Getting “Schooled” on Signage: The Top 10 Visual Communications Tools for Schools
2014 August Whitepaper
Lesson Learned: School Environments Matter
Teacher and educational journalist Mark Phillips relayed in an article for Edutopia1 the following story about a teacher he was supervising at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This young teacher spent countless hours developing lessons focused on building self-knowledge, trust and community in classrooms. But when she tried them out, the students were not interested and the teacher grew frustrated. Phillips visited and quickly realized the problem.
“[The class was held] in the unfinished basement of an old school—cement floors and walls, ceiling-to-floor poles throughout the room. It was more like an interrogation chamber than a classroom. Our ‘humanistic exercises’ were a bad joke in this setting,” reported Phillips.
So Phillips and the teacher changed their game-plan: before any meaningful teaching could begin, they needed to transform the classroom to be more conducive for learning. The result was a colorful mosaic of painted walls and polls and a gallery of student artwork. But more importantly, the teacher found that “the students [were] far more motivated.”
This interesting story anecdotally describes a fact empirically proven by countless studies: the physical classroom space is a crucial variable that affects student morale and learning.2 And while many schools cannot afford expensive structural improvements, even superficial improvements can be just as impactful. Even just changing the color of the walls can improve a student’s ability to concentrate.2
Signage and visual communications, too, are powerful but relatively affordable ways to enhance a school environment. The remainder of this white paper focuses on the top 10 visual communications tools that can have a profound positive effect on learning, school pride and community.
Tools to Welcome
The following visual communications tools greet students as they enter and set the tone for their entire school experience.
1. Feather banners – A fleet of these versatile flag-and-pole systems lining the walkway leading to the school’s entrance provides a colorful and inexpensive way to promote school spirit. And when messaging needs to change, it’s fast and economical to swap out flags instead of producing all new signage.
2. Vinyl banners and building wraps – The institutional-looking facades of many school buildings do little to communicate a warm, inviting welcome to students. Vibrant banners soften an entrance and provide a vehicle for a school to show its unique culture and personality.
3. Window clings – Like building banners and wraps, window clings on the doors and windows of a school entrance communicate a school’s identity. Further, many of the types of clings available today can be easily peeled off and stored—an affordable way to change messages with each new season.
4. Wall murals – Wall murals offer a great way to customize a school’s entrance and hallways. The latest technology delivers striking murals that look like the product of many hours of an artist’s skillful hand rather than an afternoon at a print shop, and can be used to create anything from a larger-than-life mascot to inspirational quotes.
Tools for Wayfinding
Confusing or non-existent wayfinding signage can be disorienting and off-putting, while a clear, easy-to-follow system that utilizes a combination of the tools below helps students, teachers and visitors feel instantly more at ease.
5. Directories – An indoor directory at a school’s entrance that clearly lists the rooms and facilities and features a helpful map can be a lifesaver for someone unfamiliar with the school environment.
6. Floor graphics and decals – A system of floor graphics can also be a useful wayfinding tool, and offers the advantage of opening up valuable wall real estate for things like murals or student artwork. Floor graphics also offer unique opportunities for fun, as seen at this school in Australia that used paw print decals to promote school spirit while directing visitors.3
7. Classroom shingles – While a simple plaque designating room numbers may be adequate, routed hanging shingles can lend additional personality and style. For example, Tree of Life Christian Academy Preschool in Weston, Florida fabricated tree limb-shaped shingle hangers, wrapped in custom-printed vinyl. From these colorful “limbs” hung the room names—a practical consideration, because should the room need to be reassigned in the future, they could simply swap out the hanging shingle.
Tools for Communicating Information
In additional to general branding and wayfinding, other graphics are key to communicating needed information to specific stakeholders and audiences.
8. A-frame signs – A-frame signs are a classic way of communicating important announcements. By posting A-frame signs in a prominent location, such as the carpool/pick-up area, schools can train their community to watch this board for important updates about events and deadlines. A-frame signs can be produced with removable vinyl lettering or as chalkboards, making it simple to change their message daily.
9. Building sign – Many of the permanent, architectural signs at a school’s entrance include space for digital displays. As many of these signs face the street, this sign provides a valuable opportunity for a school to communicate with its broader community quickly and easily.
Tools for Learning
Of course, the ultimate goal of any academic institution is successful learning, and as teacher from kindergarten through post-graduate will agree, classroom graphics can play a key role in engaging and informing would-be learners of all ages.
10. Posters, Graphics, Decals, Stencils, Mobiles… – There are as many ways to display classroom graphics as there are teachers teaching. From brightening a room to displaying frequently-referenced sources or even reminding students of rules and schedules, there are limitless combinations of graphics and systems to work in every corner of the classroom.
Studies show that a welcoming, vibrant learning environment improves student outcomes. These simple visual communication tools highlighted above fit any school budget and result in a significant positive impact on the school’s morale, pride, sense of community and, most importantly, a student’s ability to learn.
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