I learned many years ago from a mentor of mine that the “Percept is the Product.” In other words, what others say about you and “perceive” about you must be the product you deliver each and every day. Imagine how I felt when I read this end of the year survey entry! I used this quote many times with staff and still love the part about a rush of warmth, love and care, as one enters the building. That’s exactly what we tried to create each and every day as a school family. It took years of hard work as we focused on our culture and mission to ensure that every child was connected and challenged appropriately to build this perception to its fruition.
Before I started my principalship twenty years ago, the strong focus of the work was still on management. The four B’s: buildings, boilers, buses, and books. The past decade has seen a shift toward being an instructional leader, which has moved focus toward spending more time in classrooms, observing teaching and providing feedback and coaching. Although job #1 of every principal is to ensure a high-quality teacher in every classroom, the management of a building, the cultivation of school climate remains an important focus.
As a new principal 20 years ago, I was responsible for a very large building, how it looked, how it felt to walk into, safety, cleanliness etc. I had never looked at floors for black smudges, walls for handprints, cracks in windows, and never thought about smelling bathrooms as a teacher! Yes, a principal must pay attention to how the building smells!
The first question on the American School Climate Inventory survey asks if the school has a pleasant smell. The inventory allows trained assessors to provide feedback and information to American Schools to gain preliminary insight on a school’s climate, including its social and academic environment. The inventory is divided into several sections: School Buildings and Physical Environment, Academic Environment, Social Environment, Order and Discipline, and General. Questions are focused on what you see, hear, feel, observe, and yes, smell! I have included it as a link for you to use, as a self-assessment to provide a baseline to inform you about what others may “perceive” about your school climate. American School Climate Inventory
Kent Peterson and Terrence Deal in their book The Shaping School Culture Fieldbook, provide another simple tool to assess if your school mission matches what others perceive. They ask principals to Walk the Halls and Talk to the Walls!
Walk the Halls and Talk to the Walls
This approach has been used successfully by dozens of school leaders to gain a deeper sense of what the school is communicating.
Here’s what to do:
Leave the school building during the day (and try to ignore your to-do list for a while). Walk back into the building imagining that you are brand-new to the school; you have never been there before.
Now, walk through the entire school. Look at what is on the walls. What do those items say to you? What do you see as you pass classrooms, art rooms, and gyms? What do you hear? Laughter, silence, yelling at kids? What kind of learning do you see going on? What do you smell and sense about the building? What is your visceral reaction?
Walk through the whole school, taking mental notes. Return to your desk and jot down what you saw, sensed, and picked up. What do these observations say about your school and its mission as actually enacted?
Does what you observed fit the written mission or something else? What should be reinforced, and what should perhaps be changed?
I hope you will use the American School Climate Inventory as a self-assessment for your school. If you were the assessor, how would you rate your school? How are visitors greeted when they enter? Do children and adults dress appropriately? How do children treat each other as they walk through the hallways? What does your building look like, sound like and smell like? Take the time to gain new perspective and see what may need a little touch up in appearance and what may need to be reinforced with the adults and children in your building. Walk YOUR Halls and Talk to YOUR Walls! Does YOUR school have a pleasant smell?