Doing Whatever It Takes, Part II

According to the numerous comments on the earlier post about activities that principals undertake in the name of student motivation, principals can get pretty creative when it comes to inspiring students to put forth their best efforts. But none of the comments included giving out cold, hard cash, as is the proposal for a special program in New York City schools. Participants of the program could earn up to $500 for doing well on standardized tests and showing up for class, The New York Times reports. The privately funded incentive program, which would start this fall, would also include cash payments for parents who provide stable environments for their school-aged children by, for example, keeping a full-time job and having health insurance. Opponents of the plan argue that students must develop an appreciation for learning for learning’s sake, and cash incentives do not instill this value.

Doing Whatever It Takes

To the delight of many students, principals nationwide are submitting to the silly, outlandish, and sometimes embarrassing activities that they promised if students reached a predetermined goal. Shaving or dyeing their hair, eating worms, spending time on the school’s roof, getting a pie (or two) in the face, and sitting in dunk tank are among some of the ideas that principals and their students have come up with.

The goals principals give their students vary from surpassing a fundraising goal to doing well on state exams. “It’s important to have fun at school as well as work really hard,” said principal Candy McCarthy, who recently spent five hours atop her school for her students. “It motivates [the students]. It’s just something silly and crazy,” she added

McCarthy certainly is not alone. What other ideas have you come up with over the years to motivate your students? What are the funniest you’ve heard or read about?

Double Take

More and more twins, triplets, and other multiple-birth children are seen in school buildings these days, and it seems that principals face the dilemma of whether to keep siblings in the same classes throughout the year. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, 21 states have either passed legislation or are considering laws concerning twins or other multiples in schools. Parents appear to be adamant one way or the other about how to place their children, so legislators have sided with them by proposing laws that would leave the decision in the hands of the parents.

There is no cut-and-dry research as to whether it is better to separate multiples or keep them together in the classroom, which makes the issue a bit complex. It would be interesting to know what some principals’ experiences have been with multiples in their schools.

Bee Season

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is coming up at the end of the month with its usual fanfare. But one teacher at Cedar Grove Elementary School will not be mimicking spelling contests in her first-grade class because she thinks “they honor the children who already know how to spell, but they do little to support those who need explicit instruction.” Read last week’s Washington Post article that states that even though spelling bees have become very popular, the teaching of spelling has been overlooked because it is not covered on high-stakes tests. 

History 101

Although fourth- and eighth-grade history scores have improved overall, neither grade saw an increase in students grasping more than a basic comprehension of the subject. A recent government report reveals that the best results were in fourth grade, where 70 percent of students attained the basic level of achievement or better. The report also indicates that the progress in history in general was made by students working at the lowest levels.There are mixed feelings about what these results imply. On the one hand, some argue that this shows that NCLB’s focus on reading and math instruction is taking away from other subjects such as history. But on the other hand, the focus on reading may be what is helping the lower-level students to increase their scores in other subjects.

Washington State Principals Join the Blogosphere

Check out the Association of Washington School Principals’ new blog, The Comp Book. It’s great to see more principals using blogs to communicate with their staff and parents (and the general public).  For example, Arizona principal Steve Poling has Mr. P’s Blog, Oklahoma principal Jan Borelli has Dr. Jan’s Blog, and Washington principal Glen Malone has Almost Monday. These are just a few of the principal blogs that have been launched. Have you started a blog? If so, send us a link to it.

Old School School

Do you remember what school was like in your day—before smart classrooms and technology centers were common place? While most students can’t conceive of schools of the past, fifth graders at Indian Hills Elementary School in Hopkinsville, KY, had the opportunity to experience one-room turn-of-the-century schooling at the recently restored Beverly Academy. The school opened in 1889, was restored in 1999, and today serves as a museum to show the public what public school looked like over one hundred years ago. Indian Hills students, for example, used a pulley system to gather water, and used slate boards and chalk to practice math lessons.

Creative Approaches to Fundraising

We received many, many comments from the principals who took the NAESP fundraising survey. Some principals felt that schools should not be in the business of fundraising, others thought it was good for school spirit but worried about having to rely so much on the revenue for basic items. Principals are also looking at more creative ways to fundraise in their school. We asked a few principals about this and here’s what they had to say:

At Steve Poling’s Arizona school, the PTO held a Read-A-Thon to encourage children to read while raising money, rather than just sell catalogue merchandise. Poling says they raised just as much through the Read-A-Thon as they would normally raise selling “catalogue stuff that nobody wants anyway.”  Another treat was that the PTO president filmed a hilarious video to promote the Read-A-Thon and to show students in their kick-off assemblies. You can access it at

Missouri’s Teresa Tulipana doesn’t believe principals should provide fundraising incentives that encourage students to disrespect the office of the principal. “Relationships with students are important and it’s important to be fun and approachable, but I believe some of these activities border on disrespect,” says Tulipana. “We must do everything we can to raise the level of respect for our, rather than a pie in the face, invite small groups to your office for ‘Pie with the Principal.’ Instead of the dunk tank, coordinate a school-wide basketball contest to see who can dunk the ball. Be creative—establish incentive programs (and fundraisers) that build relationships, build trust, build respect, and promote the academic goals of the school.”

