The Associated Press
Sometimes it takes a minute for James Anderson to figure out why people are staring at him.
Then the assistant principal remembers that in June he let a group of Power Middle School students shave his head with an electric razor and his hair’s still growing back. He had promised he would let them take the shears to his locks if they had fewer failing grades in 2010 than the previous year.
Every year, school administrators like Anderson make local headlines for silly stunts intended to motivate students. Principals do everything from spending the day on the roof to kissing pigs to taking pies in the face to reward students for a job well done.
The antics really help “motivate and encourage,” said Diane Cargile, outgoing president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, based in Alexandria, Va.
“The (students) love it and the parents love it,” Cargile said. “They know you care about the children.”
It’s a popular tool that’s not often discussed among professionals, said Anderson, who works in Farmington Hills, Mich. “I go to principal conferences every year and we’ve never once discussed this,” he said.
Offering to shave his head had an impact on the students and their grades, Anderson added. The number of F’s dropped from 312 to 36, he said.
“We used it as a motivating tool,” he said. “If students had a test, the teachers would say, ‘You’ve got to do well to meet Anderson’s challenge.”’
Agreeing to do something silly also shows the kids “you’re willing to give them something for their
effort,” Anderson said. He also let students duct-tape him to a pillar in the lunchroom after they exceeded a fundraising goal for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
That was “far worse” than his new haircut, he said. “When it was time to come down, all the hairs on my arms got pulled out,” he recalled.
When students in kindergarten through third grade at East Jones Elementary School in Laurel, Miss., collected more coins than students in the upper grades, Principal Becky Stewart let a kindergartner lob a pie at her face. “It was all in good fun,” she said. Although, “it stung my eyes.”
The pie-throwing opportunity encouraged students to bring in money to help offset the cost of new playground equipment, Stewart said.
“The best part was getting to draw the name of the student who was going to do it” at a 2009 school assembly, she recalled. “You could see the excitement.”
“Humor needs to be part of the day,” she said. “When they get to see you being funny, they love it.”
In Sheffield Township, Ohio, Vincent Elementary School principal Virginia Fitch kissed a pig in April to reward kids for meeting their math goals, the local paper reported.
Such over-the-top acts underscore a principal’s commitment to the school, said Barbara Sistrunk, an assistant principal who jumped out of a plane when the Parent Teacher Association at Greenland Pines Elementary School in Jacksonville, Fla., met their parent participation goals.
They also grab students’ attention. After Sistrunk’s sky dive, 12-year-old Katie Blackwell decided to do her science project on what type of fabric makes the best parachute. She experimented with paper, plastic, silk and nylon parachutes. Nylon worked best, she concluded.
“It took longer to get down,” she said.
Jumping out of a plane showed that Sistrunk “believes that the school can be a champ,” said Katie.
Sistrunk didn’t initially believe the PTA really wanted her to jump out of a plane.
“It’s nothing I would have dreamed of doing,” she said of her March 20 jump. “I did it for the kids. I won’t do it again.”