Hans Appel has worked as a counselor in the Richland School District for the past 19 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. Additionally, they were selected as a finalist in the 2019 PBIS Film Festival and took top prize in the Community, Parents, and Staff category. In 2018, Hans launched his own blog about School Culture and rolled out a student-led leadership podcast called Award Winning Culture: Hosted by Wildcat Nation, which can be subscribed, listened or reviewed on iTunes Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, PodBean, and Libsyn. Hans’ blogs have appeared on DisruptED TV magazine, CharacterStrong, and PBIS Rewards. He’s written social-emotional lessons for CharacterStrong. Furthermore, he has been featured on numerous educational podcasts speaking his brand of school culture into existence. He’s been a contributor on two upcoming educational books: “ Define Your WHY” and “ALL IN: Taking a Gamble in Education.” Currently, he’s working on his own book about school culture.
We talk with Hans about how time, intentionality, & mindest help create a healthy school culture, how Enterprise has put a spotlight on student voice, and how that can have influence bigger than just our schools.
“...We had a group of students that didn't necessarily needed more instruction, but they needed those consistent reminders. And so we decided that, Hey, if we create this platform, maybe we can make this into something that doesn't just benefit the students involved, right, but then then can benefit our community and even beyond our community.”
— Han's Appel
- John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're talking with Hans Appel. Hans has worked as a counselor in the Richland school district in Washington state for the past 19 years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened. He's passionate about school culture, servant leadership and kindness. In 2018 Enterprise 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. Additionally, they were selected as a finalist in the 2019 PBIS Film Festival and took top prize in the community, parents and staff category. In 2018 Han's launched his own blog about school culture and 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, Spotify, Podbean, and Lisbon. His blogs have appeared on DisruptED, TV Magazine as well as many other publications. He's written social emotional lessons for CharacterStrong and furthermore has been featured on numerous educational podcasts speaking his brand of school culture into existence. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Han's Appel.
- John: All right. It is such an honor to have on the CharacterStrong podcast and let me say finally, we should have had you on so much sooner than this, but my good friend Han's Appel counselor, Enterprise Middle School over in Richland, Washington. How are you doing today, my friend?
- Hans: I'm doing awesome, John. I'm honored to be here and absolutely fired up. It's ... I think you're right. It's long overdue, so we finally matched schedules and made it happen.
- John: Yeah, that's usually the problem. It's matching schedules. I mean, and just to go there for a minute, you're incredibly busy in its own with the work that you do in schools but the work that you are doing with, and we'll talk about it today, but all sorts of things from bringing student voice into an incredible student led podcast to being a thought leader, not only on social media, you write blogs on a regular basis that have appeared on things like DisruptED, TV magazine even on our own CharacterStrong broadcast and website, PBIS rewards, right? You even have been a contributor to two upcoming educational books. I mean you are a thought leader and I don't know how you do it, but I'm so excited that it is lined up and maybe we'll make up for it by having a series. We'll do a couple of these over a shorter period of time to make up for lost time, but let's dig in. Let's go. Let's cut the fluff. Get right to this stuff. One, you are one of the earliest adopters at Enterprise of CharacterStrong amongst many other wonderful things that you do so this is a true honor because you are all true champions of this work. Maybe start there. What has been the key to successful implementation?
- Hans: Couple of words I guess pop into my mind, John. First off I think time, right? Intentionality and kind of this ongoing mindset. So when I think about time, a lot of people think in terms of year one, year two implementation. I really think in terms of years zero implementation. So we really started our implementation nine months I would say before we ever got to the point of doing the instruction, using the curriculum in the advisory classes. So I mean that started with things like taking a look at the lesson, talking about it with our PBIS team and leadership team and just slowly over time rolling this idea of, "Hey we want to try this new curriculum that's a social emotional learning character ed program." And so along with that time there was intentionality built into trainings and assemblies and book studies and all this layering work to kind of get us to the point of being ready to fully implement. So it was about a nine month process.
- John: Well, and I mean even though you listed off multiple things there, I hope people that really take that in because what you just described was an incredibly intentional approach where it was patience for progress. And we talk about that quite a bit, but I love that idea of thinking of thinking of it as year zero, but yet all the different things that you did to help build readiness and no wonder then you had a better result. And yet even with that, my guess is there has been a need for what evaluation, tweaking, what's working, what's not working. I mean tell us a little bit about that process.
- Hans: Absolutely. That kind of gets into the last one, which is the ongoing, there's not a moment in time where you arrive at having this perfect school culture. It's always sort of something that you're working on and you're tweaking and trying to improve. So I can remember, John talking to you our very first year of implementation, things were going well and we were already starting to kind of create our vision for what is year two and year three look like. So one of the things that, and we'll probably get into in a second that we started looking at is, Okay, we've got this amazing group of sixth grade students that are incredible leaders. They're soaking in all this CharacterStrong work. They're thirsty to change the world. And I can remember saying to you, "John, I'm excited to see where this group is in two years." Right? So when they're eighth graders, have they changed our, not only our community but impacted other communities. And so that kind of led us into how do we start creating other opportunities beyond the curriculum.
