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