Podcast S1. Ep 41: TOPICS: School Culture & Climate - John & Houston

Houston Kraft · John Norlin · July 11, 2019

CharacterStrong co-founders John & Houston have some fun and talk about the first thing that comes to mind on different School Culture & Climate topics. 

Topic: Social Media

“We crave happiness on a high level, and here’s this really short term path to get there. So, how do we ... If we’re ... We can fight it in some capacity, in talking about its effect on us, but ultimately, social media is a tool, neither good nor bad. It’s always going to be how we use the thing.”

— Houston Kraft

Episode Transcript:

  • Houston: Welcome, everyone, to the CharacterStrong Podcast. This is Houston. I'm here with my co-founder, John. We're getting to hang out in the same space together, always a fun time, and it's conference season, so we're-

  • John: It is conference season.

  • Houston: We're at an exhibit booth right now in a massive exhibitor hall, which is a lot of fun. We get a chance to visit with people that are using our content, that are using our stuff, that have had us in before, that have seen us. Some of these people have seen us years ago and are revisiting us now and-

  • John: Or are considering.

  • Houston: Or considering.

  • John: They're hearing about it, right? They know that they need to put a focus in this area, so tell me more.

  • Houston: I love sensing traction, you're feeling like there's a really cool momentum around this work. And it is. This work is ... There's momentum not just with what we're doing, but at a national level. How cool is it that even from a legislative perspective, Texas just released this huge amount of money to focus on social-emotional learning. States are adopting standards for social-emotional learning.

  • John: Even connected to school safety measures and funding, because it has to be more than metal detectors. What are we doing on the relational level or to teach empathy? That we have to have that holistic approach to school safety, to teaching the whole child, social-emotional learning. Which is awesome, to be in that space and to be working with schools. It's not that we don't want to do it, it's how do we do it? That is a lot of times the big question.

  • Houston: I think all the time about my friend, Scarlett Lewis, who lost her son in the Sandy Hook shooting. She says, "Social-emotional learning is the number one pathway to safer schools." I think we're just sensing, on a global level, that character, and compassion, and kindness ... these things aren't secondary. These things are necessary to a more functional, more kind, more generous world. A world where-

  • John: Well, even Dr. Clayton Cook, who we worked with ... The number one indicator of success, not just for students, but people, is social-emotional learning. That's what longitudinal studies tell ... So, it's like, we know that it's important-

  • Houston: What are we doing.

  • John: ... but then there's so many things that are on our plate, and yet, what we're seeing is more and more states adopting social-emotional learning standards. And in some areas, here's a recommended, but what's coming right behind is going to be required. And so you see some schools who already know that that's important and they're diving in right now. They're going to be ahead of the curve, whereas others, it's coming. What are we doing to put a focus in this area?

  • John: It's been great, being able to support schools. It's hard work. It's important work, but it's impactful work, which is big.

  • Houston: Absolutely. So, wanted to chat about ... One of our favorite things that we do on the CharacterStrong Podcast is-

  • John: The CharacterStrong commute.

  • Houston: The CharacterStrong commute.

  • John: I had a principal tell me the other day that every day he rides to work on a motorcycle and listens to the podcast.

  • Houston: Which is ...

  • John: Another teacher goes ... We hear this time and time, "It is the perfect amount of time that it takes me to go from home to school," which means ... maybe there's a study out there, that it's the exact amount of time for teachers. I know that's not true, but so many people say, "It's the exact amount of time."

  • Houston: Well, it needs to be digestible.

  • John: Yes. So you can finish it.

  • Houston: Absolutely. One of the things that we like to do is, you and I have a lot of experiencing, a lot of different ... We have that unique perspective of just being in a lot of school environments, so we see school culture from a quantity perspective, and then we have some sort of indicators around the quality a little bit. We get to see what works and what doesn't. We like to do this thing called topics where we throw out a topic and the first thing that comes to mind around school culture-

  • John: Climate. Yep.

  • Houston: Do you have one for me?

  • John: Yeah. I think one of the ... things a lot of times come up with schools is issues around social media. And so, I know being in, things can be used for bad, things can be used for good, right? So, let's go to the topic of social media. First thought that comes to mind. Could be a practical strategy or something you've experienced related to school climate and culture, either from a holistic or even an individual student level, but the topic is social media.

  • Houston: Yeah. What a fun blessing and curse social media has been, and it's pretty wild that it's been a decade. It's been 10 years since this thing really ... and even more recent than that. But in the tail end of high school for me was when I first started getting a smartphone, and I remember I first got onto Instagram, and in college-

  • John: You were an early adopter.

  • Houston: And I was an early adopter.

“If we are intentional, if we’re being given opportunities to practice that intentionality. Sometimes we need ideas like that to get us started down that road. What I found is, when you give students the opportunity, and when you give them ideas, more students will do these positive things than many people, I think, realize.”

— John Norlin


  • John: We were working with lots of student leaders, and you were one of the first student leaders that I saw that really learned how to use it. I mean, I think you have a great deal of experience to share in that area, because you figured it out early on and how to use it for good.

  • Houston: And it's changed wildly, right?

  • John: Yep.

