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.
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.