Principal Helpline: Will Kids Read More if I Dress Like a Chicken?

Studies show … oh, wait.

motivate student readers

Q.

Each fall our parents’ association sponsors a program to motivate student readers. Usually, they give out prizes to top readers, but this year they want me as principal to do something “fun” if kids read a certain number of books. Their idea of “fun” is that I would kiss a pig or sleep overnight on the roof of the school or dress like a chicken for the day.

This will be only my second year as principal, and I’ve worked hard to establish some credibility. I’ve read about principals who have done things like this, but it feels unprofessional and embarrassing. . Ideas?

A.

Some principals love this sort of thing and will happily do whatever it takes if they think it encourages kids to read. I actually knew a principal who kissed a pig and another one who ate fried worms when kids hit their reading target. A middle school principal I knew dressed up like the Cat in the Hat and roller-skated around the gym. Their respective schools had a big assembly and everyone thought it was a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, I’m not that kind of principal.

I encourage kids to read. I read aloud to various classes. I take part in handing out certificates and prizes.  But I do all those things wearing my usual professional attire.

Other options

As you probably know, there are no studies that show that there are any long-term positive effects on reading from principals sleeping on the roof of the school or eating worms. Much more effective are programs designed to help struggling readers, small classes at the primary level, and funding to provide high interest, diverse reading materials for students.

So if you’re not comfortable with your parents’ association’s suggestions, tell them you’ll have to pass. But offer something else that you would like to do to motivate student readers. Take the top three readers to lunch.  Read a book to a classroom of kids. Hand out free ice cream tickets for the most improved readers.

I think your concerns about being taken seriously as the building leader are justified, and I’m pretty sure that dressing like a chicken will not enhance your reputation in that regard.  The principal who kissed a pig, for example, was known as a solid administrator before she did that.  Afterward, she was known as “the principal who kissed the pig.” It’s something to think about.

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Posted by Suzanne Tingley

Suzanne Tingley has been a middle/high school teacher, department chair, principal, and superintendent. She taught graduate classes in education administration for the State University of New York. She developed a series of education videos and has been a Scholastic Administrator blogger.

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