  • Houston: The adoption of what social media is and I think the reasons we crave it ... We could have a whole philosophical conversation around how it triggers happiness in us, and we're looking for happiness, and social media is this platform for the constant comparison game.

  • John: Yeah. This is dangerous.

  • Houston: And our brain is so desperate to win that, that we'll revisit Instagram over and over and over again to see where we stack up. It's these mini dopamine hits and-

  • John: Dopamine. Yep.

  • Houston: ... and we crave that. We crave happiness on a high level, and here's this really short term path to get there. So, how do we ... If we're ... We can fight it in some capacity, in talking about its effect on us, but ultimately, social media is a tool, neither good nor bad. It's always going to be how we use the thing.

  • Houston: I've seen it be used in really powerful ways. One of my favorite examples is my friend, Paul Chylinski, down at Loara. His school did the Humans of New York. They adopted that within the school.

  • John: It's cool.

  • Houston: It was student run. It was a big school, so every day you have the opportunity to connect with a new person on your campus. These student leaders who were passionate about this, one was a photographer, so you get to show people in a really beautiful way, capture people's essence and who they are. But then, also these interview questions that ... The beauty of Humans in New York is that it's incredibly empathy building. The questions that the founder came up with and still does to this day, he's a very gifted empathy facilitator. It cultivates listening supernaturally, because you have to tune in for those quotable moments that then you take in.

  • Houston: I think what a cool thing that is to, on a campus level, get those insights. First of all, just from a small sample size, you get those kids who are practicing building that empathy, practicing listening to people, practicing asking questions of people, practicing meeting someone new oftentimes. And then you go through that digestive process of, "Okay. What did we hear this person say that was powerful or poignant, or that we could share with the campus?" That gives them an insight to who they really are.

  • Houston: So, I love that use of social media. They would put it out on Instagram, they would put it out on Facebook, just a really cool, practical way to cultivate connection on a campus and use social media as a way to shine a spotlight on kids and who they are outside of just their GPA or even their club involvement. This is like, "Who are we as humans?"

  • John: It's great.

  • Houston: That's one of my favorite ideas for social media. My other one was actually just a girl I met speaking at a leadership conference in New York. In a similar way, she met a new friend of the day on Snapchat, so she would meet someone, and then on her Snapchat, she'd be like, "Hey, friends. This is Nathan and what I learned about Nathan today was X." And so, even more of like a personal initiative instead of a school initiative. If you're a student, or even a staff member, who wanted to cultivate those connections, you could do it in simple video form, because it's such a naturally humanizing process when we do it intentionally.

  • John: If we are intentional, if we're being given opportunities to practice that intentionality. Sometimes we need ideas like that to get us started down that road. What I found is, when you give students the opportunity, and when you give them ideas, more students will do these positive things than many people, I think, realize.

  • Houston: Absolutely.

  • John: They want to do good. They just don't always, one, get challenged in that area, or have the ideas, or know how to do that good. So, I think that's a powerful thing. I think just to kind of close ... I think, staying on this topic, is a big one. A couple ideas that I've seen, one on the teacher side, using social media, teachers who, I think Twitter would be one of the biggest ones, that they use it as a professional learning network. Like a PLN on social media, that there are #edchats all over the place, with great minds, thinkers, people who are in the classrooms sharing different ones. If you're not on there yet, I think teachers, that is a great way that they use it.

  • John: Another way I've seen teachers use it is, they'll take our staff CharacterDares, and they'll build staff community around pictures while they're doing the staff CharacterDares. Not to get recognition, but just build positive energy around it. One of my favorite principal moves that I've seen is birthday selfie with the principal, which you'd think that some students ... like, "I wouldn't want to do that." You talk to principals who do it, where they'll have the list, and they'll go around, and they'll post it on their school ... and they love it. For some of the students, the one time a year may be the only time they really connect with the principal. And so, what a cool way to just find something, and even if it was just taking an idea like the birthday selfie. Just getting behind one idea and doing it consistently over the year can make it be a really big thing, because you're doing something consistent over time.

  • John: So, social media, big topic, relevant topic. Some people are already in the space and doing that, but for others, it's like, "Oh, that's a really great idea. I hadn't thought of that or things that I could do." There are people, even with this podcast, to think about it through its still a social media format, that their school, just recently, reached out. They're going to be giving them clock hours, approving clock hours, for listening to the CharacterStrong Podcast, because of the professional learning and learning from other people in their field. Which is a really cool and unique thing. They're getting the extra learning credit hours for teaching, for listening to this podcast. So, we'd better be coming up with good content.

  • Houston: Yeah, no kidding. More on topics, coming soon.

  • John: Soon.

  • 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.

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Houston Kraft

Houston Kraft is a professional speaker, leadership consultant, and kindness advocate who speaks to middle schools, high schools, colleges, and businesses nationally. He has spoken at over 500 events and counting. Student Body President in High School, Class President at Bowdoin College, Leadership Camp Staff for 12 years in Washington - he is a lifelong learner of character, culture, kindness, and leadership.

John Norlin

John is the Program Administrator for Student Leadership & Community Involvement for the Sumner School District, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year and taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School.