- John: Yeah. So let's go there. I like that because you've done a lot in that realm. And I know that one specific that is very unique and that many people have been paying attention to is how you have put a spotlight on student voice and really done that in an authentic way. So talk to us about what you've done there.
- Hans: So yeah, and it kind of goes hand in hand with, okay, we had this group that we knew we needed to challenge, sixth grade group of leadership students and we ended up taking a group of them to a service leadership conference over in Kent, Washington. And it's an amazing events. There's 5,000 students and educators from around the state that come in and hear all these amazing speakers and inspiring messages. And we're sitting there and it's probably maybe two thirds of the way through the event and we're listening to a lady by the name of Noemi Ban and she's a 95 year old Holocaust survivor and she's up on stage in front of 5,000 people including us and she's in a wheelchair and she's speaking in broken English. And it's hard to understand every word she's saying. And it is literally silent. The entire arena is silent.
- Hans: And you know, because you were there John, it was just magical. And I'm looking at some of our students that we've brought and they're sitting forward in their seats and jaws are dropped and they're just mesmerized hanging on every one of her words. I look over to my left and there's an educator that's in tears, just moved by some of the stories and just bravery that this incredible Holocaust survivor's sharing. And it's just this epic moment. And I lean over to my wife Jennifer, who's kind of sitting on my right and I say, "We've, got to do something like this." And she kind of gives me that puzzled look and I'm like, "We've got to do something like this." So at the next break, that's really where the seed started. What if we create something where we can surround our students with people like her and people like him and bring in these messages because the reality, John is we had taken a handful of students to this statewide leadership conference, but there was another 7 or 800 students and faculty and stuff that were back in the Tri-Cities that were not experiencing this.
- Hans: And so the idea started with a little seed of, how do we create a platform for our students to be able to have the opportunity to learn from these types of incredible CharacterStrong leadership mindset speakers.
- John: Yeah. Well a couple of things there. One just because he doesn't get recognized enough, a little shout out to our CS podcast producer Parker Overturf, who actually for multiple years helped me in planning that conference, which now a summer high school still continues to do today. And yet a shout out to you and your students that were there and staff because so many times I think what happens is that we can consume, right? A lot, which by itself not a bad thing, let's consume. There's so much information that is out there's so many ideas, why wouldn't we? But how do we move from just being consumers to creators? And I love the mindset as you're sitting there is not only consuming but then saying, "We could do something like this." And "How do we take this back to the 7 to 800 other students?". And I think that that is a powerful mindset, one to role model, but two to be instilling in our students. And so let's take that then to the next step, when you went back, what happened then? What did you do with that to make that a reality?
- Hans: Yeah, so it's a similar process as far as how we implemented CharacterStrong. We allowed time. So that was in February, we we took between February and basically August of the next year. So that group of sixth graders was rolling into seventh grade, we took that period of time to kind of get ready. So that was finding equipment, figuring out all the logistics, lining up guests, like teaching them how to even like sit and have perfect posture for the mic. I mean all the little tiny details that you can imagine that go into something like that. We spent that six to nine months I guess doing. And so I think, you were talking about the mindset and my brain kind of went back to we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught. And that's kind of something that I took away early from some of the trainings that we got from you.
- Hans: And I think that was kind of rolling around in the back of my head, I would say not only during the service leadership conference, but during those planning stages of how do we create this podcast. We had a group of students that didn't necessarily needed more instruction, but they needed those consistent reminders. And so we decided that, Hey, if we create this platform, maybe we can make this into something that doesn't just benefit the students involved, right, but then then can benefit our community and even beyond our community.
- John: That's amazing. And so even just practical to tell people who maybe haven't been exposed yet to the Award Winning Culture student led podcast, tell us where can they access it and who are some ... I mean you've had some amazing guests on your student led podcast that they've interviewed. It's like my favorite thing listening to them so intentionally interview and question the guests that they have, which what a great leadership skill, real world, right practical experience. Tell us a little bit about how can we listen and who are some of the people that you've had on the show?
“...It just gives me chills because you can just imagine for our students to know their words impacting someone thousands of miles away, I think that's when they realized, "Oh, this isn't just we're talking into a mic and then it just disappears. It's out there. It's in the ether and we're having impact and influence on people that we don't even know.”
— Han's Appel
- Hans: Yeah, so it's awardwinningculture.com and then we're on every podcast platform there is. It's bee just an exceptional experience. It's really neat because we'll do maybe a 20 minute interview with an author or speaker or athlete or somebody that is particularly inspiring and then they do a really short rapid fire where they can just ask these fun, one word kind of responses. And then afterwards, after we get done with the interview guests, the students do what we call a debrief, which is basically like a reflection time.
- John: I love that part.
