As state and national policies in education continue to be examined, many issues that were once thought untouchable are coming to the forefront. We are seeing this in statewide achievement testing and in national common core standards, as well as global literacy, post-secondary and career readiness, teacher effectiveness, and technology use in classrooms. Included in this reexamination of education in America are standards of professional behavior. Within these standards is an increased focus on staff dress codes. We are no different than other leading school districts across the country that are raising the standard of professionalism in their schools.
The School District of Janesville has had, and continues to use, a jointly developed “Standards of Professional Behavior” document with all staff. It is a guiding document, calling us to be our best at all times. However, it is vague regarding dress code. The Standards of Professional Behavior is the only document in the SDJ that addresses employee dress by stating “Employees will dress appropriately.” The Janesville Education Association has not endorsed this document.
We are not alone in our focus on dress code. Other leading school systems are defining dress codes for their faculty and staff as well. Here is a sample of what I found in Wisconsin newspapers and across the country regarding Dress Code Policy for teachers.
Like many employers, the Litchfield district is trying to maintain a professional work atmosphere in changing times. District leaders created the policy because the organization didn't have a written policy and thought it was time to create one, said Shawn Watt, governing board president. Sara Griffin, a Litchfield governing board member, drafted most of the regulations for hair color, piercings, tattoos and clothing in the new policy. Griffin said tattoos, especially tattoos that cover the entire arm, could appear unprofessional, offensive or distracting. The rules include prohibitions common in many workplaces. That includes rubber flip-flops, visible undergarments, visible cleavage and bare midriffs. Employees also can't wear clothes that are too tight, loose or transparent, short skirts or exercise pants. Tops may not bare shoulders. (Litchfield, Arizona - The Republic 7/21/12)
The Wichita School District is just one of a growing number in the nation cracking down on teacher apparel, and jeans are banned in at least one elementary school in New York City. A school district in Phoenix is requiring teachers to cover up tattoos and excessive piercings. And several Arizona schools are strictly defining business casual. (USA Today 7/30/12)
As we reflect on appropriate attire for all of our employees, which is just one of many topics the Employee Handbook will cover, it is important to examine the course the SDJ is on in its Journey to Excellence.
The School District of Janesville has chosen an evidence-based leadership model. These are not idle words; we begin each of our Board of Education meetings with examples of evidence-based leadership, and we practice each day in our interactions with one another, with our students, and when talking with parents and community members. How we dress and present ourselves is an extension of evidence-based leadership practices.
Evidence-based leadership practices embrace standardization of workplace practices to promote efficiency, alignment, and quality. Part of the standardization of practices is having uniform policies that we all can abide by and embrace. It is also about communicating clear messages and defining expectations; I believe all employees have a right to know what appropriate dress looks like, but that’s a difficult target to hit, so writing a dress code policy as a portion of the Handbook is an attempt to define “appropriate” for all of us.
This is no small task as we have 1,300 employees, 10,308 children, and many more parents. Without a common understanding of “appropriate dress,” we might define it differently from one school to another; or from one staff member to another. This is in conflict of our evidence-based leadership practices that we have defined as a foundation for ourselves.
While a dress code standard may be difficult for some staff, I have already heard from one principal that because of our discussion on the DRAFT document, her school staff has already begun to be more mindful of their attire.
An Employee Handbook is an important document to codify and standardize our beliefs and a critical communication tool to share those beliefs with all of us – staff, parents, and community members.
We are on the path to excellence. We are aligning our efforts, defining our beliefs, and raising the achievement bar for all of us – students and staff alike.