award Winning Culture podcast. Our kids can’t wait to interview a real-life pirate! His "Teach Like a Pirate" bestselling book is simply legendary in educational circles. Perhaps, no one person has done more to elevate educational literature in the past 5 years than Dave. Indeed, every book I’ve read, from Dave Burgess Consulting has been a HOMERUN! With my own aspirations of completing my first book this year, DBC has been a huge source of inspiration.
Beth Houf: Listening to Beth Speak in Chicago and reading her outstanding book "Lead Like a Pirate" (#LeadLAP) motivated me to turn up my social media story-telling game this year. She’s such an authentic leader who you just can’t help but be drawn to. She’s taught me the power of community through educational storytelling and I’m already planning to take a few new risks this year. Thanks for sharing your story with us Beth! (Website)
Tamara Letter: Tamara is a champion of KINDNESS! I’m excited for her upcoming book: "Passion for Kindness" and feel so happy to have her in my PLN. She’s class personified and inspires Character Strong behavior in others through her words and actions.
Allyson Apsey: Allyson is a sweetheart who I’ve been thrilled to count in my PLN. She wrote an incredibly moving book called "Path 2 Serendipity", which I loved! Our school even got to help edit and preview one of her latest book projects. Her new podcast: “Rising Tide Radio” is sure to be a hit and I know 2019 will bring much Apsey AWESOMENESS!
Dr. Jessica Stephens: After creating my favorite hashtag (#LoveWorks) Jessica has become one of my favorite PLN members. She leads with her heart and believes that all students are capable of fulfilling their dreams. Keep spreading the LOVE! Thanks for being so WONDERFUL Jes! Here's her blog page.
Josh Stamper: Another must-listen podcast is Josh’s “Aspire.” He does a masterful job of stepping out of the spotlight and letting the guests shine! This is another podcast I hope to be apart of, in the future. Love the leadership takeaways Josh! Great work! Here's Josh's blog page.
Jay Billy: Jay wrote an excellent book on school culture called “Lead With Culture.” He’s an exceptional leader who walks his own talk. His approach to relationships is like a master class in focusing on what’s most important to creating an Award Winning Culture. Keep insipring Jay!
Pete Hall/Kristin Souers: After reading “Fostering Resilient Learners” and hearing Kristin speak this fall, I’m very excited to dive into their new book “Relationships, Responsibility, and Regulation: Trauma Invested Practices for Fostering Resilient Learners!” Pete and Kristin’s work on creating trauma informed classrooms is best practice and a perfect formula in how to create an Award Winning Culture!
Michael Mattera: Perhaps, no one taught me more about creating cultures filled with FUN and high level ENGAGEMENT than Michael. His Gamification book “Explore like a Pirate” is the bible of Game related learning. His writing, Youtube channel, and events like the HIVE Summit have catapulted him to a must follow. Thanks Michael for making learning fun!
Elisabeth Bostwick: Elisabeth proves that teachers are some of the strongest leaders in education. I’m ready to get my hands on her new book “LEAP Effect.” Elisabeth is a successful speaker and Co-founder of LeadUpTeach You Tube Podcast. Thanks for LEADING UP Elisabeth!
Tara Martin: Tara put out such STRONG content this year that I felt compelled to cite, and or mention her work on numerous occasions this year. Her book “Be REAL: Educate from the Heart,” was UNREAL! So, so GOOD! She’s a perfect example of modeling authenticity. This year I’ve rejoiced in learning about #BookSnaps as well. Tara is one special person! Tara's Website.
Mae Ward: Mae is the type of teacher we all hope our own child gets! Passionate. High Energy. Lead Learner. She’s been a great addition to my PLN this year and her insightful, well thought out blog posts always push my own thinking. Thanks for all your support and leadership! Love it Mae!
