What are your space non-verbals saying about your school?

I've been thinking lately about the intersection of the learning spaces and a number of essentials in modern learning environments. This includes how technology best serves learning spaces (excited to announce a big project with Dell around this work very soon) and about communications and branding strategies for school as it relates to learning spaces. This second focus has me thinking about the messaging that "non-verbals" in schools portray. My former superintendent, mentor, and friend has always focused on the importance of how the schools looked even to a point of public criticism about how she spent money on these items. It is becoming clear though that the schools and districts that focus on the messages that their learning spaces portray are gaining the confidence of their communities, showcasing that their mission matters, and engaging in a new form of communication that speaks loudly to teachers, parents, and students. 

Consider the following items as they relate to your messaging as a school district. 

  • The Custodial Closets- Sure, there won't be too many people looking in these spaces, but for those that work from these spaces and those that peer in throughout the day, what does that space say about your school? Does it say we value all of our workers? Does it say that cleaning is a priority? Does it say that we are excellent in all aspects of our work?
  • The Parking Lot- If seen too many parking lots with glass, grass, and garbage as the first thing that I notice. Before anyone walks in your building to learn, they are in your parking lot. It is a first impression sort of location, and it speaks about your work whether you want it to or not.
  • Outside Signage- As a principal, I struggled to make sure that my outdoor sign had missional and relevant information on it, but as you drive around, do you notice signs that have old dates and misspelled words on them? I see them everyday. Your outside signage may be the only message that some get about your school that day. Doesn't it deserve to be excellent?
  • Student Bathrooms- When I visit a school, I make sure that I use the student restrooms instead of the staff bathrooms as I believe it speaks to how much the school truly values its students. Our most basic needs need to happen in a place that you would be happy to showcase to any member of the community. There are too many schools where adults won't use the student restrooms, not because of privacy issues, but because of their state of cleanliness.
  • Ceiling Tiles- I'm haunted by the voices in stained ceiling tiles. The stories that they tell about a school resonates so deeply. They say that their learning spaces have invisible places with invisible messages, and invisible students. Certainly, we can't repair and replace every tile stained every morning, but do you have a system that has them gone in 48 hours. If not, they say a lot about your culture in the building.
  • Entry Ways- The signage in so many school entrances is filled with compliance papers, warnings, and words that point to a culture of no. Have you taken time to audit your entry ways. They brand your buildings. They talk about who you are and what matters, but too often, we fail to see them as essential spaces to learn about the school.
  • Green Spaces- The lawn. The bushes. The physical education fields. What do they say about how you serve kids? Are they a positive messaging platform for your innovation mission as a school. These are subtle, but important considerations as you consider learning space design.
  • Photos- What photos are on display around your school and what do they say about the excellence of your school in the past, present, and future? Are they dusty? Are they images of equity? Can students see themselves in the images?

Consider an audit of your learning spaces and the non-verbals that they project into the community. Bring a critical friend into the mix for this work as too often, our learning spaces become invisible because of their daily familiarity.