What are the impressions of someone entering your local school?  What would they see?  How would they feel?  Who would they interact with?  What would the appearance of the school tell them about what goes on within the school?

Now, what would you like their first impressions to be?  What do you want them to know?  Who do you want them to interact with?  What do you want them to see and thus understand about the school?

When someone visits your school for the first time what would you like to know about their first impressions? Who would you share the information with and how would you use the data?

I had the opportunity — post-Katrina — to work with the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi Center for Education Innovation advancing school and community improvement.

As we worked with schools — many of our partners worked with communities — collaborating to bring these social institutions together to enhance student and community development.

As we worked in local schools we quickly recognized the unique characteristics of communities and their support for student development through deeper learning.  In 2006 the Mississippi State Community Action Team partnered with the Mississippi State University Extension Service to implement a statewide “First Impressions” program designed to help communities assess and improve themselves through a structured visitation program patterned after similar work conducted in Wisconsin in the early 1990s.

Imagine entering a community for the first time with a structured set of questions to capture your initial impressions.  Then recording those impressions with five or six members of a team followed by a written report provided to the community leaders that can be used in a town hall type meeting to inform and solicit input from citizens on things to celebrate and issues that need to be addressed.

First impressions focused on the following, as a result of the initial drive through each community:

  • Community Entrance (signs, streetscapes, buildings, etc.)
  • Appearance of Downtown Business Area (buildings, displays, signage, etc.)
  • Other Retail Shopping Areas
  • Housing (conditions, variety, etc.)
  • Schools (appearance, signage, etc.)
  • Faith/Religion (number of churches/temples/etc., appearance, etc.)
  • Residents (interaction with local residents)
  • Recreation/Tourism

Further recorded observations, over a short period of time, focused on the following issues:

  • Education
  • Health Care
  • Housing
  • Infrastructure
  • Amenities
  • Retail Businesses
  • Industrial Activities

You can learn more about the First Impressions observations, reports and outcomes at the following here: http://www.mscat.msstate.edu/firstimpressions/

Now, let’s go back to my initial questions about what someone would observe upon entering your school grounds?  What would you like them to see and understand?  What information from them would be useful to you and others?

I encourage us all to use these and similar questions to learn what others think of our schools and what we want them to know about how the school operates, engages stakeholders, uses data for continuous improvement and effectively develops students attributes to be successful in school and in life.

Much like the First Impressions initiative in Mississippi, knowing others’ first impressions of our schools is helpful to establish a baseline, develop benchmarks, measure progress and focus on results and impacts.

Terry Pickeral
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Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations, evaluation and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.
Terry Pickeral
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