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 climate mapping, looking at the highs and lows of an entire school year, and he shares some ways that schools can be intentional during the more stressful times for students.
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 Involve 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: Welcome back to the CharacterStrong podcast conversations on school culture and leadership. I'm here with my buddy Scott Backovich. We're at Waka where we first met and this is part two, part two of the Backovich. There's like, what's a word for ... There's a trilogy, but is there a ...
Scott: Is there a trilogy?
Houston: A doblogy. That's not a thing, but last time you talked about this idea of moments over the course of a year when you think about school culture and climate, we talk about culture is behavior, climate is a feeling. Over the course of a year feelings are going to change a lot based on circumstances.
Scott: Of course.
Houston: And you talked about this idea of there's moments where I thought that you were more comfortable or more uncomfortable. Tell me more about that and sort of your philosophy around that in terms of school culture.
Scott: We were talking about it before we jumped on here that I think we have to be as schools really conscious of the way that we make our students feel because the way that our students feel will be directly correlated to how they perform in our classes, how connected they feel, their social environment and just about everything.
Scott: One of the things we have our schools do on a regular basis is something called climate mapping, which I know you and I have talked about before, which is kind of a cool opportunity for schools and groups to be able to literally map out the emotional rollercoaster their students go through. What Day's are absolutely fantastic? What times of the year are students feeling more isolated? What times of the year are amazing and we can capitalize on that, and at the same time, what days do students really need our support?
Houston: Those low points, if we can identify them through the year, it should change the way that we teach. If we know that students are anxious or frustrated or overwhelmed or exhausted at a certain time, how do we be conscious of that, almost like visually, this mapping process that you talk about, and knowing that there's going to be great times, there's going to be good times and there's going to be bad times. You have this great line. Tell me about making good, great or bad bearable.
Scott: It's one of the lines we use. I love it because it's so catchy, but it's a cool line that we use to describe kind of how the activity works. But to break down kind of the activity for a moment, it's really simple. Please steal this. All you do, it's simple on an X axis. Go ahead and put a smiley face at the top, sad face at the bottom, because clearly this is scientific. And then on that Y axis go ahead and place, did I do that wrong? Do I have the X and Y wrong Houston?
Houston: No, you got it.
Scott: Do I?
Houston: I think you could go ...
Scott: I think you can go either way. Math is not Scott's strong point. But ideally on that bottom or on that other axis, you can go ahead and list them on to the school year and simply plot out the emotional points of the year, whether a school day or a school time makes you happy, sad or somewhere in the middle.
Scott: When you connect all those dots, in essence, it's going to create the emotional rollercoaster of the average student at your school. You'll really identify one thing that's really striking, we do this with middle or high school students is there's not a lot of middle ground. Students are often either very excited to be at your school or they're honestly really afraid to show up and they're not really excited to be a part of the school, to be a part of the community and so we say make good days great because I think schools do a really good job of that as is.
Scott: We plan a lot of activities for high school around homecoming. We plan a ton of activities during the back to school season, during the end of the school year. We don't do a very good job of making bad days bearable, of taking days where students don't feel comfortable, with student days when students don't feel appreciated and there are different times of the year for different students.
Scott: You'll see that student leaders have a dramatically different graph than a student who may not be involved in anything. One of the hardest times of the year, we talk about for student leaders is February and March. It's one of the most down times of the year. We call it Fartch. It's an incredibly down time of the year where they don't feel like they have as long, as big of a purpose on campus as typically they're used to because homecoming or football or back to school activities have died down. And to being able to make sure to take added time to love and support those students during those rough areas.
Houston: I think it's important that we acknowledge, first of all, there's a laser tag game going on behind us.
Scott: It sounds really, really intense going on.
Houston: We're at a conference. It sounds really intense.
Scott: And then there's bowling behind me.
Houston: There's bowling. There's a lot happening here. There's a lot happening in this conversation around students certainly. But also we could do the same activity as a staff and acknowledging that sometimes the staff need support in those low moments as well. If you had one example, one of the things that the CharacterStrength podcast we talk about is cut the fluff right to the stuff, which is a great weird catch line. What would be one thing that takes a bad day and makes it bearable?
Scott: We'll go student and staff real quick. A student time, let's go specific. Let's cut the fluff. The student group, for example, let's go to a theater group. The theater group might feel underappreciated or undervalued on campus, but ask the simple question, when do they feel most stressed? If you ask any theater student at your campus, they're likely going to say tech week.
Houston: Tech week.
Scott: As a theater nerd yourself, the week right before production. You're constantly trying to make sure everything's perfect. You're doing dress rehearsals, you're making sure if you're a part of a crew that everything is ready to go. But what would it look like if we took time as a school or a leadership group to make sure those students know how appreciated and loved they are? If we took, for example, a red or pink pieces of paper, kind compassionate notes on them, went on YouTube, learned how to make some origami flowers, folding them into bouquets and made sure every single person as a part of that theater during the most stressful time of the year felt loved and respected? How incredible they feel.
Scott: The same can go for staff. For example, let's go to our janitorial staff. When do they feel most stressed? Oftentimes the rule of thumb with janitorial staff is the times when they feel the most stressed or when the times that we feel the least. Homecoming, a time of celebration is a time of great stress for them.
Scott: Go to another one, special needs aids during the back to school seasons really hard. They have new routines, new behavioral patterns to take care of. What if we identified those times and said, "What do they need from us in this exact moment to know that they're supported here?" What if we set up an entire meal for janitorial staff during the one evening they know they're going to be slammed the most because they probably skipped their meal that day? What if leadership helped them clean that certain area? What if we said, "Hey, special needs aids. We need them to feel loved and appreciated," and we took just an afternoon for them and let them feel spotlighted on campus. Small little things that just make your community feel more empowered.
Houston: One of the things at CharacterStrong, we talk a lot about is like sometimes this isn't about adding more things onto the plate. It's about being more intentional with what's already on the plate. It's such a cool activity to visualize through climate mapping where those down moments are so that you can get hyper intentional. We're not using all of our energy all the time. We're using our energy in thoughtful ways to be intentional with those relationships that we know are important. It just shows we're paying attention.
Houston: Your wisdom is so good, man. I love the thoughtfulness that you go about your work with because it's incisive. It's like surgical. It's not about stuff all the time with all people. It's like, "No, no, no. Let's use that energy wisely. Let's use our heart passionately, but in the right direction so we don't get overwhelmed or exhausted and we're making sure we're engaging everyone involving everyone."
Houston: Thanks for your heart and wisdom, my friend, and brilliant stuff around climate. If you want to check out more of Scott's stuff, Involve is the program, Scottbackovich.com and what's Involve’s site?
Houston: Involveschools.com. We'll share more in some links, but thanks for listening. This is CharacterStrong podcast plus laser tag plus bowling alley podcast two with Scott Backovich. Cut the fluff, get to the stuff.
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.