On a recent brick and mortar school visit where I served as a cover teacher I had this realization about our expectations from a 5 star resort experience and wondered why they would not be the same in a school setting? More specifically how often does one enter a school and is greeted by a cheery school member? It happens occasionally but more often than not school office staff are busy with various tasks and will eventually look up to assist.
After the initial greeting to what degree does the school furnishings and wall decour declare the school values and give one a sense of purpose? In a hotel lobby one would find some information, decorations that may reflect the location or city and maybe a motto to reinforce the values. Some schools understand the power of first impressions and are attentive to what the office space looks like and includes some student work with descriptors along with some information for people to look through while waiting. One of my favorities was a collection of student poems and another was a collection of student projects captured in a photo album format.
After taking in the environment there is the people; more often than not at an outstanding hotel the staff all greet the visitors with smiles, hellos and acknowledge your presence. When I was a teacher I would assign a student the role of ambassador and it was their responsibility to greet any visitor who entered our classroom. As a principal I worked with ALL my staff about the importance of these first impressions and how we need to acknowledge others and model this kind of behavior for our students. Others included our students, staff and any visiting adult. What is interesting about the school experience I just had was that the students said hello but most of the adults all seemed too busy to.
Next in a resort or hotel is the information packet. This packet gives visitors key telephone numbers, directions for an emergency, menus for their restaurant, hours of all the different services and then usually a little bit of information about the location or building or brand. Whenever I had a cover or substitute teacher in my classroom I would always leave them a note with directions of what typically takes place in the classroom, an annotated roster identifying helpful students, a seating chart (if I needed one), and then the specific information for the lesson they are covering. This information would be provided whether or not I am on campus because the expectation is that I was not teaching my class, the guest teacher was. As a principal I would always make sure our guest teachers had these directions from the teacher and add a bell schedule, directions in case of an emergency and of course the wifi passcode. Unfortunately in the school I just covered for neither of the teachers left this information and I was just taken to the first classroom where the teacher’s desk had some office supplies- that was it.
In a good hotel there is always a staff member that checks in with the visitors to make sure everything is going well and be able to address any issues. When I was a principal I would always either personally check on the guest teachers or have a staff member make the rounds. Valuing the outsiders willingness to come in to my school to help make sure student learning continues was and is important. If we as a school failed to make a good impression with these guests coming to be on the inside then we had work to do. I also always considered cover teachers as possible new hires if openings were to occur. In my last school we even created a short survey for guest teachers to complete so that we would be able to address problems that we may not be aware of- a fresh pair of trained eyes could always be a benefit to help our school improve.
Imagine what education would be like if schools took on the values of the hospitality industry and worked hard to cultivate a culture that values each team member’s position. Too often schools undervalue the roles that have the opportunity to pay closer attention to students, to broken communication lines and miss amazing opportunities to get feedback that they could act on and possibly prevent a bad review or poor school rating. Actually if cover teachers were asked to give feedback on specific areas of the accreditation criteria or OFSTED frameworks that would save schools lots of time and make for more opportunity to address challenges before the inspection.
What is interesting is that the experience of being greeted, given some basic information and overall feeling valued has nothing to do with the type of school one is in. Some of the public schools in Los Angeles serving the most underserved student populations have this culture of gratitude and acknowledgement built in. Schools in remote locations without basic resources such as running water serve tea and have a ceremony for anyone new visiting. Their classroom walls may have beautiful murals featuring the solar system or poetry prose. Other schools where power is run by generators and safety is a top concern due to issues around school kidnappings use their walls to express their values and makes sure to greet everyone entering their premises.
Meanwhile my experience today was in a new private school, only three years old, owned by a hotel developer. Go figure. Hopefully they will look up from their laptops and see what is missing in the power of a hello and consider using their white walls to communicate their values and clarity around order. Perhaps they will follow their students lead a embrace being friendly and prioritize making connections with those both on the inside and coming in from the outside.