“One of the things that is clear is that every single thing kids see, hear, feel, smell, taste, sends a message about your school. Every single thing. And many of the messages schools send are as awful as they are unintentional.”
“Unintentional” is the key word there, at least to me. As Ira suggests, I don’t think we spend enough time in schools really thinking about the “user experience” of our students. Instead, we continue to do what we’ve always done, given the long standing architectures that are so familiar, like classrooms separated by walls, annoying bells at passing time, desks in rows, dress codes, and a general lack of student voice and choice to name a few. I forget who pointed out to me (or where I read) recently that schools are the most undemocratic institutions in our society (probably a Sarason or Ackoff book,) but think of the message THAT sends to the kids we serve.
We’re better off being “intentional” in the messages we send. And we’re better off if we construct those messages with a large grain of empathy for the user. (When was the last time you shadowed a kid in school, for instance?) Even better is if we create those messages with students’ help and approval.
Case in point: Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta. Instead of a mission, they state their intention: ““We are a school of inquiry, innovation, and impact. Grounded in Christian values, we prepare all students to be college ready, globally competitive, and engaged citizen leaders.” And a part of what could be called the MVP DNA is “We are habitually paying attention to our intention.”
Read that again. “Habitually paying attention to our intention.”
So, are you? Do you know what your intention is and are you constantly putting that at the forefront of your work as a teacher or a leader? And have you been clear with students as to how you plan to get there? Have you, as MVP has, declared a set of “norms” for the school and the classroom? Like:
Being intentional about norms like these send a powerful message to students. Without clearly articulated norms, students will guess at what you want, and some of those guesses will be, as Ira says, “unintentional and awful.” And that goes for the adults in the room as well.
So, what messages are you sending to your “users”?