Oklahoma’s Jan Borelli thinks principals should give more attention to grants, rather than focus solely on fundraising. “Every year there are thousands of dollars that don’t get used because no one applies," says Borelli. “I think that we should start considering the time and effort we put in on selling traditional ‘stuff’ and use that time more effectively by applying for grant opportunities.  Google ‘educational grant opportunities’ and get started.  My school has received a total of $15,000 from Lowe’s Toolbox for Education, Laura Bush Library Grants, and the Dollar General Store.”

What are some creative approaches that you have tried with fundraising?  Let us know here at the Principals’ Office.

Urban Teachers, Principals Have High Expectations and Respect for Students

A majority of urban teachers and building administrators hold high expectations for students and care whether students are successful, according to a national survey conducted by the National School Boards Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education. However, the survey also found that nearly one-third of teachers and nearly 16 percent of administrators agree that students at their schools are not motivated to learn.  Nearly one-quarter of teachers also agree that most students at their school would not be successful at a community college or university. On the other hand, only 7 percent of principals and assistant principals agree with that statement.

The survey report, Where We Teach, outlines findings from 12 urban school districts in 10 states. The survey’s findings are grouped under eight areas: bullying; expectations of success; influence of race; professional climate; professional development; parental involvement; safety; and trust, respect, and ethos of caring.

NAESP, NASSP, NEA, and AFT collaborated on the study’s recommendations. The full report, Where We Teach, can be downloaded at

Are Private Schools Better than Public Schools?

In the March/April issue of Principal magazine (Can Public Education Survive?) Henry Braun, the Boisi Professor of Education and Public Policy at Boston College's Lynch School of Education, tackles the private schools vs. public schools debate. Braun applies a different assessment model for analyzing NAEP data for students in grades 4 and 8 and shares some surprising results.

Why We Need Public Schools

Yes, we know it’s a no-brainer, but you may find some interesting tidbits in the report “Why We Still Need Public Schools” that you can share with your staff and community members. The report highlights the history and importance of public education and examines six core missions of public schools, including the goal of providing an equal opportunity for millions of children. The Center on Education Policy’s report is a great way to share what’s right with our public schools and can be accessed at

Louisiana Principal Reflects on Integration

Terrific article in yesterday’s Shreveport Times about Principal Cathleen Johnson’s reflections on her tumultuous entry into the field of education. Johnson integrated Bossier Elementary in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1970 as the first African-American teacher and 37 years later she’s still there—but now she’s the principal. We can all find great inspiration in her story.

Public School Principals Report on Their School Facilities

Principals discuss the conditions of their school buildings in a new report by the Ed Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. The report looks at nine environmental factors in school buildings (including physical condition, air quality, air conditioning, and lighting) and the extent to which principals believe those factors are interfering with the ability to deliver instruction to students. The report also looks at approaches for coping with overcrowding and the ways in which schools use portable buildings.

The bottom line? Between 63 percent and 92 percent of principals are satisfied with their permanent buildings (depending on the environmental factors). Although close to half of the principals also indicated that at least one or more of the environmental factors interfered with instruction to some extent.

Who is that Masked Man?

Principals can be pretty creative when it comes to motivating their
students to learn. For 20 years, NAESP Board Member and Michigan principal Bill Rich has been visiting classrooms as “Zero the Hero” to inspire his K-1 students. When Zero the Hero is around, dates that end with a zero become very special days as the children become engaged in all types of counting activities.

“Like most schools, we have a big celebration for 100 Days, but it is important to celebrate each Zero Day to give the students a shorter time between celebrations,” says Rich. “As the students become excited about an upcoming Zero Day, the teachers can use that motivation for asking questions about numbers during the daily calendar times. On Day 47, for example, teachers can ask questions like: “How many days since we last saw Zero?” or “How many times has Zero visited us this year?”

“While I have never admitted to a parent or student that I dress as Zero, I can’t walk into our middle school or high school and not have students say, ‘There goes Zero the Hero,’” says Rich. “We all do some crazy things to participate in the education of our students. Hopefully we can leave students with some enjoyable memories.”

Happy Holidays!

The Principals’ Office will be taking a temporary hiatus next week. We wish everyone a joyful holiday season and a Happy New Year. We would also like to take a moment to thank our nation’s principals for the awesome job that they do and for their continued commitment to their students and teachers. See you in January!

What’s Your New Year’s Resolution?

