Typhani Harris | December 2014

Putting Lipstick on a Pig

Perception is so important.

However, what happens when school leadership is more concerned with the look of the school rather than the efficacy of the school?  It is imperative that the foundational and organization structure of a school is sound in order to successfully educate our students.  Without a strong foundation we are merely putting lipstick on a pig.  Yes it may look pretty, but it’s still a pig.  I have struggled with this reality as the school year progresses. This made me think about how I could be a larger force in my students’ lives.  How can we as arts educators instill the characteristics of persistence, self-control, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence as a means to improve culture, morale, responsibility, and decorum in our institutions.  As I pondered the situation, I found three major issues; perception, student character, and supporting teachers.


The look of an institution is important, but is it more important then the efficacy of the school?  Although realities like uniforms and bulletin boards are important for the overall look of a school, it is much more important to ensure the school is accomplishing their main purpose: educating students.  Unfortunately, if students are not attending school, not attending on time, and doing poorly in academics and tests, do the bulletin boards and uniforms really matter?  Let’s focus on our students success and abilities over bulletin boards and uniforms, but what does student success mean?  Does it mean they pass their classes, pass their standardized tests, or does it mean they have gained the characteristics of successful people?

Student Character

The personalities of my students have changed so drastically.   My students are defensive, entitled, and so quick to give up.  Where is this change coming from?  I recently picked up Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed, and he discusses the fact that as education has moved into the realm of standardized testing we are in turn neglecting the important characteristics of success, persistence, self-control, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.  He suggests that if we focus on these fundamental characteristics, then success in academic skills will easily follow.

I am seeing the effects of not focusing on these important life skills right now.  As I watch my current school focus on the wrong things, I can’t help but wonder: are we as educators also focusing on the wrong things?  Because the arts are not tested, this gives us a great opportunity to help students build the characteristics of success.  As arts educators we can really hone in on developing these skills for our students.  Teaching skills like inner resilience, curiosity, and confidence are going to have a positive impact on academics as well.

Supporting Teachers

The flip side of this is that schools need to support our work by focusing more on the students’ character, rather than the perception and look of the school.  There needs to be follow through, clear expectations, and distinct consequences for the students, not the teachers.  When it comes to maintaining efficacy within school walls, it is so very important to ensure teachers are supported.  Issues like discipline, attendance policies, even clear expectations about when parents can come in to meet with teachers are vital in supporting teachers.  Students have the right to learn as well as the right to fail, but often discipline becomes an issue for teachers and students alike.

The biggest struggle is when disciplining students becomes more of a consequence for the teacher rather than the student.  Attendance policies should be clear as well. There should be policies and structures in place for students who don’t attend class or come to class so late that it is a complete disruption to the instruction.  Equally, there should be expectations for parents.  Parents should have a complete understanding of steps that can be taken to set up meeting with teachers and counselors.  Being interrupted in the middle of class instruction for an impromptu meeting is unacceptable.

It is so important that educational institutions really focus on supporting their teachers, building character in their students, and maintaining efficacy of the institution, without these we are just putting lipstick on a pig.

Next Week: Best of 2014

4-Read Strategy

As we move into our “Best of 2014” week, enjoy a great strategy for conversing with informational text!

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.