Last summer I 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 rebranding of our building. At the time, our walls were filled with lifeless signage and unflattering visuals. Our school looked like it was stuck in the 1990's.
To guide our rebranding we formed a small committee and visited several other schools to search for new ideas. With each visit, we took pictures and jotted down our favorite ideas. We then took those concepts and shared them with our students for their feedback.
The end result was a building littered with eye-popping photos, student-friendly messaging, and vibrant school colors. The rebranding process took plenty of time and resources, but the positive and empowering messages we provided students and staff was worth the investment.
When students visit your building for the first time, what does your signage say about your school? Are you creating a positive learning environment? How your school is perceived is extremely important to its identity and reputation.
School leaders should routinely tour classrooms, hallways, and buildings to consider if surroundings support student learning.
Is your campus inspiring trust and enthusiasm?
Or is your campus subliminally encouraging suspicion and apathy?
Communicate to inspire rather than discourage.