New Sneaker Energy: A Back-to-School Attitude for the Entire Year

Do you remember when you were a kid and you got a new pair of shoes? Do you remember that feeling—you were so excited to show them off! There was a little spring in your step and you walked a little taller. Can you picture those new sneakers? More importantly, do you remember the feeling? You were probably so excited that you wore them out of the store. The excitement. The thrill. The energy.

For my generation, the power of new kicks continued into middle school with the iconic red, white, and black Air Jordans. With Jordans, everyone who donned a pair thought, “I believe I can fly!” And, while we might not publicly admit it, even as adults we often get a little excited when we wear a new pair of shoes to work or on a night out.

This phenomenon is known as new sneaker energy. New sneaker energy* is that special boost and belief that anything is possible, a sense of hope and possibility, just like that feeling you get when you lace up a new pair of shoes.

We are lucky in education that we get so many new starts—a new school year, a new semester, a new quarter, a new month, a new week, a new day, and even a new period. There is almost always a new chance to reset the mind and reframe our thoughts. So, as we embark on a new school year, this is a great time to embrace the opportunity for a fresh start and I encourage you to do so with the same zest and zeal that comes with “new sneaker energy.”

So, the question becomes, “How can we capture the feeling of new sneaker energy and use it in powerful and productive ways in our schools in order to improve teaching and learning, hopefully every single day?”

First and foremost, we have to remember that happiness is an “inside job.” While it is easy to blame external factors and events (administration, behavior, parents, etc.), the stone-cold fact is that “no one person is responsible for determining your success or failure but you, and no one is responsible for your morale but you,” (Casas, Culturize, 2017). Everyone has the capacity to lead, so each of us is responsible for bringing new sneaker energy to enhance the culture and climate of our school.

And, when (not if) things don’t go well, you have to ask yourself, “Was it a bad day or was it a bad five minutes you milked all day?” Yes, bad things happen every day. But we don’t have to fixate on them. Don’t assign anyone else that much power over your life; or as the kids say, “don’t let anyone live in your head rent free.” Consider your circle of control and respond accordingly. If it isn’t something under your control, you have to find a way to put it in the parking lot or let it go. If it is in your control, I promise you that complaining about it isn’t going to change your circumstances, but teamwork, tenacity, and new sneaker energy will!

New sneaker energy is about attitude and optimism. In the book Schools of Fish (Strand, Christensen, & Halper, 2006), the authors remind us that while external factors may trigger our attitudes, we are the ones who decide—consciously or not—how to express them. Just as happiness is contagious, negativity can easily pass on from person to person, therefore managing your attitude has a lot to do with understanding your emotions, because emotions become your thinking. Choosing your attitude is not about adopting toxic positivity (more on that in a moment), it is about being in charge of your attitude because when you govern the inside (your thoughts), you influence the outside (your actions and experiences). Do so with new sneaker energy!

New sneaker energy also encourages you to choose deliberate optimism. Deliberate optimism, popularized by authors Jack Berckemeyer, Debbie Silver, and Judith Baenen in the book of the same name, is about helping school leaders and teachers make a conscious decision every day to choose joy and regain a sense of power and influence in the school. Deliberate optimism is not some rose-colored, seminar mantra that encourages you to ignore and avoid problems; it’s about moving from being problem namers to problem solvers. “Despite the many paths we took to become teachers, the choice to remain in the profession is generally an act of deliberate optimism, and we need to do everything we can to reclaim our joy in education.” Deliberate optimism is the essence of new sneaker energy!

With new sneaker energy, we take control of our perspective and thinking. I think of The Frame metaphor used in the book Top 20 Teachers that explains the power of our thinking. It suggests how we SEE something (how we think about it; our beliefs, perceptions or opinions) influences how we feel; how we FEEL influences how we feel influences what we do (our behavior or actions); what we DO influences what we get (the results); and typically, what we GET reinforces how we see it.

Think about professional development or a staff meeting using The Frame. How do you SEE it? A waste of time and a disruption because you have more important things to do? How do you FEEL about the professional development or staff meeting? Grumpy, frustrated, unfocused? What do you DO at the meeting? Sit in the back, doodle, draw football or volleyball plays, correct papers? What do you GET out of the professional development or staff meeting? Nothing except the affirmation that your time was wasted, which reinforces your perspective.

What if you adopted a new sneaker energy? The Top 20 trainers use the phrase “if you can’t get out of it, get into it.” In his book The Energy Bus, Jon Gordan (2007) applies a similar thought using the equation E + P = O or events plus positive energy/perspective equals the outcome. In other words, how you perceive and act in or at an event will determine the outcome. You know you have to go to the staff development or staff meeting, so why not make the best of it? SEE how it can be useful. FEEL positive and encouraged. DO what is asked by engaging. What do you think you will GET? We need to realize what we are getting out of life has a lot to do with how we see it and what we do about it. We need to see with new sneaker energy!

A quick comment about toxic positivity. People will say, “new sneaker energy is just another example of toxic positivity.” I guess toxic positivity would ask you to ignore the problems and pretend everything is sunshine and rainbows. New sneaker energy does not ignore the problem, bad situations, or stress. New sneaker energy acknowledges and understands those situations by putting you in control with the attitude, confidence, and perspective it takes to tackle the problem with the same energy you have when you lace up new sneakers.

Also, new sneaker energy does not ask you to ignore the lessons of the past. What happens to the old shoes? If you are like me, they end up in the back of the closet or the garage. Why? Just because they are worn does not make them useless; they are worn in, comfortable. They have a history. They still have a purpose. Similarly, new sneaker energy does not ask you to forget everything you know and all of the lessons you learned. New sneaker energy simply asks you to approach each opportunity with a new perspective.

I recently scored a pair of light up shoes in my size. Why? Because adults need new sneaker energy, too! So, whether it is a state of mind you embrace or a special, fun pair of new “sneakers” you buy as a physical reminder, go out and find some new sneaker energy!

*The phrase “new sneaker energy” was introduced to me by radio personality Jimmy Failla.

Dr. Todd L. Brist is the principal at the middle school he attended as a student (Watertown, SD). Todd serves on the Association for Middle Level Education Board of Trustees and state affiliate board. He was selected as the South Dakota Principal of the Year in 2016. Todd is a staunch advocate for middle level education and a frequent national, regional, state, and local presenter on middle level education topics.