Youth motivational speaker Scott Backovich has dedicated his life to doing one thing: inspiring teens through speaking at their level. He’s been a featured speaker at conferences and schools across North America, appeared regularly on both television and radio as a teen help advocate, and established himself as a worldwide youth speaker that students can trust. His stories connect. His lessons inspire. Best of all — Scott’s advice sticks.
We talk to Scott about Ask to Give, a practical tool that can change the way we think about the way in which students are being reached.
John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're talking with Scott Backovich. Scott is a youth motivational speaker and has dedicated his life to doing one thing, inspiring teens through speaking at their level. He's been a featured speaker at conferences and schools across North America, and has appeared regularly on both television and radio as a teen help advocate, and has established himself as a worldwide youth speaker that students can trust.
John: Scott is the creator of Envolve, helping students move their school culture and climate forward in powerful and intentional ways. His stories connect, his lessons inspire, best of all, Scott's advice sticks. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Scott Backovich.
Houston: We are here today with my buddy, Scott Backovich. And if you hear any background noise it's because we are at WACA, the Washington Activity Coordinators Association, I think.
Scott: I think that is it.
Houston: It's wacka or WACA. Actually this is where Scott and I first met.
Scott: Years ago.
Houston: So this is appropriate that we get to have this conversation today. And I'm stoked because Scott has been speaking for ever, he's spoken at hundreds of schools and events. He's one of the most legitimate, honest, authentic speakers out there. There's lots of speakers that tell good stories, but they don't have the message or the research to back it up, and one of the things I admire about you Scott is like you create frameworks that help these things feel easy to access and you have powerful stories to match it and practical stools ... Not stools. Practical tools to put it into action. So talk to me about some paradigm shifts that after years of speaking at lots of different schools, what would be some simple paradigm shifts that we could put into action right away?
Scott: Yeah, first off, I love you talking about my stools. It's what I always wanted in starting this podcast. We've been friends for a long time, so this makes me super happy. But yeah, I love the concept of being able to take things that have been around in schools for a long time, but shaping them in a way that actually meets the students needs of now. A lot of times I focus, as you mentioned, a lot in student activities and students have changed more in the last 20 years we can say than any other point with technology and resources and information that they're receiving than ever in human history. But unfortunately our activities or the way in which we reach them sometimes hasn't evolved. And so one of the big things we try to do is figure out if there are imbalances in the way in which we're reaching students.
Scott: And one of them is figuring out how often are we ... We call it ask to give. How often are we asking students for their time, versus how much are we actually pausing to give time to students. How much are we asking for students resources or money or time away from class or time after school or time away from family as opposed to how much are we actually meeting them where they are? Meeting them at a place of comfortability or often at points of great uncomfortability to give. Whether that's giving time, whether that's giving assistance, whether that's giving just love and compassion. Whether it's simple activities that, again, meet students at a point of comfortability or uncomfortability that help them feel a little bit better about the community they're a part of.
Houston: So I love that premise of giving to ask. We have to think through that lens of ... There's a balance. And it's like noticing or even the first step, being aware, how much are we asking versus how much are we giving. What would be an example of one thing that you think is really fun or impactful as a student activities group or leadership group to give on a campus?
Scott: I think often times the things that we give ... Immediately when I talk about it at schools, the immediate thought of a high school student, middle school student, and often times an activity advisor is, oh that sounds expensive. Like I'm going to give things, I'm not going to roll out like Ellen or like Oprah and start handing things away to everyone. And the greatest things we could ever give in life will never cost money, they cost courage, or time, or compassion. And some of the greatest things that I see that students give are opportunities. Opportunities for other students to make impacts. One of the favorite activities with Involve, one of the things that we do is every single Sunday, our schools receive a challenge from us. And the challenges range from things that are a little complex to things that are incredibly simple.
Scott: One of my favorites from this year was we challenged leadership students, before the end of their class, to take five minutes of time, get a ton of scrap pieces of paper, and just write kind, compassionate notes on them, and then instead of leadership handing them out, which would be a very simple activity, we had those notes be tailored towards cafeteria staff members who often receive very little appreciation on campus. This also happened during the third week of the school year, which is one of the hardest times of the year, one of the most uncomfortable times for those staff members. They're getting new menus prepared, they have special dietary restrictions for some students. So our leaders went out and they went to the lunch line and they handed one or two of those notes to every single student in line. That was those students had the opportunity as they paid for their meal to also hand out a kind compassionate note. We weren't simply asking for our food or asking for a side of ranch, or asking, it was simply giving and having a moment that otherwise that community wouldn't have experienced.
Houston: I remember in high school my advisor, we had this rubric for leadership and it was about selflessness was one way to be a leader. And the definition was "creating opportunities for others to get involved." Which I've always loved that premise of like, it's not just giving of yourself, it's creating opportunities. One more, what about for a staff member. Average classroom staff member. What's something that they could do to give, in a way ... Because as teachers we don't always think about it, but we ask a lot of our students academically, from an engagement standpoint, what's something that an average educator could give that you think has a high rate of return?
Scott: Yeah, we talk about those kind of times of comfortability and great uncomfortability. One of the things we often have ranked, I'm going to do a session in a little bit and we're going to ... In the pre-com we did here, we ranked out some of the most uncomfortable times of the year. And one of those obviously is going to be testing season or finals season. So in the eyes of a skeptical 15, 16 year old kid, it does, as you mention, seem like teachers ask a lot of their time and their energy and their work and their dedication to that class or the coursework or the curriculum. And so what if, in the eyes of the skeptical 15, 16 year old, we were just as intentional with giving our time and our energy during finals season?
Scott: What if, as staff members, we opened up the library, not just as a study area with free snacks or anything like that, but also had a sign up sheet in our room for weeks beforehand that said, hey, if you feel you're behind, if you feel you're not prepared, sign up, we're going to do a tutoring session the day before, two days before, three days before your final. And we're going to stream that online so we make sure you have access to it. We're going to put Google Docs out too so we know you have access to the resources. That way students know that they're teacher's not giving them an exam to test their knowledge as much as to make sure they're comprehending the information.
Houston: I love that. And the opportunity to create that space it's such a climate right? If you create this opportunity for people to come and show up and be in this space together and you make it collaborative. And I love that piece stood out to me, accessible. Why don't we stream this live, so that a student who might not have the resources or access to show up after school now all of a sudden we're making this available to everyone.
Houston: That's brilliant. I love it man.
Scott: I love sitting across from you. Are we allowed to say within the podcast, because we met here, but then we made forts.
Houston: We did.
Scott: I feel like we have to mention it. We can't not.
Houston: We not only did you give me a lot of wisdom, advice early on, but we built a fort together and my favorite quote, by Dale Carnegie, people support a thing they helped build, and I support you. I love you.
Scott: I love you.
Houston: This is Scott Backovich, he speaks at schools, at conferences. He has a program called Involve that creates, it's a structure, it's a program, it's a training. And it's a library of resources that helps engage everyone on a campus, which is brilliant. It's about accessibility, it's about engagement, it's about comfort, it's about paradigm shifts, and it's about shift in school culture. So thank you Scott for chatting at WACA, the place where we met and the place where we're sitting right now. Grateful for you man.
Scott: Thanks buddy. Love you man.
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 iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we are supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.