As a principal, I asked myself what I wanted visitors to our school to think when they left the building. What thoughts would a parent volunteer, guest speaker, foster grandparent, substitute teacher, or the Superintendent have as they left our school? What did I want them to say to other community members about what they saw, heard, and experienced as they visited, and how would I get the staff and students to foster a positive environment where visitors would take notice and spread the word?
It’s crucial for a school leader to set the tone of his or her building and to make it part of everyday business among all the staff and students. It’s important for visitors to come away from your building with the thought that not only learning is happening, but people are happy to be there. So how does a principal do this?
The answer is to live it. In my experience, we worked with our teachers to develop mini lessons at the beginning of the year so they could teach our students what our “Tone of Decency” looked and felt like. Each morning for two weeks, students were engaged in lessons about how they could show decency in the classroom, in the cafeteria, on the playground, in the hallway, and during assemblies. We taught the meaning of character building words each week of the school year, and those words were stenciled in the hallways. Students could expect to explain what the “Tone of Decency” looked like in various situations by any staff member. Secretaries, custodial, and cafeteria staff also took a few moments to interact with students praising them for setting the tone of our school. We started the pledge each morning by reciting, “We are Star Hill, Our Tone is Decency”. When office staff answered the phone, they greeted the caller by saying, “You’ve reached Star Hill where Our Tone is Decency”.
In the coming years, our school shirts, pencils, folders, and marquee message all reminded community members about who we were.
One afternoon as our Superintendent was visiting classrooms, he stopped me in the hallway to tell me that he could tell that he was in our school because everyone was happy and welcoming. He said that he could tell that the teachers truly cared about the students, and was confident that people walked away from our building with that same thought in mind. What a compliment!