Something Simple?

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • Jan
  • 30
  • 2006

When I visited the KIPP school in San Francisco, something about their application of the KIPP strategies stuck out in my mind. They boast about high academic achievement and creating a culture where success if expected and failure is addressed; they have lots of systems to encourage this outlook on academics; the different small schools they have (for lack of a better term) are named after famous colleges.

While there’s a lot that the KIPP model does to encourage success, many of those things are things that other schools are doing, too. Something that I noticed that was different from any other public school I’ve visited were the slogans across the campus.

They were in hallways, in classrooms, on flyers, everywhere. I’ve noticed this about many other nation-wide education reform movements, they all have these slogans that are plastered everywhere. Things like “No Excuses,” “There Are No Shortcuts,” “All Of Us Will Learn,” “Yet,” and other sayings are in each and every classroom of San Francisco Bay Academy. Along with those, the KIPP credo, S.L.A.N.T. (an acrostic used to show what an effective student is, though I can’t remember what it stands for), A.T.T.A.I.N. (again, an acrostic I don’t remember the words for), and a volume meter to indicate how much noise is allowed are posted on the walls of all the rooms.

At my school, we’re facing a discussion about the direction our professional development days will take for the next 3 years. In the midst of that discussion, what if we all agreed on, say, 3 slogans that we’d post up in every classroom, slogans that encouraged and expected success? “No Excuses” is a good one, so is “There Are No Shortcuts.” I even like “All Of Us Will Learn.”

And what if we all agreed on those slogans and we all agreed on the interpretation of those slogans, the application of those slogans to academics and to our classrooms? What if we painted those slogans on the walls around school, started to say them during morning announcements, put them on all our stationary, promoted them on our Web site, talked with parents about them on Back-to-School night, created cheers around them, worked them into the way we celebrate extracurricular activities? How far would that take us? Could a simple and slight change in the mindset of the campus result in more success among the students?

Don’t get me wrong: when I saw those slogans all across campus, I cringed a bit. I don’t like that kind of uniformity, but that’s perhaps just due to my personality rather than a vehement disagreement with the concept. I’d be one of the teachers who would not really like posting those things in my classroom. I’d do it, but I wouldn’t like it. Then again, I don’t like encouraging my kids to take standardized tests seriously when their performance on them has no impact on their lives, but I do it.

It took me a little while to see it, but I think I understand why these school-wide slogans have an effect: they are merely symbolic.

The value I see in something like these slogans is the agreement that a staff makes in the face of such a requirement. Sure, I may not like it, but I’ll play along and I’ll encourage the students to, as well. In that simple acquiescence, I’ve taken a step toward creating a school culture, one centered on a set of common beliefs in the form of those slogans. Maybe that’s something that goes a long way to encourage success. The slogans are only a manifestation of the commitment of the staff to agree to certain things and push the students toward those expectations, to have a standard set of expectations for student behavior and attitude.

Maybe agreeing on those slogans would be a huge step toward creating the type of success programs like KIPP and Success For All are seeing.


1. Ben says:

[2/1/2006 - 9:02 am]

At the risk of sounding like a neophyte teacher, this sounds a lot like the Harry Wong philosophy of high, positive expectations. I know there are plenty of people out there who groan every time you mention his name or his infamous book “The Firt Days of School,” but it was actually the cornerstone of my classroom management plan this year. At the beginning of the year I had (and still have) five large posters with my classroom expectations on them. None of them are positive, and they always focus on what I expect my students to do to help themselves and others around them. That and my giant poster of Darth Vader has a revolving quote that I put up under him in a “Vader Says:” bubble. The kids respond positively to it, and I’ve found I don’t have to say “what are you doing wrong” as often, but rather “what can you do to make things better.”

2. Beth says:

[9/4/2007 - 8:18 am]

SLANT: Sit Up, Listen, Ask Questions, Nod Your Head, Track the Speaker