12 Things You Can Apply from Flip Flippen's Back-to-School Rally Talk

12 Things You Can Apply from Flip Flippen’s Back-to-School Rally Talk

Revisit the meat of Flip Flippen’s address to WFISD staff members on August 10


From his compliment to WFISD’s two Teachers of the Year (“With these two teachers speaking, what the heck did you invite me for?”) to his poignant story about his nighttime prayers for each of his children, Flip Flippen held WFISD spellbound when he addressed them in an hour-long talk as the 2018 school year began. Here are 12 take-aways from his inspiring presentation.


Tell children what you love about them

Flip and his wife, Susan, have raised 20 children. “We got some white kids for diversity,” he said. He showed a picture of granddaughter Lily and told the story of how she was backed over by a pick-up truck. She lived, but she had a large scar to show for the trauma. “I tell her, ‘You’re so pretty,’ and ‘I love your scar.’ She says, ‘I love my scar, too.’”


Honestly tell your stories

Flip revealed that his wife, Susan, and her three sisters were kidnapped and taken across the country as children. Eventually Susan ran away, lived on the streets for a year, was rescued and put into foster care. She attended four different schools in 8th grade alone but ended up becoming her class valedictorian. Flip divulged that he was the product of an affair. He also revealed that he enrolled at Steven F. Austin but his grades were so low that he was allowed to stay only because of a mistake. “I was on and off academic probation five times. You know what’s crazy is that I’m talking to y’all.”

“Do you guys know each other? Or do you hide your stories? Odds are high that you hide your stories. Because we want to present ourselves a certain way, but our deepest need is that somebody will know us – really know us – and still love us. But we don’t tell our stories, and so people don’t know.”


Do life together

“There are women here who have been raped repeatedly. Men are here who have been bullied, hurt and abused. People have lost family members, lost children or had an awful struggle with cancer. I know that. Do these things together. When you stand with your kids, and they don’t know who you are, how can they connect with you? What would it be like if I came in here and gave a nice speech and looked like this cool professional guy, but you don’t get to know who I am? Where is the virtue in that? There is none.”



“As a child, I wanted more than anything in the world to be loved. That’s a very common need, by the way. I was desperate for it. I got my first hug from my mother when I was 42 years old. The only physical scars I have on my body are on my side, from my mother. Stop and think: That’s not a good way to grow up. What do you do with that? I was very fortunate. When my dad was dying with cancer, I got to get in bed with him, put his head in my lap, brush his hair, and tell him I loved him. I had forgiven him years before. I was able to do the same thing with my mother. Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. And, for sure, it’s the greatest gift you can give that other person.”


Don’t let your first story define your life

“You know that first story in your life—the one you didn’t write but the one that you lived in? You didn’t write that story, so that story should not define your life. It doesn’t define your life. I’m thankful for my first story. My wife, Susan, is thankful for those difficult things that happened to her. It literally breaks my heart to think about my wife not being adored as a child. But golly, look at the opportunity. Look at what you can do with that. Write a different story! Say, ‘I’m just not going to be a victim. I don’t want any part of it.’ There’s joy in not being a victim.”


Help students overcome by loving them and teaching them a new way. Stand at the door of your classroom, shake hands and smile

“You guys can feel where kids are by greeting them at the door. For you guys who are old-school and don’t believe that, suck it up, because it’s true. Let me show you how you know it’s true. How many women in here have felt someone looking at them? Everyone in here has had that experience of feeling someone looking at you. How can you do that? Scientifically, there’s no evidence of that at all. But you have a sense that you’re not safe, something’s not right. That is your intuition – this other sense.  That is your amygdala telling you something’s not right in your world. Pay attention to it – in your own life and in the lives of your students. It’s telling you something.”


“Shake their hands! If you don’t want to shake hands with your kids, get five gallons of sanitizer and rubber gloves. I don’t care what you do. Shake their hands! If your kids don’t know how to engage me professionally, they’re not hirable! I want them shaking your hand every cotton-pickin’ day, in every class.”