Someone once said that “A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” But the Principals’ Office prefers the more optimistic tone of Oprah Winfrey, who said “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” Some principals have made New Year’s resolutions for their schools. For example, Oklahoma Principal Jan Borelli says this year her school started a walking program and her New Year’s resolution is to follow through with the program. “Some of us (most un-notably ME) have spent the time watching rather than participating,” says Borelli. “My faculty and I are committed to fully participating when we get back in January.”

For Missouri Principal Teresa Tulipana, the thought of adding something to the work that her school already does seems daunting. “We are nearing capacity and one more initiative or one more committee may be all it takes to push us past capacity,” says Tulipani. “So in 2007, I resolve to help my school focus on what is, in the words of Stephen Covey, ‘wildly important.’ By narrowing our focus to two or three wildly important areas or initiatives, I believe we can make a significant impact for students. This narrowed focus will allow us to work smarter, to pool our energies, and to maximize our potential as a school team.”

What’s your New Year’s resolution for 2007? Share your resolution with the Principals’ Office.

Coping with the Stress of the Holiday Season

Stress comes in all forms during the holiday season—overcrowded malls, last minute gifts to buy, skyrocketing plane ticket prices. We asked some principals if they experience an increase in stress at their schools during this time and here’s what they had to say.

Missouri Principal Teresa Tulipana writes: Stress is a reality of the holiday season. For some students, there is the uncertainty of what the holidays will bring and the prospect of being home for an extended period of time. Whether students will admit it or not, the structure of the school day gives them great comfort. Holidays are also stressful for parents because financial concerns and added responsibilities can create a great burden. Couple this with staff members who are experiencing similar stressors and a full calendar, and stress will definitely impact a school. I personally combat it by increasing my level of organization and focus on what’s really important—the people in the school and in my life. To help my staff combat the stress, I regularly talk about the stresses they may encounter, model a calm demeanor, and help them celebrate the joys of the season. I also give my staff “The Gift of Time.” This gift, in the form of a poem and candy cane, announces that all faculty meetings in December have been cancelled. Based on the reactions of the staff, you would have thought I bought them each a brand new car! Small gestures of understanding can make a huge difference when a school experiences a stressful time.

Oklahoma Principal Jan Borelli writes: I am principal at an urban school (99 percent of the children receive free- and reduced-lunch) with the highest incidence of child abuse for our county in our attendance area. Some children "act out" the problems they experience in the home while others withdraw and are sad. My faculty and I actively work to bring happiness and joy to the children; and the students at a local private high school adopt our children and come to the school to provide a Christmas (most of our children won't have one) and individual attention for the morning. Instead of focusing on our own stress, my faculty and I make a concerted effort to our children. Of course, the five pounds we gain from eating all the food during this time may be from stress!

Montana Principal Pat Hould writes: I have never felt that the stress level for my school as a whole increase during this time of year. I do believe that stress levels increase for some individual students. Students who have had significant loss in their lives, or who have had trauma that has been detrimental to their immediate families, seem to struggle during the holiday season. While most of my students think of the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays as a time for friends and families to gather, and as a time to exchange gifts, those students whose families have financial challenges struggle. I must say however, that the mere anticipation of the Christmas break does bring a certain "circus energy" to the last few school days in December!

Move over Katie Couric

Guest blogger and Oklahoma principal Jan Borelli recently told us that we should keep our eyes open for one of the newer forms of technology—podcasting. Today, Jan joins her colleague and fellow podcaster, Arizona principal Steve Poling, with the debut of “Principal Necessities,” a new feature where key education figures, authors, and specialists discuss issues, trends, and concerns that are facing principals and other members of the education community. The first broadcast features popular author and presenter, Dr. Ruby Payne, who discusses discipline strategies for the classroom. You can hear Jan and Steve’s interview with Dr. Payne by clicking here.

Principals in the Blogosphere

Earlier this month, the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE) launched the project “100 principal blogs in 100 days” to increase the number of principals in the blogosphere. CASTLE is offering to create and host principal blogs for free through at least the summer of 2007. So far, 33 principals have signed up. The project ends in January.

Thinking about starting your own principal blog but don't know how to get started? While teachers tend to use blogs as curriculum tools, principals lean toward using them as communication tools. To get started, read "Principal Blogs" and "Why Blog As An Administrator."

Let us know if you have your own principal blog and, if so, how you're using it in your school.

Principals as Rock Stars

It’s the second day of NAESP’s National Distinguished Principals Award (NDP) and it’s been a treat listening to the 65 principals speak about how they lead successful schools. They’ve shared stories about how their schools have met AYP, qualified as National Blue Ribbon Schools, and how they create and support successful learning environments.

It’s interesting the way we “celebrify” reality TV stars and wealthy dilettantes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if principals and teachers received the same treatment — where fans would flock to them, asking them for their autographs and treating them like rock stars? And news cameras would flash like the paparazzi as they walked through their communities. Aw yes, in a perfect world. Yet listening to the NDPs, it’s apparent that they are celebrities in their communities. Our principals may not be rock stars, but they are definitely role models and heroes.