- Hans: And that's what everybody says. Everybody's favorite part is hearing what the students, their takeaways and their learnings and how they're applying this information to their own lives. It's been pretty impactful. So I think what it's really hit on is this idea of an authentic audience. We think about school a lot of times in terms of a student creates an assignment. One person sees that assignment, the teacher. The teacher returns that assignment and then eventually that assignment usually ends up in the garbage. And this is a way for students to recognize that this is work that lives on. They don't get a grade for this. It's similar to a passion project or a genius hour type experience for them and their feedback, if you will, their grade or whatever is really the feedback that they get from other listeners, right. So it's other students, it's other parents, it's other teachers. It's people that send them information over social media. So it's just been super awesome.
- John: That's great. Well, what is the response been overall? I mean, what are some of the results that you've seen from this?
- Hans: One of the things that's been really cool is that probably about a month or two into the podcast, we started realizing that there's this thing that we started calling the secondary experiential learning effect. So when we think about experiential learning, it's basically doing and then reflecting. But what we noticed is when our kids could reflect and share those with other people, that there was the secondary effect. So one of the coolest experiences I think right at the beginning of this podcast was our second interview. We had James Hunter on who an incredible author, wrote a couple amazing culture books. And he basically, at the end of the podcast, sort of challenged our students to, "Hey, it'd be really cool if you guys were the ones that would go sit with the kid that is sitting all by themselves at lunch." And he did it the most kind of cool way.
- Hans: He made it all about himself, but they totally reflected on, his words like, "Hey, that would be cool to be able to be that kid to go sit with somebody that's all by themselves." So I didn't think anything of it. Maybe a month later we had a student bring it up during one of our reflection times in a podcast and her and her friends had been going and doing that. And so she talked about how she felt and what the experience was like and it was just this really cool moment. And again, great podcast, put it out, but again, didn't think about it for maybe another month and a half or so.
- Hans: All of a sudden we started getting messaged on Instagram from students in a school back on the East Coast that referenced this podcast. And so they were like, "Yeah, I heard this student and she was talking about how her and her friends went and sat with the kids that didn't have anybody to sit with and how it felt and then it was really fun. And so me and my friends started doing this." And just even sharing that out loud right now, John. It just gives me chills because you can just imagine for our students to know their words impacting someone thousands of miles away, I think that's when they realized, "Oh, this isn't just we're talking into a mic and then it just disappears. It's out there. It's in the ether and we're having impact and influence on people that we don't even know."
- John: Yeah. And for the students to experience that and to know how much influence that they carry and how that carries over into their day to day life, that's powerful, man. Well let's do this. I always ... I both love it and struggle with it and that is the time nature of this podcast. So I love it in that it leaves us wanting more and that's why we should come back and do another one of these. I struggle with it because I want to talk more. I want to dig in more. So let's end with two things. The first one is this, given the experience that you have had, I mean you are all in with this work, you're living it, you're regularly putting out material on this. What would you say to an educator listening, when you think about what you have learned and experienced and continue to learn from really being intentional about going all in with your school climate culture, right? Bringing in student voice in a powerful and meaningful way. Leave us with a thought to educators out there, either a challenge, a thought, a practical strategy. What would you say to that?
- Hans: I really, I get this question a lot about the podcast specifically and, and I think it's the same as implementing CharacterStrong and everything else. I think you need to embrace risk taking. I think there's so much fear in education and I think being able to be vulnerable, right? And listen to all different types of perspectives and really go all in on creating something that's amazing. It's ... as you can imagine, the podcast is not a one person thing. We have 20, 25 students that are involved with that. When we implemented CharacterStrong, that was a school wide thing. Again, it wasn't one champion doing all the work. And I think you get to that point by bringing people to the table and having discussions about what that could look like. So risk taking and just really including as many voices to the table on whatever you're working on a school culture wise is huge.
- John: So good. So good. So many gems in this podcast. How about this, send us off with how can people connect with you? What's next for you moving forward?
- Hans: So the best way is to get me are on awardwinningculture.com and probably Twitter is kind of where I'm at mostly and that's HansNAppel, so H-A-N-S-N-A-P-P-E-L, love connecting with people on Twitter. What's next for me is in a couple of weeks or I'll be at the Teach Better conference. November 8th and 9th presenting in Akron, Ohio, so I'd love to see some people there. And then we've got some other presentations coming up later in the year. Writing, continuing with our blog and podcasts, but I'm also working on a book project as well.
- John: Awesome man. Well we will stay in touch with you. Let's schedule another one of these, but just want to say how grateful we are, not only for the work that you're doing but the staff, the administration, the rest of your counseling team at Enterprise Middle School, your students and community. What a just source of encouragement and inspiration for us all. So thank you so much, my friend. I look forward to talking with you again soon.
- Hans: Thanks for having me, man. I appreciate it.
- John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on Apple podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we're supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening and make it a great day.
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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.