Podcast S1. Ep 38: What is missing from our current education model? - TASC Students: Jenna, Gibby, & Cheney

Houston Kraft · John Norlin · July 1, 2019

Houston sits down with student leaders Jenna, Gibby, and Cheney, at the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals State Conference. They chat about student perspective on what should be focused on in education today, and also share what they are grateful for.

“...learning should be something you’re passionate about. Learning should be something that makes you excited, and it really prepares you for the real world. But when that learning isn’t taking place in the best way possible, it’s really hard to do so.”

— Cheney Stephenson

Episode Transcript:

  • John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're talking with Bryan Slater who's an experienced classroom teacher and has spent the last 15 years teaching high school social studies in Tacoma, Washington; Lagos, Nigeria; and Sumner, Washington. He currently teaches international baccalaureate 20th century topics and theory of knowledge.

  • John: Bryan's passion centers on helping teachers and students understand the importance relationships play in developing a culture of learning and trust in the classroom. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Bryan Slater.

  • John: Excited to have Bryan Slater back with us today, if you haven't listened to our previous podcast where he was talking about the temperature check that he does in his classroom, you need to listen to that. But today I wanted to invite him back on to have a conversation on leadership and Bryan, welcome back to the show, we're excited to have you, and I'm just interested in this paradigm shift that you've had, this key reminder that you've been using regularly in your work and it's this idea of 'it's your character, not mine.' Can you talk to me a little bit about that today?

  • Bryan: Yeah, yeah. So couple months ago I was reading a book written by Mark Manson, I can't really share the book title because it's not necessarily appropriate, your listeners can Google it. But anyways, in this book he was talking about the difference between the concept of fault and responsibility, and the difference between those two things. And so as I was reading this I was thinking about in my own classroom how in many cases I'll hear students say, "Well it's not my fault that this happened. It's not my fault that you," fill in the blank as the teacher.

  • Bryan: And they want to stop at that word fault, and they don't wanna address responsibility. And so as I was chewing on just this difference, like what is the difference between fault and responsibility? I started to realize that I am responsibility for 100% of the choices that I make, and so is everyone else around me. And so what that means is when other people do things that maybe are not my fault, that I still have a choice to make and I'm still responsible for what I do after they make those choices. And so as I started to think outward beyond myself, I started to realize that when people are making choices that bother me, or that really impact my own desire to be defensive, a student accuses me of giving them a bad grade on something and they don't want to take responsibility for the role they played in me assigning that specific grade. I find myself saying, not just to myself but outwardly, "What you're doing right now, that is all you. That's your character right now, it's not mine."

  • Bryan: And this has really created some good peace of mind in my own world because I can say as I look at a student, say, "Listen, the choices you're making right now are significantly impacting your character, and as a result of the impact that your choices are making on your character, you're losing influence in my life." And I find when I say that to students, obviously privately, I don't do this in public because again, it's my character. What I choose to do has an impact on my own character so if I humiliate a kid in the classroom, that student's allowed to say the same thing back to me, "It's your character not mine. It's your right now who are being disrespectful to me, Mr. Slater. It's your right now who are being unkind and impatient and not committed to my growth as a student. It's your character Mr. Slater, not mine.”

“...having that idea that fault, responsibility, that move right into my thinking here about it’s your character not mine, and it’s my character not yours, and it helped me really I guess lower the defensiveness that I found myself having even after 17 years of teaching whenever a kid came up with their fingers pointed at me.”

— Bryan Slater


  • John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today, we're talking with students from the Texas Association of Student Councils, at the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals State Conference.

  • John: Jenna Williamson, who is an incoming senior at Texas High School, in Texarkana, Texas, currently serves as the TASC State President Representative for the 2019-20 school year. Gibby Widner, from Eastlake High School, in El Paso, Texas, is the current Conference Coordinator/Student Representative for TASC. And finally, Cheney Stephenson, from Seguin High School, in Seguin, Texas, and served as the TASC State Secretary Representative for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

  • John: Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong, with the students from TASC.

  • Houston: Welcome, everyone, to the CharacterStrong podcast, where we have conservations on school culture and leadership. We're today with a really cool panel of young people who are involved in the Texas Association of Student Councils, are currently serving or have been a part of the state officer group.

  • Houston: I think it's really cool. We typically have educators on the podcast, but I think it's always critical to have this student voice of what young people need today, because you probably would agree that what we need today is probably a little different than what we had five years ago, 10 years ago, what we'll need tomorrow. Things look different.

  • Houston: So, if you wouldn't just introducing yourself, and who you are, where you're coming from, and a little bit about your role that you are playing or have played at TASC.

  • Cheney: Hi, I'm Cheney Stephenson. I'm from Seguin High School, I'm an incoming senior. I was an incoming senior. I was an officer last year. I was the TASC State Secretary.

  • Jenna: My name is Jenna Williamson, and I'm from Texarkana, Texas. I currently go to Texas High School, and I'm also going to be an incoming senior. I currently serve as the TASC State President and Representative.

