How can we make happier schools? Schools are happier when they’re more inclusive, and when interactions between students and teachers are marked by high expectations and mutual respect. It’s a matter of communication. And when it comes to whole-school communication, it’s tough to beat digital signage.
In this post, we’ll lay out 11 ways you can work to create a happier school environment. But first, a quick look at happiness. Is happiness at odds with academic success?
Why should we be aiming for happier schools in the first place? Partly, because we naturally want our kids to be happy. But if that goal conflicted with increased academic performance, some parents (and kids) would talk about trade-offs. In fact, there’s no trade-off. Instead, there’s mutual reinforcement. Happier schools mean happier, better-educated kids.
Happier students get better grades, according to Harvard neuroscientist and lecturer Christina Hinton, Ed.D. And when schools create positive relationships with high expectations, they can help foster those results. It’s even more effective when it’s done at the district level: on average SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) interventions led to 11% improvements in grades across the board, while one 2017 study found gains of 33% in academic attainment. These outcomes were the result of efforts aimed at improving students’ emotional wellbeing and self-regulation, and their ability to navigate their social worlds: their happiness, in other words.
Almost 100% of principals surveyed said they thought such efforts would have a very major or somewhat major effect on everything from graduating K12 to going to college to reducing bullying.
Sounds like a happier school is desirable for all sorts of reasons. How can we use digital signage to help create and maintain one?
1. Showcase achievement
Signage can be used to showcase the school to prospective students and their families, but also to reflect the school and its achievements back to itself. St Margaret’s School uses their Rise Vision digital signage solution to ‘show prospective families a photo slideshow of our students, highlighting favorite moments and events throughout the year. The collection serves as a great conversation piece.’
It also gives existing students and staff the opportunity to reminisce about the highlights of their school year, and to recognize themselves in the achievements displayed on screens around their school.
It’s a popular approach beyond K-12 too. ‘We have presentations up and running for upcoming adult classes, photos with captions on our MBA international trips, photos and awards presented to an MBA student, the School of Business and Economics Facebook page, our holiday photo from our STARS undergrads,’ says Indiana University Northwest School of Business & Economics’ Barbara Mahns.
2: Upcoming events
School events are hard to keep top of mind. Staff and students are busy, and there’s always something more urgent. Reminding people about upcoming events doesn’t just help them remember to sign up and show up. It helps build buzz and anticipation, encouraging school cohesion and a sense of investedness and excitement.
Amy O’Neal, of Mooresville Christian Academy, says her small school ‘LOVES’ their digital signage solution (her caps, not ours!). ‘We advertise upcoming events in our halls,’ she says — and Todd Grundman, Director of Operations at Lakeside Lutheran High School, agrees. Their digital signage has ‘allowed us to provide a great first impression to our visitors, and provide them with helpful information about special events taking place in our school building.’
3. School activities
School signage doesn’t have to showcase high-performing star students or climactic sporting events. It can show day-to-day activities. Students can see the range of what’s available, imagine themselves taking part, or see some recognition of their own interests.
'We use Rise Vision as a simple communication tool and for showing many different students and staff partaking in a variety of activities,' says Patrick Borsa, Principal at Watrous Elementary School. ‘Our students love to check out what's on the TV!’
4. Financial literacy
Financial literacy is a huge deal for students planning college careers or work. Whatever their next step, it’s a major factor in a successful adult life. Yet, it’s a complex subject. Digital signage can be an ideal way to expose students to age-appropriate financial education. For example, dedicated templates can be used to show stock market winners and losers, like this NASDAQ losers template:
Embedded tickers can also be used to show stock market activity in real time. That approach works for high school students, says Columbia High School’s Eric R. ‘The ticker and display had sparked an interest in many of our high school students. Being able to sit in class and watch the stock market live gives the students the Wall Street experience they want.’
James Y, of Warwick Valley Schools, says their digital signs ‘help with financial literacy for the students,’ as well as acting as a conduit for other news.
Some of those students will go on to study business and finance-oriented subjects. That’s true for Barbara Mahns’ students at Indiana University Northwest School of Business and Economics. ‘There is another Rise Vision display that is in our hallway,’ says Barbara: ‘it is the stock ticker. This particular display is viewed by anyone who is in our building in the hallway by SoBE.’
Others will benefit from a more systematic approach. ‘A finance lab is one of the best investments a school can make for the next generation of citizens,’ says Montgomery Area School District’s Ryan Monoski. ‘It allows students to understand budgeting, investing, credit, and many other financial issues that they will face during their lives.’
It’s a great idea — and one that’s supported by digital signage.
When the Global Finance Lab at Marquette High School opened for students in 2016, the school installed display tickers both inside and outside the lab. ‘These tickers complete the look of the lab,’ says Marquette’s Beth G, and are great to display not only for financial news but also personal school messages. The students depend on these tickers when researching current stock prices for their finance classes so they are very useful throughout the course of the day.’
Mountain Brook High School’s Amber Benson agrees, adding that ‘the Rise Ticker engages students and inspires them to start investing as soon as they can!’
5. Positive behavior
A positive, inclusive attitude can be fostered; schools can work to build a day-to-day experience that’s more friendly and welcoming for all students. Simple restatements of values like inclusion, such as this template, can help — especially when they’re part of a holistic messaging and educational effort that includes efforts in the classroom and during school assemblies.
