Episode #96: Creating an Award-Winning Culture Leading with Kindness and Empathy with Jennifer Appel

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Jennifer Appel has been teaching for 21 years and is a teacher and coach at Enterprise Middle School in West Richland, Washington. She helped launch a blog about School Culture and helped roll out a student-led leadership podcast called the Award-Winning Culture. Jennifer as part of the coveted Teach Better Speakers Network presents at conferences, schools, and districts all over the country.
Your background 
I’ve basically taught a little bit of everything. In college, my major was elementary ed with a reading minor and said I would never teach over 3rd grade. When I graduated from college, Hans was still getting his masters so I needed a job. My next-door neighbor was the middle school principal who told me she had a 7th-grade math job. I took it and been in middle school ever since. I was a track coach, a basketball coach, and a volleyball coach. I taught college classes for ten years at a local university and at the middle school taught every subject except science. Hans was hired at the same middle school a year later, so we’ve been here at Enterprise Middle School together for 20 years.

Hans and Jennifer Appel [Hans’s podcast: Episode #54]
Where you live and work
Where Hans and I live is called the Tri-Cities: Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland. We live in Kennewick and work in West Richland which is a small town west of Richland. It is in the southeast corner of Washington and on the other side of the mountains from Seattle which is actually a desert. In the winter, we get snow and in the summer, it’s like 100 degrees. In the last 10 years, we’ve become more like Napa Valley. We have a bunch of vineyards and wineries all around us. My parents live close to us in the same house since I was four months old. Their house was the only house on the hill and dirt roads when I was a kid. Now everything is developed around us. There were maybe 100,000 people in the Tri-Cities and now there are over 300,000 people. Enterprise Middle School was built in 2005 and they just built another middle school three years ago a mile from here.
What was it like for you as a student
My whole family is in education. My mom was my pre-school teacher. My dad was the principal at the elementary school I attended. I would say I was a good student. I loved going to school, but I would say that I struggled. I had a really hard time reading. My second-grade teacher told my parents that I was not very smart and didn’t know what I was doing. They tested me for special ed and found I needed other tests. Nothing changed and I still struggled with reading.
When I was in college, Hans found my test results from those tests in second grade. Apparently, they had tested me for special ed but I hadn’t qualified because I had a 156 IQ. Hans said to me that my IQ was more than Einstein’s at 154 and that I’m really smart. All those years, I grew up thinking I was not very smart. I found out that I had dyslexia and that’s why I was struggling with reading. I couldn’t sound out words and trouble with phonics. To make it in school, what I did was memorize the English language. I just ask Hans or use my Kindle what’s this word if I can’t figure it out and then I memorize it.
I think because I struggled that was one of the reasons why I became a teacher and focused on reading. I may have been smart but I learned differently from everyone else. We make mistakes, and we can learn from them. It helped me as a teacher. As a reading specialist, I can sit with the parents and discuss problems their children might have like vision or anxiety issues that can impact their reading.
[This is Barbara. I transcribed some of our conversation above.