Kristina Macbury: After briefly meeting Kristina in Chicago, we’ve really continued to connect over teaching to the Whole Child through Character Strong. She’s a visionary in terms of understanding and valuing the creation of an Award Winning Culture and I have no doubt she’ll continue to be recognized for her outstanding leadership in education. Kristina's Website
Matt Bush: Matt’s strong PBIS voice and Grateful Fridays are the weekly dose of intentionality that we all need. I appreciate his Tier 1 approach to school culture through kindness, character, and positivity. Thanks for bringing a consistent challenge to my Fridays Matt! Matt's blog page
Andrew Epperson: Andrew has become a friend, a member of my PLN, and PBIS colleague. His work with PBIS Rewards has been instrumental in our creation of an Award Winning Culture at Wildcat Nation. Look forward to ongoing collaboration, support, and brainstorming with Andrew! Here's a post I wrote about our partnership with PBIS rewards:
"An Ocean Awaits"
Garry Gorman: Garry’s weekly images and tweets have become welcome additions to my weekly routine. He always seems to match quote with image in such a way to elevate my desire to be a better educator. I really appreciated having him in my PLN this year! Follow Garry @GarryGorman
Laurie McIntosh: I’ve known of Laurie, since learning about her passion for kindness on the Ellen show. I feel very fortunate to have her in my PLN as she’s such an uplifting person. Thanks for making Kindness Normal Laurie! Laurie's blog page.
Michelle Thompson: Michelle is another one of those teachers who proves that leadership starts in the classroom. She’s a mover and shaker who is a tone setter when it comes to positive school culture. Love the Character work she’s leading in her school and district. Please follow her immediately! @mathommi
Doug Lane: Doug is one of the best teachers I’ve ever worked with! He is unmatched in his commitment to help EVERY student find success in the classroom and he challenges me to raise my game. I’m lucky to have him as a friend and co-worker at Wildcat Nation. While he’s new to social media, he is absolutely doing Award Winning
Teaching! Here's a blog post he wrote:
"Getting Gritty in a Middle School Math Class."
Follow Doug @douglane9
Jeff Kubiak: The titles of principal, author, and consultant really don’t do Jeff justice. He’s a rare talent who’s an advocate for students, educators, and learning. Looking forward to his upcoming book! I’m anticipating 2019 it to be a BIG year for Jeff! You rock yo! Jeff's blog page.
Jennifer Appel: Is it cliche to put your own wife on the list of 50 educational disruptors? Oh, well. In almost 18 years in education, she’s the BEST teacher I’ve ever worked with. She’s brilliant, passionate, and driven to do what’s best for kids! She comes from a long line of outstanding educators and has magic in her DNA. She inspired me all year and is a critical reason that Wildcat Nation has been nationally and even globally recognized this year. She’s a rockstar leadership and ELA teacher who inspires me EVERYDAY! LOVE-YOU! See below how her work has been instrumental in our school creating an Award Winning Culture at Wildcat Nation...
Follow Jennifer @jennifermappel
To the 50 educational disruptors identified in this post and the hundreds of other co-workers, friends, family, colleagues, and PLN...THANK YOU! Your support, love, and inspiration have spearheaded student success all around the globe.
Now, let's go ATTACK 2019 WITH A RELENTLESS SPIRIT!
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, and Libsyn. He can be contacted at Hans.Appel@rsd.edu. Follow Hans on twitter @hansappel094 or Wildcat Nation at @emswildcats1 #WildcatNation #AwardWinning Culture
Written By: Hans Appel
As a long time champion of Chicago Sports (BEAR DOWN!!), I’ve been thrilled to follow Sarah Spain’s career rise to the national sports scene (former Chicago Sports Reporter turned ESPN mainstay). I enjoy watching her on shows like “Mike & Mike,” “His & Hers,” “First Take,” “The Sports Reporters,” and “Outside the Lines.” So, naturally when she created a sports related podcast, I quickly jumped on, to be both subscriber and fan. As an early Spain bandwagoner, I appreciate her insight, intelligence, and candour through a Chicago sports lens. Spain was and continues to be a female journalistic trailblazer!
