Superhero Teachers Empower Superhero Students

Hans AppelBlog, Teach Happier

TL;DR:

  • Superhero teachers create and empower superhero students.
  • Creating thriving super-students comes down to these big ideas: nurturing heart, developing mind, and cultivating will.
  • Teaching isn’t about grades, standards, and tests. It’s about inspiring the inner superhero of each child.

“All our energy has gone into stretching kids’ cognitive abilities and neglecting the human side—the source of energy, joy, inspiration, and meaning. The good news: focusing on character can flip that equation and teach your kids how to find happiness, calm, and wonder in the world.”

– Dr. Michele Borba

As a grown up child, I still find myself loving a great superhero movie.

I grew up on Saturday morning cartoons like Super Friends and dreamt of wielding powers against the forces of evil.  Kids often think of the enemy as an actual monster or villainous figure. But we can find the enemy to success and learning within ourselves.  Anxiety, stress, and self-doubt have become daily barriers to our students’ ability to become Thrivers.  

Beyond the inner turmoil of chaos, we’re living in a time filled with active shooter drills, 24/7 social media FOMO (fear of missing out), and toxic news cycles.  Growing up without actual superpowers can feel draining to the mind, body, and soul as kids attempt to fight against societal pressures and expectations.  This is why I’m so excited about the conversation from this month’s Best Intentions LIVE.


This month’s Best Intentions LIVE conversational style professional development featured internationally renowned educator, award-winning author, and parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba. Coming off the heels of the release of her brand new book, Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, she broke down the seven essential character strengths to foster student resilience, happiness, and success.  After 40 years of interviews and research coupled with writing and speaking on every platform from stage to television, Borba has uncovered the secrets to raising incredible human beings.  

And the great news for parents and educators is that this combination of the secret sauce is neither innate nor personality-driven.  Instead, these protective factors can and should be taught to children of all ages in and out of school.  No longer can we hide behind the excuse of nature vs. nurture.  We all hold the key to our learners’ future success and Borba masterfully shows us which doors to unlock. 

While any of these character strengths offer elevated life enhancement, teachers who empower learners to develop more than one of these skills provide a multiplier effect that becomes a humanistic superpower. Click To Tweet

Creating thriving super-students comes down to three big ideas: nurturing heart, developing mind, and cultivating will.

Nurturing Heart

  • Self-Confidence: Learners must have a true sense of WHO they are and a deep awareness of their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Empathy: Learners must view the world through a lens of WE, not ME.

Developing Mind

  • Self-Control: Learners must have good decision-making skills as they navigate emotional regulation and reduce personal distress by learning to be clear-headed.
  • Integrity: Learners must have clearly developed ethical values that they’re willing and capable of putting into action.
  • Curiosity: Learners are driven to explore creativity as they follow their dreams.

Cultivating Will

  • Perseverance: Learners have the GRIT to stay passionate about setting and achieving their goals.
  • Optimism: Learners are prepared to ward off challenges through a hopeful positive outlook in the future.  

While any of these character strengths offer elevated life enhancement, teachers who empower learners to develop more than one of these skills provide a multiplier effect that becomes a humanistic superpower.  

As Borba spoke, I imagined a student getting Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, Batman’s utility belt, and Superman’s cape all at once.  Learning how to use these powers takes time and persistence. It’s hard to envision our student heroes being defeated by the supervillains of life when they’re fueled with a Hall of Justice-like collection of comic books’ greatest protective factors. 

In the fear of boring my non-fantasy enthusiasts, please indulge one last comic book comparison.  Imagine your classroom filled with a roster of the Youth’s Justice League or Avengers.  In other words, each and every student was filled with the promise and potential of becoming our world’s next great hero (nurse, educator, scientist, parent, president, artist, writer, etc.).  However, you failed to tap into the traits, strengths, and passions that would inspire them to joyfully learn how to access, harness, and THRIVE with their own awesomeness…how might you feel?

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Teaching isn’t about grades, standards, and tests. It’s about inspiring the inner superhero of each child.

As Borba reinforced, “change starts with a strong why.” Think about the world around us and the individual students you have in front of you—let purpose be your motivation to stay committed to teaching beyond academic content. 

Secondly, find an accountability partner to implement this work in tandem.  Having a character strength buddy helps challenge and support you through the stickiness of starting something new. 

Lastly, don’t worry about teaching these strengths in isolation. Let them build off one another naturally as you foster a culture of resilient learners.  By blending purpose, accountability, and the multiplier effect of character strengths, teachers empower the next generation of superheroes.      

This week, heed Borba’s wisdom. And actively explore ways to infuse the skills that set happy, healthy, and high-performing learners apart.  

Thrive Better.  Teach Better.    


About Hans Appel

Hans Appel is an educator, speaker, and writer deeply committed to inspiring the whole child. He’s the author of, Award Winning Culture: Building School-Wide Intentionality and Action Through Character, Excellence, and Community. Additionally, he’s the Director of Culture for the Teach Better Team, co-host of the Award Winning Culture podcast, and the Co-Creator of Award Winning Culture.

Hans is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.