Written By: Hans Appel
Does your school culture evoke tears of joy?
A little over a year ago, I arranged for our local KNDU/NBC news station to send someone out to do a story on our school during the Anti-Bullying month of October. I was told that they’d be there no longer than 45 minutes, as they had an important story on the other side of town that same morning. While the manager allowed for ¾ of an hour he expected his reporter to be in and out in about 20 minutes.
As the news reporter arrived on campus nearly 30 minutes before school was to start she was struck by our daily Wildcat Nation greeting. At Enterprise Middle School, we start every day with high fives, fist bumps, music and warm hellos as people walk in the main entrances. It’s an intentional move to increase school positivity and school spirit through personal connection.
After taking footage and soaking up our spectacular start to school she was off to do some student interviews. She asked students what it’s like to go to EMS, what Wildcat Nation really means, and how our Character Strong program changed things. What started off as 45 minute stop in West Richland, turned into over 3 hours! Frankly, we couldn’t get her to leave. She was having an absolute blast! She interviewed dozens of students, teachers, even attended a leadership class.
Near the end of her visit, I found myself sitting with the reporter and our principal (Jennifer Klauss) in our Jen’s office...just kinda debriefing what she had seen, experienced, and felt. Frankly, we both had other meetings and were a little antsy to get the news story wrapped up.
All of sudden, the news reporter burst out in tears:
“Why isn’t EVERY SCHOOL using this Character Strong program,” she uttered through a puddle of tears?
Klauss and I exchanged a quick surprised glance as if to say...what the heck just happened? This unexpected turn of events clearly caught us both off guard.
As Klauss reached for tissues, I began to say: “Well I guess that’s why you’re here today...so you can help spread the word about how important this work and this program are.” I’m sure we both muttered something else as well but to be honest I was slightly taken back by this unlikely chain of events.
A moment later, the news reporter got really quiet and stopped crying for a moment.
Again, Klauss and I made eye contact as if to say...ah oh...what’s gonna happen now?
Seconds later, the reporter looked up slowly, wiping tears away and made eye contact with me:
“Why wasn’t it this way...when I was in school,” she said in a strong somewhat angry tone.
In the next few minutes, as we comforted this beautiful soul and began to shift back towards laughter, a couple things struck me on that breezy fall day.
Her tears were not about sadness. In her own words, she was overcome with joy at how incredible our school culture felt. The welcoming atmosphere. The family like mindset. Having been in school herself and then done stories on local schools she simply had never come across a feeling of positivity quite like that morning.
Additionally, something special was happening at Wildcat Nation. Something sadly outside the norm for education. Indeed, we were suddenly on a path towards an Award Winning Culture.
But more importantly, I was reminded at how important our educational work is to people around the world. People’s experience with school culture sticks with them...for years. We have an obligation to strive for an Award Winning Culture EVERYDAY! This news reporter nearly 20 years removed from middle school had absolutely held tightly to the painful, awkward, and embarrassing moments. For nearly 15 minutes she regaled us with tales of mean girls, harassment, and disinterested educators. She detailed the daily struggles that her and her peers experienced throughout her teenage years.
In truth, she had previously viewed middle school as a survival badge of honor...rather than a rewarding and meaningful learning experience. Prior to October 11, 2017, she couldn’t even fathom a middle school authentically focused on kindness, service, and empathy. The idea that school could be welcoming, engaging, and filled with Character Strong students and staff was incomprehensible.
In the months since her visit, she’s moved on from little old Tri-Cities to a bigger news market in Southern California. But it might not surprise you, she still follows our school’s story closely on social media…
Afterall, how often does a school’s culture evoke tears of joy…
At Wildcat Nation we’re striving for greatness everyday. And while most days we probably come up just short, I’ve held onto this moment as an example of how powerful culture and climate can truly be.
Award Winning Culture has the power to heal old wounds within the safe and welcoming confines of the school house.
**How will your culture alter the emotional, educational, and behavioral trajectory of a new student?
**How might parents feel as they walk into your building?
**Does your culture have the power to flip a student’s life path?
**What images are conjured up about your school, by local community members?
**How are rival sports teams treated in your house?
**Does your staff LOVE coming to work everyday?
**What “finger prints of kindness” are on display? (Houston Kraft coined this term)
I guess the real question is….
How might YOU elicit TEARS OF JOY Today?
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.