I was recently in New York City and Bill Henson (President of Cristo Rey Brooklyn) was driving me through the Madison Square Garden district. He remarked that twenty years ago that area was full of violence and drugs. It was a No-Man’s Land. I asked what had turned it around and Bill told me it was Mayor Giuliani’s famous Broken Window Policy. Basically, that was the policy that some social psychologist devised founded on the belief that if you take care of the little things, like repairing broken windows, the big things like drugs and violence will take care of themselves.
How often do we hear that “the devil is in the details” and I think it is especially true in the case of the dress code we try to maintain at our Cristo Rey Network schools. Frankly, I think it is one of those battles that will always be on-going; it takes constant reminding. It’s a pain for those who have to be reminded and for those who do the reminding, too. However, sometimes I have thought that maybe the dress code is the most important part of the culture of a Cristo Rey school. From the time that our students are putting their socks on in the morning, they are remembering that they are very special people doing something very special with their lives. The way a person is dressed says a lot about how professional that person is. That’s simply the way it is in the professional world we are preparing our students to enter.
I think it could be helpful to recall the origin of the dress code policy. We wanted the school environment to be professional, to continue the idea that one is a professional all the time. We even thought at one time about setting up the classrooms to resemble offices. Everyone at a Cristo Rey school is always on the job, sometimes in a corporate office and other times in class. They are always working professionally. One of the reasons it is so difficult to maintain this spirit at our schools is that, as is so often true in our schools, very definitely our goal is counter-cultural; today’s world certainly leans toward what is more casual.
One of the most important factors is certainly the modeling that the adults in the school are providing. It is a constant battle that calls for our constant attention. I think it is an important part of reminding people of how high we set the bar at our Cristo Rey Network schools and to be effective we have to have buy-in from everyone involved. We don’t want to ask the students to do something the adults don’t do. To lead by example, all faculty and staff must be expected to model the professional dress required of our students. And someone has to accept the responsibility of reminding the adults when they stray outside the following guidelines (a sample adult dress code from a Cristo Rey school):
A professional’s dress and behavior have a powerful impact on relationships with students and colleagues. Students look to the adults in their school as examples of how to dress and act in the professional world. Therefore, it is important to model professionalism and respect for others with a neat, well-groomed appearance, dressing only in appropriate business attire. Even when the students are dressed in a school uniform, the adults are still held to model what is expected in the professional world.
Hopefully, adult role-modeling in these matters can begin right when the person comes in to interview the first time for a job. How they are dressed is an accurate indicator of how they view the culture we are trying to build up. They certainly are not going to change for the better after they are working with us. Our goal is to introduce these young people into a culture where they can succeed professionally and it takes a continuous team effort. I would hope that on every Mission Effectiveness Review the visiting team might review the dress code as it is expressed in the Student Handbook as well as how well it is followed.
I am writing this reminder now at the start of the new school year so that as the different administrative teams prepare their policies and handbooks they will make sure that clear expectations are spelled out for everyone at the school, reminding everyone involved that we are about creating a professional environment in our schools so that our young people will know how to act and what is expected of them. Certainly no one likes to be “the corrector,” but someone has to keep the bar high. It needs to be a real team effort where each and every adult feels that everyone is headed in the same direction, all for the good of our students. “The devil is in the details” and this devil is not going away for a long time.