Back to school and new beginnings feel exciting, except for one thing—the dress code wars! I wonder if parents know how much time teachers and administrators invest in enforcing these rules. We want our children to dress safely and “appropriately,” a word that has different meanings for many. I hold two perspectives.
When principal of a K-8 school, I enforced a dress code of uniforms that were part of the school’s mission. Parents loved the uniforms because they were affordable and the parents associated it with high standards, belonging, and pride. However, many children came to school with shoes, shirts, pants, and other items that were not dress code.
Much of my communication with students became about what they were not wearing and to fix it. Go to the nurse, call your parents, borrow the right item out of the lost and found. As the year wore on, so did these tiresome, negative conversations.
In contrast, my daughters attended a junior-senior high school with no dress code. Saggy pants? Go for it. Tank tops with spaghetti straps? Perfect. Shorts and flip flops in the snow? No problem.
Except that “belly shirts” were the fashion and my younger daughter fought me mightily over wearing them. It was extremely hard being a parent and holding the line.
What began to change her mind? A teacher, who began a conversation with the students in his class:
“What message are you sending with your clothes? Why?”
This teacher kept the conversation going for a few weeks, until the students had taken enough time to talk and really understand the issue, and from many points of view.
That school’s mission was to teach students how to think. Doing this takes time and thought.
A teacher’s relationship with students should be deep enough to talk them through struggles that affect them daily. Let’s think about this. Consider the message. Is it one we want to send? Let’s think about who we are. How do we want to present ourselves?
A dress code may not be part of the curriculum. Teaching students how to think? It’s never out of style.