Coley Veitenhans who is a National Board Certified Teacher at Thomas Jefferson HS where he teaches 6 sections of leadership, coordinates a student mentorship program, and serves as the student activities advisor.
We talk with Coley about how he evaluates leadership at Thomas Jefferson through the lens of the power of different moments during the school year.
John: Welcome to the character strong podcast where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we are talking with Coley Veitenhans, who is a National Board Certified Teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in Washington state, where he teaches six sections of leadership, coordinates a student mentorship program and serves as the Student Activities advisor. Are you ready? Let's get character strong with Coley Veitenhans.
John: One of the things that I wanted to talk with Coley about and appreciate you being on here today with me man is just the idea that I know that you have a philosophy of like related to the power of moments and creating moments or over events in what we do and talk to me a little bit about that philosophy and how you've incorporated that at Thomas Jefferson High School.
Coley: Absolutely and it's honor to be invited to be on here and chat with you. Our power of moments sort of came from an idea. I had last year where I was trying to recap my year and thinking about just the times that I really enjoyed my work and really felt like we were doing good stuff and all of those moments happened in just that, in moments. They were small little moments that happened throughout the year, wasn't our big projects. It wasn't these massive things that we did, but they were all small little connections and moments that we made. It was right about that time when Dan and Chip, he came out with their book The Power of Moments, and so just getting connected with that really gave me a foundation for reevaluating how we do sort of our leadership thing at Thomas Jefferson.
John: That's awesome. I love that. So then talk to me about it like that idea of creating moments over events. Then how is that kind of then played out from that realization and that digging into that, that reflection that you had. What is that done now to kind of adjusting and or transition your focus that you're already doing great work, but now how is that played out with that focus for you. Give me some practical examples.
Coley: The book talks about there's basically ways of creating epic moments, and so they go through the idea of elevation, pride, insight and connection, and saying that those are the things that we remember when we're creating moments. The one we focus on probably the most is just elevation, it's taking little things and doing them in ways that haven't been done before. Again we are also a big fan of the copy and paste method if we see someone else do something, we want to be able to say give that, students we don't believe that just because another school or another group has done something, and so we a moment we created at the end of last school year came from Lincoln High School.
Coley: They do what they call us a standing ovation. It's literally just a group of individuals walk into a classroom on the last day of school for teachers that are going to be either retiring or moving on with their service to another school, and we just walked in and just said, “Hey we just wanted to say thank you for your time here.” Whether that be one year or we had a teacher that was retiring after 32 years teaching and just gave him a round of applause. Standing ovation, just loud noise for a solid 30 seconds and to watch that moment happen for those teachers, as the educator in the room this is all done by students, but just being there and watching, that was just a really cool ... These teachers yes they're getting the thank you cards and those things, but this is something that they've never experienced.
Coley: I mean most people unless you're a musician or an artist you hardly ever get a standing ovation from individuals and so it was a cool thing to be able to be a part of and to create and then taking that a step further and saying well we're doing this now with our retiring and leaving teachers, could we then do it on the first day of school for all of our new teachers and welcoming those who have never been in a classroom before or have been at other schools and are being welcomed onto our campus, just taking that moment to kind of break in and say, “Hey we're excited that you're here. Here's how excited we are.”
John: I love it man. You know there's a couple of things that stand out there one, so that it doesn't get missed. I love the idea in the philosophy of like if someone else is doing something really good, we don't stay away from that, so many times I see a situation where it's like, “Well yeah, but we don't do that because they do it.” It's like no it's good. So like let's celebrate that and then let's put our own unique spin on it at times but it is okay to take things that are working well in other schools or other groups and even in a sense give them credit and then make it your own. Changing that like going the humble approach of saying like, “Dang that's really good.” Because guess what, someone's doing the same thing with something that you're doing most likely.
John: I love that piece. The other thing that really stands out to me with that is the idea of how in the big picture low burden that standing ovation ideas and yet high impact. What I mean by that is low burden in the sense of it didn't require a 60 minute assembly, where you had to take class time away from ... I mean we're talking what did you say how many seconds in that classroom?
