Written By: Hans Appel
For the past 6 months, I’ve been slowly working through a book called “Find Your Why”, by Simon Sinek. I’d seen Simon’s powerful Ted Talk years ago and like millions of other people, I devoured “Start with Why, Leaders Eat Last, Together is Better”, etc. At 41 years old, I thought I was pretty in touch with my WHY. But then a funny little thing entered my life this year….a whole child, school culture program called: Character Strong. But perhaps I should back up...
Those that know me well, know that I knew what I wanted to do when I was quite young. By the age of 5, I had moved past NBA basketball player and settled in on professional magician. Yes, long before thoughts of education, school counseling and helping young people; I was focused on the art of deception. I spent hours reading magic books at the public library and more time than I’d care to admit standing in front of a mirror practicing some secret sleight of hand maneuver, that I’d hope you’d never see. While I had other detours of interest like basketball, video games, and girls….magic was my first real obsession. I spent the next 15+ years studying things like misdirection, inattentional blindness, and emotional conviction. (BTW, a very strange set of skills to have at this point in my life).
After high school, I went off to college...in part to appease my parents but also to study psychology and business, all along knowing that I’d eventually move to Los Angeles or Vegas and announce my claim as David Blaine’s successor. (What can I say, I was a cocky 18 year old who who had illusions of grandeur.) I became a member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood, (Side note, I’m still a member. If you're ever in the LA area and want a guest pass) was invited twice to the Las Vegas Magic Invitational, and even did a brief lecture tour, for magicians, in Texas/Louisiana on Restaurant Magic. In fact, I even proposed to my wife during a magic show, in which I was performing (Yes there is video out there, NO! I will not share) By all accounts magic dominated my life and all signs pointed towards the challenging world of entertainment, for my future. But show biz is a strange gig and despite my passion, it was never quite a perfect fit for me. It requires long hours away from friends and family as you travel from gig to gig. There's little stability unless your lucky and talented enough to make it big. Plus, it's really all about you and only you. It has nothing to do with helping people. Deep down, I yearned for a way to give back to people in a more meaningful way.
Additionally, for those that know me, I’m generally a quiet, somewhat reserved...even shy individual who would much rather listen than talk. As a performer, you’re expected and paid to be “ON” 24/7. This is fun for me at times but can be truly exhausting to keep up that level of intense energy. Teachers can relate to this feeling. When you’re a teacher, at school, you’re always “On”. It’s like your work life is constantly on stage for all to see. I think many great teachers have a little bit of performer inside of them. But that’s not me.
Along the way, that girl, that I mentioned proposing to earlier, was studying to become a teacher. In fact, she came from a long line of educators. The more time I spent with them, in this new education world and the more psychology classes I took….the more I began to realize, I had a gift for helping others. [I'm skipping over a couple other key family events, on my path toward counseling but I'll save that for a future blog.] While practicing magic can be very isolating, education has the ability to be collaborative like few adventures. (See the Pepper Effect by Sean Gaillard). In Magic there is no cast. There is no team. There is no PLC. It’s just you. I quickly began to enjoy listening, empathizing, and helping adolescents become their best self, all with the ability to consult with other professionals to ensure student success. This was a career path that fit my personality, passion, and purpose. As I shifted from College to Career, I jumped head first into the world of education and spent the past 17 years loving it. I think my close friends and family probably thought I’d bail on education, those first few years, to pursue magic. But knowing that I’d found my WHY, was completely satisfying! And I happily established roots for a career in education.
But then a funny little thing came along. Our school began an incredible program this past year which was exciting, engaging, and meaningful. Character Strong has been like nothing I’ve seen in education. It’s simply changing the game of Whole Child work. By combining Social Emotional Learning with Character, the creators have melded the best of both worlds into something that’s absolutely unique. By teaching our students, staff, and community the power of kindness, service, and empathy we’ve turned our school into an award winning culture. A few months into this journey, I realized that I was feeling something stronger than magic, and deeper than counseling. But, if I was already following my WHY and living the dream, why did this new work with Character Strong feel like something even more intense. To be honest this confused me, I thought I had successfully identified my WHY but this passion for helping others discover their WHY was somehow even more intoxicating. After several more months of re-exploring my WHY, I finally discovered how magic, counseling, and culture all fit together....
One Word: JOY
I’m not talking about a temporary state of happiness. I’m talking real fulfillment on a deep level! Joy.
Like when we share a bit of kindness toward a complete stranger. Or when we’re aware of our purposeful learning on a visceral level. Meaningful personal growth creates Joy inside of us. It’s a special feeling and once you have it, you don’t want to let go.
For me, bringing the wonder of magic into people’s hearts and minds created Joy for me. Counseling students to discover their best self, brought me even greater Joy. But creating a culture where others can find purpose and passion by bringing amazingness into the world through Character Strong, helped OTHERS DISCOVER REAL JOY. Beyond this, with the help of Character Strong, I was helping others share their JOY. And isn’t that where the highest learning really occurs. Check out one of our leadership students on the local news talk about finding purpose...FYI: It’s all about JOY!
