As I walked into a school, I noticed a sign that something similar to, “For the safety of the school, please stop at the office to sign in.” Immediately, I felt a tinge of anxiety as I wondered if something was there that would make the building unsafe, and I wondered if the students had ever felt the same. Maybe most of them weren’t worried, but the sign shouldn’t evoke a feeling of the school being “unsafe”.
I remember listening to Martin Brokenleg earlier this year and he had mentioned this exact idea. He said to think about the tone we set in the building when we have signs like this, compared to a message of, “We would love all visitors to come to the office so we can welcome you upon your arrival.” The message was the same, but the difference in words sets a totally different tone once you enter the building.
There are so many little things around our building that we don’t notice and hence the importance of trying to look at things with fresh eyes. We encourage risk taking, yet I have seen signs in schools about the importance of not making mistakes. Risk taking often comes with mistakes, so which one is it? Saying something once in awhile is sometimes not as powerful as words on the wall that are there all of the time.
Do the words on the walls encourage a welcoming environment, a sense of community, and opportunities for innovation? Or do they create a cold environment, that sometimes could pressure a fear of making mistakes, or sometimes even for one’s safety? Ask your students, ask your community, and ask yourself. What do the words on the walls tell you about the environment that you are trying to create?
P.S. If the words on the walls create a warm and welcoming environment, but your actions don’t, those words don’t matter either. It is important to align the two.