In April of 2016 Spain joined Julie Dicaro to participate in a #MoreThanMean PSA for Women in Sports who face online harassment. What started as a simple click of the mouse, impacted me and millions of others in a deeply profound way. Take a few minutes to search #MoreThanMean on You Tube and watch this graphically uncomfortable yet powerfully important clip. You'll see the impact that JUST READING hurtful derogatory words from Spain and Dicaro's social media feeds, had on these unsuspecting men. **(Warning-This video contains heavy profanity laden examples of sexual harassment and cyberbullying and promises to evoke intense emotional reactions)
As a white male educator who tirelessly works with teenagers to prevent cyberbullying, I was left speechless to the negativity that women face on a daily basis. Several months later, Sarah compiled clips of exceptional female sports reporters (Jen Lada, Jemele Hill, etc) sharing real life sexual harassment experiences onto her podcast: “That’s What She Said.” In this “Sexism in Sports” episode, listeners hear embarrassingly painful harassment stories, in the words of the strong women who lived through them. As a huge fan of Lada, Hill, and Spain's daily work in sports, I admire their bravery, vulnerability, and authenticity:
As I listened to these horrifying tales, I felt both compelled to action and frozen in hopelessness.
In October of 2017, when Tarana Burke, Alyssa Milano and countless celebrities came forward to create the #MeToo movement on social media as an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace...I again felt anger and sadness for what countless women have endured. It’s a similar feeling to watching black oppression play out on the big screen in award winning movies like “Fruitvale Station,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “The Butler.” Or more recently watching LGBTQ folks fight for freedom, equality, and acceptance through political advocacy. However, these moments aren’t just movies, podcasts, or clips on You Tube. They’re real stories experienced by real people. Now, I don’t work in sports, politics, or movies. So I was left with the empty feeling of what could I realistically do to help remove barriers and decrease hate??
So, I’ve been thinking…
People don’t wake up one day and just decide to hurt, assault, or oppress someone. All of these character choices start getting developed when their quite young. These choices start in school locker rooms, hallways, and classrooms. They begin on young people’s first IPhone, sports team or playground. As a Character Strong school striving for an Award Winning Culture, I’m in a position to influence and impact not only the school culture that our next generation grows up in but the mindset, beliefs, and internal dialogue these students will take with them, for the rest of their lives.
Additionally, and perhaps even more powerful, as educators we have the opportunity to attack the biggest barrier to creating a kinder world. When we inspire, and enlighten students with hope it has the meaningful ability to propel them into future workplace and community leadership roles that create real lasting societal change. This change has the potential to eradicate hate by forever shattering the ceiling on student voice, choice, and dreams. When we allow every student to dream big and then give them the tools and inspiration to accomplish those dreams, many more women, minorities, and culturally oppressed groups invariably find themselves in positions of leadership.
Our environments are strengthened by having diverse representation in all settings. Sexual harassment, oppression, and injustice are probably microcosms of the bigger workplace and societal inequalities that are fostered in unsafe cultures and climates.
Award Winning Culture occurs when every student believes they’re capable and equipped to have success in the roles, jobs, and pursuits they desire. Indeed when we teach #FutureDriven, we illuminate the path for students to reach higher and ultimately encourage them to pull up others as they find sustained and meaningful educational success. And, if these talented youth are armed with empathic hearts, educators create generational positivity that ripples throughout the world. Thus, educators have the privilege to shape workplace culture for the future.
But it starts with little intentional efforts to connect our current students with educational empowerment…
As many of you know, my passion project this year has been to create a student-led leadership podcast: Award Winning Culture (AWC). It’s been a wildly successful, challenging and fun ride this year. The chance to surround my teenage podcasters with incredible leaders around the world has been life-changing. Recently, we did an interview with Trisha Prabhu. Prabhu is an 18 year old innovator, social entrepreneur, global advocate and inventor of the patented ReThink technology. ReThink is an effective way to detect and stop online hate. Prabhu is one of the most incredibly brilliant and talented people I’ve ever interacted with and has ambitions of running for President of the United States some day. She’s won countless awards for her passion for preventing cyber-bullying. Besides pursuing her degree at Harvard, she finds time to speak at schools, appear on national television platforms, and in her “spare time” teach coding to girls. She’s an global advocate for women in technology and has the character, leadership, and intelligence to be a role model to girls around the world. In this episode, Prabhu shared what inspired her to create ReThink and how she’s overcome her own battles with online hate. While the sound quality isn’t up to our usual AWC standards, I urge you to take 20 minutes and listen to this insightful young woman:
Subscribe, Listen or Follow our student-led Award Winning Culture Podcast at any of the following platforms:
Prabhu reminds me of a student I used to have (now a high schooler) in all the best ways. I so wish I would’ve provided this AWC podcast platform last year as she would have been INCREDIBLE in this student voice opportunity. Had we created this a year ago, she would have been the perfect choice to help kick-off this project based learning. This student, who was an 8th grader at Enterprise Middle School last year, was brilliant, kind hearted, and filled with a servant leaders mindset. She embodied Character Strong and shared a few takeaways in this student blog: "A Student's Perspective." Take note of how she views an emphasis on the Whole Child positively impacted herself and her school.
