What do your walls say to those you serve?

When you walk into your school or organization, how many times does it say “no” or “don’t” on the walls?

For example, students may walk into an auditorium and hear how they can “Change the world!” but read, “Don’t bring food
or drink into the auditorium.”

I remember working with a district, and every time I would walk into their building, I would count (out loud) all of the no’s and don’ts on the wall to get them to think about the messaging they were sending to their public. 

I am not against rules, routines, or structure. All of those things are in place in my life and are hugely beneficial. I am more focused on the tone of the messaging. 

Years ago, Dr. Martin Brokenleg challenged me with the same message. He mentioned that he noticed a sign upon entering the building that stated, “For the safety of our students, please check in upon arrival.” He then asked what message that message insinuated. I realized that it hinted that our students were unsafe.

He then asked why we couldn’t say, “Upon arrival, we love to welcome all visitors, so please come to the office upon entering the building to say hi!” The same outcome but a totally different tone. That always resonated with me. 

Because of that message, I always encourage people to look at their buildings with “fresh eyes” and wrote the following in “What Makes A Great Principal“:




There is no neutral.

Everything in a building and classroom sends a message to those we serve. What do you want them to see, hear, and feel because of what is on the walls and in the building? 

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