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.
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.