Saturday, September 6, 2014

Slogans Are the New Black

Many school districts open their doors each year to staff with a new slogan, like: "No excuses, just results," or, "Failure is not an option." But are these sayings any more motivating when we see them in a fitness commercial? Do these slogans peter out a few weeks after New Year's Eve, like a resolution to join the gym? Will building staff know to expect a new slogan the following year, since it will follow the same path as a broken New Year's resolution?
If a slogan has merit, it is because it becomes part of the culture of the environment. The slogan holds true over time. Leadership defines, trains, models, and sets the expectation for what they want to see. Staff understand the value and need for what leadership is suggesting because it's been fully explained, and staff know they will receive the necessary resources to embed this practice into what they already do. There isn't a need for a new mantra the following year because the original one holds true. Whatever the expectation introduced, it remains there, regardless of state policy changes, new staff, or board membership dynamics. Do the fans of the Penn State football team change their signature back and forth chant on off years from, "We are -- Penn State," to, "We like -- Chipotle guacamole?"
The same should hold true for a school district, regardless of a change in leadership on any level. If a district has a "Commitment to Excellence," why should this mission statement ever change? New leadership should fit the vision already in place. Committing to a vision means that the mantra accurately reflects the needs of the students and families in the community. The vision is real, dependable, and free of sound-byte rhetoric.
This does not mean that when leadership develops a solid mission statement it then rests on its laurels. The opposite should occur: leadership should continue to investigate ways to meet the bar they've set. If the vision "Commitment to Excellence," "Failure is Not an Option," or "No Excuses, Just Results," is the expectation, and the district is going BYOD, then staff members will expect to return to default mode: professional development on a regular, on-going basis, with scaffolded support, so all have an opportunity to comprehend how the revised expectation is in line with the current mantra, and remains what's best for children.
It is too easy for us as educators to rely on slogans each year with the hope of motivating our staff to perform at a high level. Honestly, if our staff needs slogans to produce, chances are whatever spike in performance that's visible will become as dormant as the treadmill purchased on January 2nd. Truly, most staff value consistency that what's said is what's done, as opposed to yearly catch-all catch phrases. Like the children they teach, staff members want to know the expectation and it's validity, so they can then understand the need to do what is asked on a daily basis. When the expectation is clearly communicated and modeled, it becomes the reality. And, reality is the space in which we live.