DisruptED TV Magazine
By Hans Appel
“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”
There’s little doubt that outstanding educators who are committed to creating meaningful relationships with students are capable of conjuring up educational magic. But this brilliant quote from James Comier might be only part of the story. I think perhaps; there’s more to it.
Award Winning Culture is possible when both people AND programs are great!
Let me prove it to you…
A program might be defined as a plan of actions that are conducted in order to achieve a specific result. Think about other fields that utilize a planned series of events to create a desired outcome. The medical profession utilizes a specific recipe of treatment when attacking an illness, disease or injury. In other words, doctors have determined what actions they can take to most quickly aide your body’s recovery. Some doctors may be better communicators or have better bedside manners but ultimately we invest and entrust in them using a standard protocol of measures to ensure health and safety. Doctors are essentially using a playbook or program that they and the medical profession have deemed effective for a given ailment.
Program delivery is not specialized only to the physical sciences. Social Sciences also find success with programs. For instance, while counselors will be the first to acknowledge the human aspect of the therapeutic relationship, the best counselors in the world operate under theoretical models which are grounded in specific planned series of events known as treatment. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Play Therapy are all example of overarching programs that counselors and therapist can study. However, just like doctors, counselors or therapist are free to adjust their program as needed to fit identified patient needs.
How do doctors, counselors, or any professional study? They join a program of study at the university level and/or other accredited facility. Thus, anyone who has gone to college has become a part of a program where they learn a predetermined academic and career path developed by your school to help move you towards a college and career goal. Of course, your experience may be different from school to school or dependent upon the professors you had. You may have some discretion on electives you take or projects you invest yourself into. But, for all intents purposes all educators have become educators in some part thanks to a college program they were apart of.
But the concept of a program has equal success outside of higher education. Consider an actor or actress. Basically, an actor or actress is a person who portrays a character in a performance. How do they determine what to say, do and emote? The Script. A script is a detailed written account of the actors desired actions (speaking, motivation, choreography, etc.) The best actors in the world rely heavily on the writing or program of others to help bring magic to an audience. Many of us have had the experience of watching our favorite stars perform a poorly scripted production and it completely fell flat, on the big screen. Certainly, one can’t overlook the importance of directors, producers, costuming, sound, etc. in the creation of an incredible performance. But there is simply NO MAGIC without a script or screenplay. While one might argue the ability of improv masters to work without a script often times there is still a general sketch of predetermined and rehearsed ideas behind shows like Saturday Night Live.
Beyond entertainment, sports offers a prime example of the power of programs. Think about some of the most successful sports franchises or dynasties in history. In the 1990’s, the Chicago Bulls dominated the NBA…mostly because of Michael Jordan. However, a careful analysis of his run of greatness reveals that until Phil Jackson took over as head coach in 1989, the Jordan-led Bulls were unable to achieve the highest level of success. The Bulls were good. Jordan was great. But they never achieved team greatness until Phil came on board. Part of what Phil brought to the Bulls was the triangle offense, in collaboration with Phil’s assistant coach (Tex Winter). This offensive program helped elevate the players around Jordan all while helping MJ to reach his pinnacle as a leader on the court. Make no mistake, Jordan did not NEED the triangle offense to reach hall of fame status. He would have been great regardless. But his teammates did need a structured plan of attack to become their best; and are ultimately world champs because Phil found the perfect blend of people and program.
We could do a similar analysis of John Wooden’s UCLA run in the 60’s and 70’s, Bill Belichick’s NFL success in the 2000’s or Geno Auriemma’s UCONN dominance in NCAA women’s basketball. And while we may get detoured by a debate on who plays a bigger role, Coach vs. Player. They ultimately both matter. Of course there is no Bill Belichick without Tom Brady. But neither coach or player probably would have reached the same level of success without the spread offensive system or innovated scheme that they created.
Of course the best programs allow people to breath life into them. They should not be so limited and restrictive that each person can’t put their own stamp on it.
For years, american idol judge, Simon Cowell, would berate someone who he announced as being a terrific singer, but decided to make a poor song choice. How could someone with such an outstanding voice get scolded like a 3 year old in front of millions of viewers? Because while talent matters so does what the talent (or in the case the singer) uses to display their talent. Don’t get me wrong. We can still enjoy listening to someone with a special voice…even if it’s not a perfect song match. But when people and program are in harmony….their music become art. A few in education are coming around to this blend of people and program.
