June 11, 2014 14:15 Age: 4 yrs

“Everything Speaks”: Why the Smallest Details Matter When it Comes to Inspiring Students

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Tom Kaiser is the principal at AF Endeavor Middle School.

In professional development sessions, we often talk about student investment and teachers serving as leaders and examples for students. During a recent session, I spoke about physical space. These elements are not disconnected—they all go to the heart of our ability to consider and improve our students’ experience, and our ability to create an experience that ignites and inspires our kids.

As leaders of our classrooms and schools, we can improve our messaging to kids. We can use a positive tone and praise students, and that will help. But “everything speaks.” This was a concept first articulated in the early years of the Disney Corporation.

It’s a simple idea: everything in an organization “speaks” to the values of that organization, and everything “speaks” to the end users. They will decipher, consciously or not, from the smallest details, what you are truly about and whether they want a part of it. Former Disney Institute leader Teri Yanovitch wrote about the concept that “everything speaks”:

You are at a fast food restaurant and step into the restroom. There is water on the floor and countertops. The toilet roll dispensers are empty and the trash container is overflowing. Wouldn’t you start worrying about the food you were about to order?

Every detail of your business’ physical environment “speaks” to the customer. Everything your customer sees, hears, smells, tastes and touches gives an impression to the customer, typically, before they even meet or talk to any of your employees. What is the message you want your environment to give?

A classroom with stacks of old papers, untucked chairs and a messy whiteboard sends a message that it’s not important to review student work, or to take time to neatly complete an assignment. However, a classroom with updated visual anchors shows a topic is important. A classroom displaying recent student work shows that you recognize and value when students complete top quality assignments. These changes in the physical space are small but important: our students notice. It is up to us as leaders of classrooms to set the example, and to create an environment where “everything speaks” in an inspiring way.

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