6. A safe, friendly campus
A school campus that’s damaged or unkempt isn’t just less visually appealing. It’s more likely to be a place where students add to the existing damage with graffiti, vandalism, or littering; after all, if it already looks like no one cares much how a place looks, why should they? ‘Vandalism costs time, money and disrupts learning,’ a Halifax Regional Centre for Education spokesperson told Global News.
By themselves, signs don’t necessarily stop damage to the school. But as part of a cohesive effort to make students feel invested in and supported by the school community, they can help reduce it. It’s part of a general trend toward a friendlier, safer and happier learning environment on campus.
Schools are happier environments when everyone knows their way around. You might remember how it feels to lose your way around a new school. And just changing classrooms or subjects can disorient students. Meanwhile, guests for school events or students at after-hours adult education classes often need help finding the right room.
Digital signage is ideal for this, as Jeff Herzig, Web Content Technician at Winneconne Community School District, says: ‘we use Rise Vision on displays in each lobby/entrance of our schools,’ he explains, and while that’s ‘primarily to display the daily announcements and events happening in our schools,’ his schools ‘also occasionally use it for special events to direct guests to the correct location for meetings/special events, as well as for displaying special event messages.’
8. Welcome and community acceptance
Schools don’t exist in isolation. They’re part of communities. Kids and teachers go home, and communities, including parents, elders and businesses, come onto campus.
‘We use Rise Vision in our school’s Admission Office to display personalized welcome messages to visiting students and their families. We rotate these messages with a photo slideshow of campus activities so that our digital signage allows our visitors to feel like they’re already part of the community,’ says Adam McGrath, Assistant Director of Communications and Marketing, Germantown Academy.
When campuses are harmoniously embedded in the communities they serve, they’re more open, friendly and happy spaces for everyone. Digital signage can’t achieve that by itself, but it definitely has a role to play.
‘Rise Vision… has also been a great communication tool to showcase public events to the community while they come in to pick up their children or come to sporting events or other activities that might be going on,’ says Cassy Hansen, Secretary, Necedah Schools.
Digital signage can be used to honor community members’ contributions to this school, not just make them feel welcome and orient themselves. ‘We use[d] Rise Vision for student announcements,’ says Richard D. Kasson, Jr., Technology Director at Valmeyer Community Unit School District, ‘then a second presentation kicked in at 5:30 PM to run advertisements for businesses that bought ads for our yearbook during sporting events,’ adding: ‘It worked very well.’
9. Celebrate students
Celebrating students isn’t the same as cheering on achievement. Whether it’s the winner of the spelling bee or the team that went to regionals, it’s important to cheer on the winners from your school community. But there are plenty of other reasons to celebrate the more mundane aspects of students’ lives. Toby Carson, Head of Digital Learning at Sandroyd School, said his school turned to Rise Vision when ‘we were looking to implement digital signage around our small school to display upcoming events, celebrate pupil’s birthdays and achievements, [and] show photographs of recent activities.
An innovative approach to cheering on ‘small successes’ comes from Cornwall-Lebanon Schools’ Scott Boyer. Systems coordinator Scott explains, ‘one of our big student engagements that we use is the Wings of Praise, which is a way to recognize students that don’t necessarily stand out in the crowd. They might be good academically, they might be good athletically, but they just do good things generally.’
Anyone, student or teacher, can nominate a student to be entered into a prize drawing; winners get a prize, typically a gift certificate, and their photo taken against the Wings of Praise to be displayed on digital signage schoolwide:
10. Positive values
Schools build happier, healthier communities based on their values. Those values can be propagated through example, through student-teacher contact, and through signage too. We love our Rise Vision digital signage!’ enthuses National Presbyterian School. ‘Adding it to our lobby was a major upgrade in keeping our students, parents, and faculty informed about school happenings… and the Core Value of the Month.’
Tracy Briggs, Tech Coordinator at Lakeview Community Schools, echoes that sentiment. ‘On our secondary display, we have been spreading messages from the counselor’s office and student-made slideshows about digital citizenship, college and business meetups, and being kind to each other.’
For more on how to build a positive school community with digital signage, see this post.
11. Major community events
Major community events like holidays and religious festivals can be an opportunity for everyone. Schools can take the chance to help members of minority faiths feel both recognized and accepted, prominently displaying digital signage that acknowledges the festivals and occasions of their communities:
For events that will directly affect all students and staff, digital signage can be used to draw everyone together in recognition of common experience:
Finally, at times when students might be feeling a little shaky or overwhelmed, it can help to remind them that they’re supported and that they’re not alone:
For more on how to use digital signage for holidays, check out our guide.
Schools work better when they’re happier. They’re more cohesive communities, they support the development and growth of their students better, and — not surprisingly — everyone gets better grades as a result.
Digital signage alone can’t deliver on the promise of the happier, more supportive and inclusive school. But it can be a powerful instrument to help persuade and guide students towards better choices. It can make students feel listened to, when it’s used to show content they want. Or you can make students feel seen, by recognizing their efforts and identities as well as their achievements. Cheer them on and you make them feel recognized. Digital signage can open doors and help encourage students to form relationships, learn and grow.