Dress code would clearly communicate expectations
As state and national policies in education continue to be examined, many issues are coming to the forefront. This is evident in statewide achievement testing, national common-core standards, global literacy and teacher effectiveness. 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 standards of professionalism.
The Janesville School District has a jointly developed “Standards of Professional Behavior” document, though the Janesville Education Association has not endorsed it. It is a guiding document and calls 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 district that addresses employee dress by stating “I will wear appropriate attire.”
We are not alone in our focus on dress code. Other leading school systems are defining dress codes for their employees. Here are two samples:
“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. … Several Arizona schools are strictly defining business casual,” USA Today reported July 30.
“The policies on professional attire adopted recently by districts such as Nicolet, New Berlin and Hamilton outlaw jeans and define the acceptable dress as ‘business casual.’ Most employees working under new dress codes said they thought it was acceptable to expect staff to dress nicely and that it was probably good for their district’s image overall,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Oct. 1, 2011.
As we reflect on appropriate attire for all of our employees, it is important to examine the course the district is on in its Journey to Excellence.
The district has chosen an evidence-based leadership model. This model embraces standardization of workplace practices to promote efficiency, alignment and quality. Part of the standardization of practices is having uniform policies. 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 employee handbook is an attempt to define “appropriate” for all of us. This is no small task because we have 1,300 employees.
Without a common understanding of “appropriate dress,” we might define it differently. This conflicts with our evidence-based leadership practices that we have defined as a foundation for the district.
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. 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.
Karen Schulte is superintendent of the Janesville School District; phone 608-743-5050; email firstname.lastname@example.org.