Don’t give up on kids

“When cortisol gets into the hippocampus, it shrinks, creating the same kind of damage we see with Alzheimer’s patients. When you or a child is in a high-stress environment, the hippocampus shrinks. When you take a child or adult out of a stressful environment, it will resolve. So don’t give up on these kids. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to learn. Even a little bit of learning is better than no learning. The hippocampus is one of the few parts of the brain where you can regrow dendrites. You can fatten that thing back up. Isn’t it crazy? It’s, like, seriously cool! The kids in your class who are coming to you out of high-stress environments have smaller hippocampuses. It has nothing to do with how smart they are. It’s that their hippocampus shrank due to this cortisol overload. It happens to us, too. If you’ve had high levels of stress for four to six months or more, your hippocampus is shrinking.


“The best way to illustrate that is when you walk in a room and have no idea why you walked into that room. Your very next thought is, ‘I am losing my mind.’ And the truth is, you really are! But here’s the thing: You’re not losing your mind, but your hippocampus is being too heavily impacted by those stress levels.”


Be consistent

“If you’ve got five teachers shaking hands with students and you have one who says, ‘Ick, I’m not touching those kids,’ you have variability in your system. If you have variability in your system, you have variability in outcomes. To predict outcomes, you decrease the variability of your system.”

Be willing to grow and change continually

“Don’t sit there and say, ‘That’s not who I am.’ Personally, I really don’t care. What I do is not because it’s comfortable to me. I do it because it’s expedient for the goals I’m trying to accomplish. We make changes for a reason – to accomplish our goals. If you’re unwilling to change, by golly, go get another job. Because growth is a continual process. For some new things, you won’t be good at it immediately. You just keep doing it until it becomes natural.”


Be happy

“I want you at the door. I want you happy. I want you smiling. I want you to know that your kids will decide in 1/25th of a second, ‘Do I like this person? Or do I not like them?’ They will know in 1/25th of a second. If you don’t have a happy face or a smiley face, go get surgery! Put prune juice on it. Get it tight. I don’t care what you do. Get it where you’re happy. You follow me?”


Connect with students

“Your job is not your content. To those of you who are content experts and really proud of your content, I can get everything you know in three minutes on video, presented better. I’m sorry, it’s true. It’s not the content we bring. That’s not the asset value we bring to the classroom. It is our ability to get inside and connect and say, ‘This is what a relationship is. This is what healthy is. Oh, and by the way, I can give you a career that will blow your socks off! I can prepare you for the world!’”


Continually build and nurture the people in your world

“When I called home last night, there was all sorts of giggling. I said, ‘Who’s in my bed?’ I hear my 4-year-old saying, ‘I’m eating potato chips in your bed!’ When I go home tonight, that love and fun is what I’m going to get because I intentionally built it. You build it without variability. When I brought my firstborn son home, I took him out into the back yard, I took off his shirt and put my hand on his chest. I said, ‘Matthew, I commit to you that I will change everything in my life that has to be changed so that you can fulfill the destiny God has for you.’ Then I wrote down the things I needed to change. I got angry easily. I was very impatient, always in a hurry, didn’t feel we were ever getting enough things done. You cannot be in a hurry with a 2-year-old learning to tie his shoes! Thank God for Velcro!

“But here’s how I know what I said to him: I have repeated it to every one of my children on their birthdays every year of their lives. It’s true today. I will change anything in my life that has to be changed because, as I told my firstborn son, ‘You are worth it.’ Now I get to say that over my grandchildren. There has never been a day that our children have not been hugged and loved on. There was never a night I did not go into their rooms, put my hand on their chest and tell them how much I loved them.

“Years later, one son got a painting of a little boy lying in bed, with his father’s hand laying on his chest. When he gave me the painting, he leaned over and hugged me. He said, ‘Daddy, you thought I was always asleep. You never missed a time. And I don’t miss a night with my children either.’


“Build and nurture those around you. Our kids are worth it.”