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Visual Landscape and School Culture

TXTS4 Leaders List

Visual Landscape and School Culture

Kimberly St Clair

What does the visual landscape of your school communicate about your school culture?  Ideally, the architecture, artifacts, and messages that are posted around your school match the messages that you want to send.  But do you know what the visual landscape is communicating to others?  To parents?  To staff?  To students?  For example, did you think the trophy case communicated a vision of pride and teamwork, while teachers viewed it as prioritizing sports over academics?  Do you take pride in behavioral expectation posters while community members interpreted it as a concern about behavior over academics?  

One way to ensure the architecture and artifacts that create your visual environment are in alignment to your mission and culture is to send people on a photo scavenger hunt.  Consider spending 15-20 minutes with different stakeholder groups collecting visual data.  Think of all the data you would have if you had individuals in your parent group, your student advisory group, teaching staff, classified staff, and community members use their phones to take 1-3 photos of artifacts in your building that: 

  • most align to a positive culture and vision;

  • reflect the current culture or state on campus;

  • are incompatible with your stated mission, vision, or values;

  • make the person feel included;

  • make the person feel excluded;

  • best represent what is recognized;

  • represent a sense of community.

Consider the best ways to debrief what the photographs mean to the individuals and groups.   Then be ready to change any visuals that were sending mixed or unintended messages.   If you find some messages that go against your mission, consider a symbolic way of disposing of these visuals.  There are schools have had a circular file ceremony and even "rest in peace" ceremonies to make it clear that this visual no longer represents the school.