  • Gibby: My name is Gibby Widner, and I am from El Paso, Texas, from Eastlake High School, and I am currently the Student Conference Coordinator Representative.

  • Houston: And I wish everyone watching the pod, watching the podcast... listening to the podcast right now could see you all. They're very well dressed, fashionable. We're at the actual TASSP, which is the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, where they've been presenting and interacting with the delegates here.

  • Houston: In fact, Jenna had got up onstage and spoke to the entire delegation, and killed it, so it's really cool to have you and your voice. So the question that I want to know is, the research would tell us, that if we only teach academics, then we're giving students 30-50% of what they need to be truly successful in our current world.

  • Houston: So, one of the questions we like to ask at CharacterStrong is, what then is the other half of that, right? What's missing right now, in the current education delivery model, that you wish you had more of, going into the real world?

  • Cheney: Well, I think for me personally, it's a lot about choice. At a lot of schools, they force you to use a certain technology, or force you to use a certain method of learning in the classrooms, and I believe that a choice is a big part of education. Having that choice of using Google Classroom over paper, or your paper over Google Classroom. Customizing your learning experience is really important to me, and I know, a lot of the kids at my school, so I'm pretty passionate about that.

  • Jenna: For me, at my school, I think the biggest thing is that we used to actually have a therapist that worked for our school, that would give these talks to us, and different athletic groups, to let us know the important states of our mental wellness, and to let us know that it's okay to not be okay. And so, she would tell us that all the time, and let us know things that we could do, to become stronger mentally.

  • Jenna: But since she has left, that's not something that we have anymore, and I know that was definitely beneficial for me, and for the groups that I'm involved in. And so, I think, having more of that in schools, and even in my school, would be more beneficial.

  • Gibby: For me, it would be creativity. Creativity, because there's students all across Texas, and the world, who are really, really creative, but... an education in today's society, we're choose, we're chosen to pick a pathway. And these pathways are usually forcing us to choose a career that we want to pursue, and I feel that creativity's being missed, and there's tons of, tons of, tons of students, who need creativity, and have the creativity to become something more than just having forced, being forced to make a career that they may not pursue.

  • Houston: So good. Three totally incredible answers. I love that idea of choice-based learning, right? Because when I feel empowered in my learning, I'm excited about my learning, right? When I get opportunities to choose my own adventure, that's where I get engaged.

  • Cheney: Well, personally, I'm a hands-on learner. I love to do activities, and that's really how I learn best, and so, I believe the classrooms that are modeled around that really helped me personally, so...

  • Houston: Yeah, and it makes sense, right? When I'm excited about a thing, I'm going to learn a lot more intentionally about that thing.

  • Cheney: Exactly. It brings back the joy of learning.

  • Houston: Yeah!

  • Cheney: It's really important to all schools.

  • Houston: Oh, it's so good, right? How critical is that sense of... I mean, in some ways, education, I think, today feels so prescribed to young people, that you missed this opportunity to cultivate that joy of learning. And it feels like, "I have to go to school," instead of, "I get to go to school."

  • Cheney: Yeah, learning should be something you're passionate about. Learning should be something that makes you excited, and it really prepares you for the real world. But when that learning isn't taking place in the best way possible, it's really hard to do so.

  • Houston: Absolutely. And to that point, it's paired with Jenna's answer there of, "If I don't feel mentally strong, if I don't feel safe, if I don't have the tools to wrestle with some of those, like, the stresses that come along with learning, then school can be a really challenging place for me." So this feels like a gap for you. What were some of the things that you remember there, this? Because it was the school psychologist that was able to facilitate some of these things. What were some conversations that you had, that were worthwhile to you?

  • Jenna: With her?

  • Houston: Yeah.

  • Jenna: I actually never needed to visit that office for any reason. I'm pretty good about maintaining my stress and my time management. But I had close friends that always had to go in there, because maybe the stress was too much. Or maybe teachers were giving them so much anxiety, with all of the classwork, and all of the extracurricular activities that they had. And she was really just one that gave them tips on how to manage their time, or how to put themselves before that, so that they could take care of themselves mentally, so that they didn't become overwhelmed.

  • Jenna: I remember hearing those stories and hearing those kinds of things. And I always kept her sentence in my mind, that it's okay not to be okay, and that's, I think that's really what kept us all...

  • Houston: Yeah, the ability to have that conversation, right? The open space to have vulnerable, real conversations, that aren't just academically focused. Because it sounds like, and maybe correct me if I'm wrong, but was that feeling, is that feeling of overwhelm pretty common, you feel like, in your school?

  • Jenna: Oh, oh, definitely. Definitely.

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Houston Kraft

Houston Kraft is the co-founder of CharacterStrong. He is a professional speaker and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 events internationally. Student Body President in High School, Class President at Bowdoin College, Leadership Camp Staff for 14 years in Washington - he is a lifelong learner of character, culture, kindness, and leadership. He was featured in 2019 on BBQ Lays Potato Chips and his mom's lasting life lesson is "Hug like you mean it."

John Norlin

John Norlin is a Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year, taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School, and was a Program Administrator for the Whole Child for five years.