Mike Sissel is out to increase teens’ intelligence.
Their emotional intelligence, that is.
The former Kyrene School District teacher now owns AZ YELP, a business that helps teens and teachers use the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens explained in the book by Stephen Covey and apply it to their everyday lives.
Sissel was a Kyrene teacher for about eight years. As his career progressed, he started looking at innovative ways of teaching that were about more than imparting knowledge to students.
“I really thought of it as the ‘inside-out’ approach,” Sissel said. “I wanted them to take responsibility for what they did.”
In 2008, he got certified in the Seven Habits.
The Seven Habits appeal to Sissel because they’re sequential, requiring students to first look at the way they see the world, then look at interactions.
“You have to encourage them to recognize the importance of thoughts, and how your thoughts change your actions,” Sissel said. “The way they see something isn’t necessarily the way you have to see something.”
Now, he helps students and schools learn those methods. He taught for a year at Tempe charter school Center for Educational Excellence and served as a coach for the new leadership academy at Kyrene de los Cerritos Elementary School. He just finished his second summer teaching an enrichment program at the Summit School of Ahwatukee, which attracted about 17 kids from around the area.
Karen Millerwise signed her kids, Graham and Sydney, up for the class after buying “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” last year, but never really getting a chance to delve into it. She thought the life skills in the book were valuable, and was thrilled to discover Sissel was teaching a course.
She’s already noticed changes since her kids started the class earlier this summer. For instance, after a sibling argument, one of her kids went off, reflected on the exchange, then came back and apologized after an hour or two.
“It’s huge for them to be reflective, because kids see things from their perspective. It’s just the way they are,” Millerwise said.
Apart from seeing the other side of an argument, Millerwise believes teaching middle-schoolers how to get out of negative cycles of thought and take a more positive view is a valuable skill that should be available to every kid.
“We all will have challenges in our lives,” Millerwise said. “And teaching you how to get out of those dark moments, those low watermarks, those skills are huge.”
The students, too, say they’ve learned valuable life skills.
This is the second time Katelyn Hawkins, who is going into eighth grade at Kyrene Centennial Middle School, has taken the summer class.
She’s learned several skills that have helped her in class and in life, like being proactive, letting dumb stuff go and adjusting the paradigm she looks out from.
“It really helped me see I was looking at the world from a bad place,” Katelyn said.
The leadership skills have helped her find new ways of dealing with “school drama,” like rivalries and peer pressure, and helped her figure out new ways to study that work for her, like making a point to plan things out in advance and putting items she needs to remember into songs.
TJ-Nile Rachford, also a Centennial eighth-grader, said he’s learned to stop worrying about what other people think and to take notice of things out in the world.
“I’ve learned more about who I am than anything,” he said.
One of the top concepts for TJ has been the frame, which helps students adjust the way they look at and react to things by asking how they see a subject, what they’re doing about it, how they feel and what they’re getting from the experience.
That’s something that can be applied to life or to a class.
“If you go into a class thinking, ‘This class stinks, it’s so boring,’ will you apply yourself?” TJ said. “In my head, I’ll probably find something the teacher says and say, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ and think about that concept for a while.”
For more information about the program, visit www.azyelp.com.