Even now in high school, she gives me podcast notes, thoughts, and suggestions to improve AWC. And while I have no idea what her ultimate career path with be, I have no doubt that she’s wired for a similar world changing trajectory that Trisha Prabhu finds herself on. Who knows, maybe someday AWC will interview her...
However, she’s a high school student now so my focus returns to my direct circle of influence: Wildcat Nation. Currently, 63% of my podcasters are girls. Not bad, considering out of the 520,000 estimated podcasts around the world, women account for only 11% of the top podcasts despite being 43% of the world’s listeners (According to March 2018 Nielsen ratings). As Prabhu so eloquently pointed out to me, turning around these numbers starts with giving young girls tech opportunities:
"Women have an important voice in the tech space," says Prabhu.
Luckily, there are more and more women like Spain and Prabhu who are modeling podcasting and other technological accomplishments around the world. In fact, some of my favorite educators are doing insanely awesome work on their own podcasts:
Barbara Bray’s ReThink_Learning, Barbara Gruener’s Character Speaks, and Jennifer Gonzalez’s “The Cult of Pedagogy” are shining examples of exceptional female-led podcasts. Additionally two of my favorite administrators: Jennifer Hogan and Allyson Apsey have teamed up for an epic new podcast for women in educational leadership: “Rising Tide Radio.” Finally, Elisabeth Bostwick, Laura Gilchrist, and Heidi Veal have created a You Tube podcast called "LeadUpTeach," which offers viewers meaningful educational dialogue by 3 powerful educators. Each of these shows are OUTSTANDING! If you're not already a subscriber to these 8 ladies shows...stop reading now...and go SUBSCRIBE.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Both Barbara’s have even graciously offered to have some of our Award Winning Culture podcasters on their respective shows. An opportunity we fully intend to accommodate after winter break.
But inspiration doesn’t have to be thousands of miles away. One of my podcast students recently advocated for devoting an episode to conducting an interview with our EMS principal, Jennifer Klauss. While I happily helped schedule it for early January, I couldn’t help but assume the student simply just liked Mrs. Klauss and wanted to interview her school’s administration. However, I was taken aback by her statement:
“She’s the ONLY female secondary lead-principal in the district. That’s pretty awesome! I bet she’s got some crazy stories.”
WOW! Here’s a student who recognizes the inequity of the situation and has the voice and platform to explore this topic. No doubt, it’ll be a good podcast!
So where does all this leave me...The truth is...I can’t do anything about what happened to Sarah Spain, Alyssa Milano, Trisha Prabhu or the countless other humans who have already been hurt. But I can promise to hold myself to an educationally high standard:
“Intelligence plus Character that is the goal of a true education” -Martin Luther King Jr.
My promise to all the strong women, minorities, and experiencers of inequality is to provide: HOPE.
**I promise to model Kindness, Service, and Empathy for every student at my school.
**I promise to positively influence the next generation of leaders both with my actions and words.
**I promise to continue to fuel our social emotional work with Character Strong
**I promise to continually engage community resources like SARC (Support Advocacy Resource Center) in an effort to teach young people HOW to treat one another.
**I promise to seek out platforms, voices, and experiential learning to empower, educate, and enlighten not only my podcasters but each and every student I connect with.
My challenge to educators around the world, is to heed your positive influence in the world one moment, one student, and one action at a time. Maximize your impact by intentionally connecting with your students by learning their dreams, goals, and life wishes. And then systematically help remove obstacles in their path.
As I shift into the holiday gift giving season, perhaps my greatest gift to the world is the promise of tomorrow’s youth...
