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School Stories and the Importance of Coherent, Consistent Messages

You're watching television when a restaurant commercial appears showing beautiful images of delicious meals. Your mouth waters as you gaze upon juicy meats, steaming fresh vegetables, and beautifully decorated desserts. Everyone in the commercial is smiling because their wildest expectations for a tasty meal have been met. "Looks delicious, let's go!"

Reality drops a heavy hammer as your anticipated restaurant meal falls drastically short of expectations. The food bears little resemblance to what you saw on TV. People aren't nearly as happy or friendly as the one-minute memoir suggested. In short, there's a dissonance between the shared story and the reality of your experience. Disappointment.



"Everything we do tells a story," said Will Richardson during this week's change.school focus session. Considering school stories, do our actions match the verbiage of our mission and vision? If school climate is chilly, we should start by researching the consistency of the narratives. What are students saying? What are teachers and staff saying? What about parents and community members, what are they saying about the learning at your school? Do all of these stories align with your beliefs, values, and practices?

Will shared a recent example from his son's high school. His family received a "welcome back" letter from the school. The note didn't contain messages about exciting learning opportunities, no invitation to share summer experiences, no language about enriching co-curricular programs. Lacking a welcoming tone, the letter's central message was about dress codes, cell phone policies, and rules of conduct. This letter could very well be the first point of contact for many students and their families, what is the narrative being shared with them?


Here are examples of inconsistent narratives shared recently by cohort members.
  • Story: new, open learning spaces created to invite collaboration and various modalities of active learning. Reality: students are asked to sit quietly compliant as teachers tell them what they should know.
  • Story: a mobile device provided to every teacher and student so they can connect with other learners around the world. Reality: the device serves as a container for digitized materials and the same curriculum used for years.
  • Story: new designs for personalized learning pathways to help students choose courses based on college, career, and personal interests. Reality: a high percentage of the instructional time, based in preparing for, and taking, standardized tests.
There are also examples of excellent school stories, rich in agency, creativity, and collaboration. How are these tales being shared and with whom? Coherent, consistent communication should be conveyed in our words, as well as, actions. Students, their parents, school staff, and community members are talking about school and learning. What can we learn from their conversations? Do schools invite these discussions as token gestures, or are genuine efforts made to engage all stakeholders in meaningful articulation?

There isn't a single recipe, but here are a few recommended steps for developing coherent, consistent school stories.
  • Identify audiences and solicit their thoughts about your school
  • Identify inconsistencies between communication and practices
  • Evaluate existing mission and vision statements, revise or rewrite as necessary
  • Start creating and sharing new stories based on stakeholder beliefs and values
  • Publicize the refreshed goals and narratives, communicate and live the school "brand."
Creating consistent, coherent school narratives is not an easy endeavor. It will take time and effort from a variety groups and at varying levels. Constructing a shared vision provides a solid foundation for this effort. The likely results of this work begin with school change and ultimately lead to meaningful experiences for a community of learners. Whether it's restaurants, books, or schools, how terrific is it when the experience matches the description?

Related Reading

"29 Characteristics Of A Good School." TeachThought PD. February 23, 2017. https://goo.gl/nBZBNR

Schwartz, Katrina. "Why Discipline Should Be Aligned With A School’s Learning Philosophy." MindShift. July 2016. https://goo.gl/iszmut



photo credit: suzyhazelwood DSC00886-02 via photopin (license)

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