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
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.