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
As a kid, I struggled with asthma while growing up in an environment filled with sage brush, dust and pollen. The Tri-cities was indeed a hotbed of allergies for me. Despite being a competitive athlete, I routinely found myself dealing with some yearly sickness during the winter months. And while I eventually outgrow asthma, it created a lot of personal challenges to overcome.
Without question, my 10th grade year proved to be my toughest in terms of health and wellness. In late December of 1991, I came down with a full blown case of Pneumonia; which in turn, landed me in the hospital. During my time away from high school, our head varsity coach had also been fired. This unexpected shakeup to my beloved sports team, was hard to comprehend. Additionally, I had missed numerous assignments, projects, and tests. Furthermore, this health ordeal coinciding with my 16th birthday as I literally was hospitalized 2 days after recieving my driver’s license (FYI: I was born on Christmas Eve...so for those reading closely, you probably guessed that my Christmas looked a little different than most).
As you can imagine, losing 15 lbs, missing multiple basketball games, and over 2 straight weeks of school might prove to be extremely anxiety provoking.
How would I get caught up? Did I lose my spot on the team? Will I be interrogated about my excessive absences? Do I remember how to drive my car? Will my friends care than I'm gone?
Luckily for me, I had numerous teachers, coaches, and educators who prescribed to an Award Winning Culture. These Character Strong educators visited me in the hospital, brought me cards, assignments, and encouragement. Personal connection can be incredibly healing to the mind, body, and soul. Then, as I recovered at home, folks were lined up to wish me well, check-in on me, call me on the phone, and generally facilitate my transition back to LIFE at school. They even continued this wellness watch as I returned in mid-January by greeting me with smiles, “Welcome Back Hans,” and helping me prioritize and strategize how to tackle the MOUND of school work.
Nearly 27 years removed from this health tribulation, I occasionally find myself wondering what might have happened if I wasn’t intentionally treated with such positivity, dignity, and respect.
During my time as an educator, I’ve witnessed and taken part in all forms of response to student absence. Some comments seem to do real damage:
**“Check the box for missing work.”
**“It’s not my job to keep track of your assignments.”
**“Looks like you finally decided to show up.”
**”I don’t have time to help you get caught up right now, I’ve got to teach.”
**”Nice of you to show up!” [With sarcastic undertone]
**”Where the heck have you been?”
**”It’s hard to learn, if you’re never here!”
**”You gotta start coming to school.”
**"It’s STUDENTS’ responsibility to seek me out for missing assignments, when their absent...it’s not my job”
**"Two days for every day you missed, NO EXCEPTIONS!”
**"If you were here more often, you’d know what to do.”
**”Why haven’t you completed all the work I sent home?”
**”It’s about time you’re here!”
Award Winning Culture establishes conditions of positivity and warmth, to support students through absence. Educators recognize that excessive absence comes with elevated anxiety and decreased educational self-efficacy. By intentionally reaching out during and after attendance struggles, educators provide students with HOPE.
I recognize that educators have numerous students in their classrooms, caseloads, teams, and schools to keep track of. But as a kid who struggled through an extended health related absence, I want to assure you that your time, energy, and compassion matter.
It mattered to the kid who had to stay home with a younger sibling. It mattered to the kid who came down with mono. It mattered to the kid who had school based anxiety. It mattered to the kid who struggled with a learning disability. It mattered to the kid who returned home from Disneyland. It mattered to the kid who returned to school with a broken hand. It mattered to the kid who failed to set his alarm because his parents leave for work at 5am. It mattered to the kid who was kept home, as a discipline punishment. It mattered to the kid who wouldn’t show up because he had no clean clothes. And…..
IT MATTERED TO ME.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We all know that consistent attendance matters to student learning. The research is clear, student attendance and student success are directly linked. Creating systems that inspire and encourage exceptional attendance is crucial to building educational momentum that exudes student empowerment. However, we run the risk of damaging student and/or parent relationships with obtuse responses. Furthermore, our unenlightened or nonexistent feedback might have the unintended consequence of perpetuating student absence.
My challenge to educators is to examine your own behaviors, words, and feelings toward students who miss school. What messages are you sending them, as they return to school?
How might you “WELCOME BACK” your students TODAY?
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.
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.