I had a call this week with someone curious about the work I led a while back adding color and personality to my school. They asked about the murals we had created and where we came up with the ideas. Here is what I shared with them:
Many years ago, I worked in a school that had very little ‘flair’ to it and felt very institutional. The school was built in 1970 and apparently tan brick was all the rage. Our halls were filled with tan brick and not a lot else. My students and school culture team had been at our favorite conference (Jostens Renaissance) and saw some of the cool things other schools were doing to bring the walls to life. As a dance dad, I traveled around the country with my wife and daughter for so many dance competitions. These were typically held in high schools, middle schools, etc and, being a bit of a building junkie, I liked to check out the halls and common areas to see what stories were being told on the walls.
Yes, you read that correctly. What stories are being told on the walls. So often, people will see a cool mural or something else fun shared on Facebook of a painted school wall and think, ‘wow, I have to do that’. I get the excitement, but the walls in our schools should tell OUR stories, not the stories of some other school. I gathered my staff during a professional development day and asked them to walk our front hallway imagining they were a visitor to the school. What do our walls tell you, I asked them. The answer most commonly given was, ‘we must really like tan brick’.
Enter our students – we challenged them to tell some of the stories of our school. We wanted our students to know we saw them for who they were…and not just who they were at school. We put a priority on graduation, inclusion, honoring our history, and school pride. The work our students did was spectacular. And it did a brilliant job of telling our story.
If you find yourself working to improve the look, the feel, or the ‘vibe’ of your school, investing in some paint and turning your students loose is a simple and inexpensive way to make it work. Quite a few years have passed since this work was completed. Most of it still is in place in that school, some has changed, as it should. One of the most powerful things we can do with the culture of our schools is to develop a method by which we tell the story of who we are as a school, who we are serving, and who they are every day. You can do some incredible things with this work, but don’t simply copy something you saw in another school or on social media. If you develop something that really speaks to who the people are in your school, it is very powerful. If you don’t and you’re simply copying someone else’s idea, it’s just paint.
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