Coley: About a total of 60 seconds from just telling them why we're there to the 30 seconds of noise and then just taken off. That was it. We didn't stick around for anything else, but it was just, it's a quick in and out strategy. We had a lot of turnover last year with a lot of retirees, so I think we went into 16 classrooms and we did it. We made it to all 16 in 30 minutes.
John: Wow. And how so many times we will remember that moment, because then it's just talking about how do we do it more intentionally. How do we do ... you know the way that we deliver it but that is solid conversations when we're talking with students about how we then implement this with even more effectiveness, but the idea of like how many times I will remember that moment as a teacher, more than I will some of the things that we take months to plan, right? Where we get stressed out and all those things, but I love this idea of creating moments or over events in the short time that we have. Tell me another one, what's another idea that you have used to go with that philosophy of moments over events.
Coley: One of the other ones was an idea on connection, and so as part of their epic Dan and Chips epic model is about how do we connect with students and how do we create moments of connection? One of our students last year, an awesome student leader was really frustrated at Valentine's Day, because it was all commercialized, and it was all about just everyone buying these fancy balloons and all these things and she was really frustrated because students didn't have that opportunity to connect, and so she took it upon herself to be able to say, “Let's create something where we can have moments for everyone to experience what this holiday is supposed to be about which is love and connection.”
Coley: She went out of her way to create a plan and she said, “Hey we need you to go to the store.” I'm sort of the delivery man, I just go pick up whatever they need to make happen. Let me buy out all of the candy hearts at WalMart. We've got about 1700 students in our school and so we went in and got a shopping cart full of candy hearts, they're a little cheap. I think there are about 25 cents a box investment there. Then she went and got rosters for every single student and first period, first grade class and went about with a team and put every single student's name on a box of candy hearts to make sure that every single student was able to get one.
Coley: We know that again that's that's a cool project, but she took a next step further and then got a team together after school on February 13th to go into every single first period class and ask teachers where these students sat at. She went in and with that team put down a individual box of those candy conversation hearts on every single student's seat, where they sit at that based on teachers seating charts et cetera, so that when they walked in on February 14th every single student was able to get a Valentine. Again, I thought it was a cool project. I really liked the idea. It wasn't until I had a student walk in first period, go to his deep in and grab the box of candy heart and then, “This is not for me.”
Coley: And I ask him, I said, “What do you mean?” He's like, “Well I never get Valentines. This is not for me.” And so I said, “Well did you turn it over?” Well flip it over, and his name was right there on it. He didn't say anything. He didn't say thank you or anything to me, but just the look on his face when he turned that over and saw his name handwritten on a Valentine was just the coolest moment. He walked back to his seat and just sat there and kind of stared with this little smile on his face and again that to me is the power of moments of that little thing. I don't know how many other classrooms that happened in, I don't know what every single other teacher experienced with that, but for me in my classroom that that made all 1700 boxes that individually handwritten delivered into a classroom the day before, that made all of it worth it.
John: Yeah. And all we need sometimes is that anecdotal piece of evidence to know that there are far more examples of that that are out there to keep us going. Well this has been great stuff Coley. Love even just that idea won the thought of moments over events. My guess is this is driven the continued work that you're doing in your program. I love the idea of building and intentionally finding moments of connection. The book that you referenced again was what from Chip and Dan Heath?
Coley: The Power of Moments.
John: The Power of Moments.
Coley: Available in audio book as well. If you don't have the time to do that, if you want to finish this podcast and pop that in, easy way to do it.
John: Awesome. Well I'd love to have you on again if you'd be willing. One of the things I just know a lot of times with these ideas that we get into especially in the grind of the daily flow of school and education that it's easy to go like say with that Valentine's idea and say like, “Oh that won't work.” And how do we change that philosophy from it won't work, to how could we make it work or how could we make it happen, and I know that's a philosophy of yours. Would you be willing to follow up with and do kind of apart to on that idea of that topic?
Coley: Absolutely would love to.
John: Awesome, well stay tuned. Those that are listening in for a second part with Coley Veitenhans that will be coming out on that idea. Thanks Coley for joining us today.
Coley: Thanks for having me.
John: All right take care.
John: Thank you for listening to the character strong 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 Spotify and iTunes. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.