George Lucas Educational Foundation
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School Leadership

Every School Should Tell Its Story

There’s value in collecting and curating the stories that unfold in our schools and our students.

A district can have a vision, a mission statement, and sometimes a slogan. Often these concepts are layered together, but basically these are elevator speeches that help an organization pitch their plans and support their goals. What we all really need, however, is a story.

Vision Versus Mission Statement Versus Slogan

Before we talk about why our school narratives are so important, let’s first tease apart the concepts vision, mission statement, and slogan.

A vision is a statement of where you want your organization to be. It tends to be top-down. An administrator comes in and describes his or her idea for what the schools should be doing and what overall philosophy all efforts should reflect. For example, the vision could be what the school should aim to accomplish by 2020.

Establishing a clear vision is important for consistency, sure, but to be really successful, it should be agreed upon by a group of stakeholders, and not just one person in any one position. Perhaps a group of administrators, parents, teachers, and students form a committee to identify an ideology that everyone agrees must be shared. This might include a statement about the long-term, wide-ranging plans for the area and its schools.

A mission statement is typically a brief overview, only a few sentences, of how the organization intends to realize those plans. A slogan, on the other hand, might be a three-word slug line, something to paint on the side of a building that reflects the pride or goals of a particular school. Why three words? Simplicity sells. My middle school’s slogan is “Engage, Enrich, Empower.” Another school slogan might be “Attend, Achieve, Accomplish.”

Your School’s Story Needs Telling

Although a mission statement or slogan can be a persuasive message that presents some information about your goals and school, I think we miss the power of what a good narrative can bring to the morale of any school or district. There’s a power in collecting and curating those stories that help define our school site and our students. I say curate because some of these stories are already being drafted, revised, and rewritten even as we speak. Some tales are already happening in the classrooms and schools. School and district leaders just need to recognize that the books are there to be opened. 

A District’s Story Begins in the Classroom

A story always has a protagonist. Our protagonists are the children, the teachers, and the parents. A story has conflict: What struggles do we face, and how do we overcome them? What about the language of our story—the dialogue, the sensory details, and the figurative phrases? The plot is a little less traditional because a school’s story never ends. We are always writing the tales that define us.

Sometimes the tales write themselves. Sometimes the kids come in with challenges and slowly develop the grit to work to achieve through them. A pattern of story I’m seeing emerge from many classrooms is a curiosity for project-based learning and advocacy. I’m starting to see, for example, more and more classrooms select charities to fund or people to help. This can be part of a story.

Sometimes, however, a teacher’s role is to help a class write its own tale. Sometimes it’s about sharing resources, such as videos, that encourage the hero’s journey in one’s life, or focusing on stories that are thematic in their kindness for others.

Ads sometimes provide great little narratives (putting aside the product placement) to motivate students to define the stories that can represent their classrooms. Check out any of the following for inspiration:

The fact is that every person—every teacher and every student—has their own narrative, and their narrative has a place within the overarching story of a school. Sometimes we just need to help students tap into theirs and to encourage them to believe that theirs is not already fully written, that they can have a hand in writing their story if they just pick up the quill.

I want to challenge you this school year. Encourage your students to write their stories—and your classroom’s story. Also, advocate that your school curate these tales, going beyond simply having a vision, slogan, or a mission statement.

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Hector R. Esquivel's picture
Hector R. Esquivel
Seguin High School Principal

Great points here! A school's mission or vision should reflect what is important to the school and the community that makes up the learning community. Last year, I had our PLC's design the new school mission statement in eight words or less. It was very interesting what they came up with and we put it on our faculty shirts.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

Great post, Heather! Yes, we should be telling our schools' stories, for many reasons. When we elevate our students' stories as something worthy to be shared beyond our classrooms, it validates who they are and the great work they are doing. The pride I see in students' faces when I tell them I have shared their work... so valuable. Also valuable to give our students ways to tell and share their own stories... Our district has recently invested in PR, and I like that they have put students' voices and stories front and center on the district website: https://www.petalumacityschools.org/Page/228

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