I recently went for a walk around our combined high school and elementary campus.
As I completed my stroll, I noticed two very interesting signs.
The first was located at the high school track:
What do you notice about this sign?
I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of dodging horses when running laps around the track. Or what about the fifteen (!!!) exclamation points telling visitors what they can't do? In a time when obesity levels are at all-time highs, shouldn't we encourage physical activity?
The second was located in front of the elementary school:
What do you notice about these signs?
Personally, I'm glad we are reminding our students (ages 4 - 10) this is a tobacco-free campus. I've lost count of the times I've rushed to the Elementary School to deal with a first grader lighting up a Marlboro Red in the bathroom.
While others may not notice these seemingly insignificant signs (clearly I haven't until now), I couldn't help but consider how these messages epitomize the cynical and distrustful thinking that plagues education.
In his book Culturize, Jimmy Casas reminds us, "Every interaction with a student, parent, or staff member is one single moment to inspire most positive interactions and to impact every person they encounter in a positive way."
Although our natural inclination is to consider verbal interactions, we can't forget the nonverbal cues we communicate to students and staff through signage and messaging.
When I was a high school principal, we completed a massive re-branding of our building. We replaced lifeless signage and unflattering walls with student-friendly messaging and eye-popping visuals.
This project took plenty of time and resources, but the positive and empowering messages we sent to students and staff was well worth the investment.
I encourage you to walk the halls of your classrooms, buildings, and campuses. What message are you sending your stakeholders? Are you subliminally indicating mistrust and suspicion, or are you inspiring positive and trusting interactions?
Communicate in a way that inspires rather than discourages.