Angela Duckworth is one of the most well respected advocates for character education in the world. Her Ted Talks, books, and ideas have become apart of best practice with Whole Child work. Do you think Duckworth believes that ultimately only people matter? In other words, if you get the right educators…you somehow don’t need great programs? No. Not a chance. Her entire life’s work has been on researching exactly what students need to learn character traits like Grit. In fact, she even created the Character Lab to study, test, and ultimately create what she believes is a successful Character Ed program. Why? Because she knows that both people and programs matter.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are some incredible teachers who may occasionally opt to embed SEL and/or Character Ed on their own, without a program. There are a group of talented educators who are the Michael Jordan of their schools and are looking to teach more than math, science, and history. An example of this is a teacher named Bryan Slater at Sumner High School. On the School Culture by Design podcast episode #27, Bryan details for the host, Phil Boyte, how he checks the emotional temperature of his students multiple times during the week, using a google form he created. It’s a great tool but the genius behind Bryan’s work is that he then demonstrates vulnerability by sharing his own emotional pulse with his students. Bryan takes it to next-level special as he identifies regular character traits (Kindness, Patience, Selflessness, Forgiveness, etc.) woven into his discussions and then publicly recognizes these traits in his students on a daily basis. Throughout the podcast you get an idea of how Bryan slowly builds influence, and trust with his students. Bryan’s character focus is like a master class playbook in embedding Character into the daily fabric of his lessons. But not everyone is as charismatic or intentional as Bryan.
We need all students to leave high school with social emotional intelligence and the ability to become Character Strong.
While we realized that Enterprise Middle School had been a good school for years, we would never be great unless we addressed the elephant in the room. A couple years ago, our office team shifted to a #FutureDriven mindset and started to really dive into program changes to update our SEL, PBIS, Leadership….and ultimately shifting towards a Whole Child school-wide focus. The programs we were using at the time were researched based, well-known, and respected but they simply were not effective across our entire building to teach the critical Soft Skills (social, communication, character, etc.) that make up social and emotional intelligence. Students were not bought into them. The programs lacked engagement and meaning. Teachers did not feel empowered by the curriculum nor the pbis systems in place. Everyone seemed to acknowledge a need for upgrade but did not fully understand the HOW, WHAT or WHY behind teaching Social Emotional and Character Ed. Indeed, an increasing number of universities and employers are challenging K-12 education, to focus on these essential-to-success attributes (resilience, grit, social skills, relationship building, etc.). In addition to allowing TIME, #WildcatNation carefully implemented 2 new exceptional programs (Character Strong and PBIS Rewards) following a recipe of success that I detail in #AwardWinningCulture. Here’s a look at how the Character Strong program helped take us to an epic new level in school culture: https://youtu.be/-vc7XE4J4Fs
Despite decreased socio-economic status (as indicated by increased numbers of free & reduced lunch students) EMS elevated itself to an award winning culture. In 2018, EMS was awarded the ASCD Whole Child Award for the State of Washington and the Global “Class Act Award” for creating a culture of excellence through kindness, service, and empathy. We didn’t hire a bunch of new teachers or ship in some incredible new students/parents. All things fairly equal (other than adding more low income families), we implemented a few exceptional programs. If our success was purely tied to the educators in our school, we would’ve already been incredible. But the truth is, when we added Character Strong and PBIS Rewards, we started knocking on that door of greatness.
A few months ago, I was chatting with a counselor, from another district and she was saying that they had a program in place and that although she desperately wanted Character Strong in her school, she doubted they’d be willing to switch to it. Too much money. Difficulty getting buy-in. District approval. Nobody had time to oversee the changes. Etc. My first question to her was how’s your current Whole Child program working for you? Her response was a shoulder shrug followed by “Ehh.” I asked her if she was comfortable giving her students “Ehh?” Naturally, she explained that she wasn’t happy with what was happening but that she lacked the time, energy, and ability to lead change in her building. In essence, she identified that her school’s social emotional program was not great for students but was banking on the great staff at her school to overcome an inherently flawed curriculum.
How often do we handcuff incredible educators with mediocre programs?
If we’re gonna surround students with the best…most passionate educators, shouldn’t we be willing to demand that these educators are armed with the most top-notch tools, resources, and programs available?
Don’t kids deserve it! Here’s an EMS student sharing her experience with the transformation that the character strong program had on people, place, and community.
The truth is, the magic is in the details. These small little moments of kindness, excellence, and community are where we all intentionally build toward our own award winning cultures. Perhaps, Allyson Apsey would remind us that the true “Path to Serendipity,” lies in educators willingness to pursue our best selves with gratitude, dignity, and grace. It seems clear that supporting the best out of our students and reaching for incredible new heights in education is proportional to matching inspiring educators with exceptional programs.
About the Author:
Hans Appel has worked as a 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. In 2018, EMS was awarded the ASCD Whole Child Award for the State of Washington and the Global “Class Act Award” for creating a culture of excellence through kindness, service, and empathy. Recently, Hans launched his own blog about School Culture and this fall rolled out a student-led leadership podcast called Award Winning Culture: Hosted by Wildcat Nation, which can be subscribed, listened or reviewed on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Libsyn. He can be contacted at Hans.Appel@rsd.edu. Follow Hans on twitter @hansappel094 or Wildcat Nation at @emswildcats1 #WildcatNation #AwardWinning Culture