Shouldn’t teaching students, the power of real Joy, be apart of our school’s mission? There’s a principal, author in McMinnville, Oregon named Amy Fast. She writes, speaks, and tweets her ideal world of education. And thousands of educators around the country, like myself, hang on every word she shares. She’s an absolute rockstar and I have no doubt will be highly sought after within the highest ranks of education. In, “It’s the Mission, Not the Mandates”, Amy encourages us all to re-examine how we’re empowering students/teachers, the power of bringing hope and purpose to our work, and in essence, reminds us of the great life gift we’re able to give our students….Joy.
I don’t believe that Education is just about learning math, science, and history. Perhaps, that’s too low of a bar to set.
I think education...at it's highest level...is about helping students find their JOY.
Did you think it’s an accident that the bus driver in Jon Gordon’s critically acclaimed book, “The Energy Bus”, is named “Joy.” I assure you this is well thought out, as Jon is a world wide expert in using positive energy to motivate, inspire, and influence the best out of people. Or maybe you’ve overlooked the genius behind one of the most successful educational hashtags created: #JoyfulLeaders. When superstar principal, Bethany Hill, from Cabot, Arkansas introduced the world to her now famous hashtag, you better believe she knew the magic behind the word: Joy. Watching a video clip of Danny Steele, principal of Thompson Sixth Grade Center in Alabaster, Alabama, freestyle rap for his students offers a visual demonstration of the Joy of SteeleThoughts, come to life. His jest for students, teachers, and culture are the catalyst for copious amounts of educators choosing to strive toward teaching beyond mandates.
Of course, we still have mandates, obligations, and essentials to teach. So, if we take Simon Sinek’s advice on helping people discover their WHY and ultimately find real JOY….how do we do that with-in a school setting?
I’m NOT an educational expert. And I would defer to much smarter, more talented folks to guide our profession forward. But, if we listen….very closely…..there’s a group of educational heroes who are lighting a path to pursue, the magical gift of JOY. In addition to some of the educators already mentioned, here’s a couple more that inspire me to create a culture of JOY:
**George Couros, “The Innovator’s Mindset”, presents strategies for becoming a masterful forward thinking leader who promotes creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking. A path that’s filled with teaching the Joy of learning.
**Aaron Hogan, “Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth”, encourages readers to "THRIVE" by destroying some of the myths that education inherently promotes. His work provides a blueprint for how to make learning a joy , for our students. #TeacherMyth
**Chris Butler & Erin Dickey, Project Based Awesome, are two of the best kept secrets in educational podcasts. Their focus on combining great teaching, project based learning, and instructional technology are inspiring a group of educators in the pacific northwest. They make PBL approachable for educators with the guidance to allow students to pursue their own learning in new and enriching formats.
**Dave Burgess, “Teach like a Pirate”, provides inspirational techniques and ideas to engage your students into lessons with creativity, relationships, and passion. Dave’s style and practical advice help you create a joy of teaching and in turn a joy for your students. He’s gone on to publish many outstanding books with other talented EduHeroes. Many of which I’ll be sharing bits of learning from in future blogs. Must Read! #TLAP
**Kim Snodgrass, is a creative, joy-filled innovative teacher from York, NE. She has a gift for GIF’s and loves helping her students find joy in all things education. She's an out of the box thinker and thrives in challenging educational status quo, in the pursuit of student learning.
**Tara Martin, is an educator, author, administrator from Kansas who believes in educating from the Heart by being "REAL." She’s the founder of #BookSnaps and loves collaborating with other joyful educators. #REALedu
**Katie Martin, is an educator, author, and lead learner. She believes in arming teachers with tools, ideas and inspiration to empower them to establish new roles as educators. She's a huge fan of creating risk-taking learning environments, helping students build connections through personalized learning, using innovation to establish learner-centered best practices.#LCInnovation
**John Norlin and Houston Kraft, have literally created a recipe for students to discover their WHY through experiential hands on lessons, character dares, and intentional teaching with Character Strong. They’ve taken servant leadership principles, which have long been the bedrock of successful businesses and applied those same concepts to education, athletics, and life. Absolutely Groundbreaking! Their trainings, curriculum, and writings are quickly becoming the gold standard in this Whole Child work. I urge you to re-evaluate whatever you're currently using to teach these soft skills and figure out how to bring #CharacterStrong to your students, staff, and communities.
My challenge to the education world is to reach for a magical new standard. Something more life changing than traditional education parameters have provided. As I closed out this spring talking with our 8th grade students about their takeaways from middle school, I was struck that perhaps the real secret to our award winning culture was our teachers ability to help our students discover their WHY. And armed with a deep understanding of themselves, our students are prepared to pursue a life of JOY.
How will you help your students find the real magic in: coming to school, helping others, contributing to their communities, and…..LEARNING?
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.