Maryland elementary school principal Brian Baudoin is serious about education—so serious that one day last fall, he roamed the halls dressed as a rooster and did the chicken dance during physical education classes.
That’s also why a principal in Wisconsin puckered up to a goat, and one in Tennessee sampled a rare delicacy: a chocolate-covered cockroach.
These administrators, and many like them, are finding that a little public humiliation goes a long way toward motivating students to meet fundraising and achievement goals. As the trend grows, principals are using ever more creative ways to inspire students, from eating worms to shaving their heads during school assemblies.
“Promising a stunt at the end can be a really effective way to get kids motivated,” says Frank Sennett, author of 101 Stunts for Principals To Inspire Student Achievement. The stunts appeal to kids because they get to see a side of the principal they don’t glimpse every day.
In addition to boosting fundraising sales, these types of antics can help build school spirit. Remembering his day as a chicken, Baudoin says, “It really galvanized the community. I don’t know who was more excited, the children or their parents.”
Motivational stunts don’t necessarily have to be outrageous to be effective, Sennett says. They just need to capture students’ imaginations. There’s no need to worry if your principal isn’t up for kissing farm animals or eating bugs.
“The biggest thing is just enjoy it,” says Kellye Goostree, who’s done both as principal at her elementary school in Tennessee. “Do whatever fits your school and have fun and don’t take yourself so seriously.”
Principal Wes Nicholas promised his students last year that if they raised $10,000 in the PTO’s first fun run, he would spend a night on the school roof. The students at Asotin (Wash.) Elementary collected $22,000 in pledges, and Nicholas headed to the roof with a tent and a sleeping bag. In the middle of October.
When students assembled the next morning on the playground for the pledge of allegiance, Nicholas emerged from the tent in his pajamas, carrying a large stuffed animal and letting the students think they had woken him up.
The principal also allowed the top-earning student to cut his hair in any style. The student shaved a strip down the middle of his head, giving him a reverse Mohawk.
Nicholas is quick to note that it could have been worse. He previously worked at a middle school, where “they wanted to see someone dressed up as a lady and put makeup on you and stuff.”
Mike Dmiterchik has a habit of losing bets with his students. Most recently, he wagered with students at Rehoboth Elementary in Rehoboth Beach, Del., that they couldn’t raise $40,000 from the PTO gift-wrap fundraiser. He ended up duct-taped to a wall in the school gym, hovering several feet above the floor.
The school’s top 25 sellers had the privilege of taping Dmiterchik while the rest of the students watched. As a final blow, a student placed a pink bow on his head.
Earlier in his career, he’s had his head shaved and worn a dress and a toga to school. Dmiterchik explains that he’s willing to do these things because it gets kids excited about coming to school.
“I like having fun and seeing the smiles on kids’ faces,” he says, “and if it’s at my expense, I’ve got big enough shoulders, I can take it.”
With school enrollment cut in half last year by redistricting, it was more important than ever for the Tulip Grove Elementary PTA catalog sale to be successful. So when the fundraising coordinator at the Bowie, Md., school asked principal Brian Baudoin whether he was willing to wear a chicken costume to get students excited about the sale, he didn’t think twice. Baudoin challenged students to sell 740 items, and they exceeded the goal by almost 30 percent.
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Baudoin donned the multicolored suit for an entire school day, but it wasn’t all fun and games. “I reinforced the message while I was in the suit about setting goals in life, making a plan to achieve them, and achieving them,” he says.
When he worked at another school, faculty members shaved his head and painted it blue and gold, the school colors, after the students had perfect attendance for a state test.
Wrapping It Up
Principal Shawn Maguire is always looking for new ways to motivate students at Rockport (Mass.) Elementary. Known for his extensive tie collection, he once allowed students to cut 2 inches from his ties after they met reading goals. The cut-up neckcloths were displayed on bulletin boards around the school.
To fire up the kids about the fall gift-wrap sale, Maguire promised that students from the two top-selling classes could wrap him in toilet paper in front of the whole school. The assembly took place on Halloween, and Maguire, who was wearing a devil costume, soon looked like a mummy. The following week, he shaved his head when Rockport Elementary staff lost a basketball game to staff from another school. The game was a fundraiser for the elementary’s PTO.
“It really improves the school climate,” says Maguire of the incentives. “There’s a climate here of support and nurture and camaraderie,...and that transfers to what students do.”
Although his stunts so far have been relatively simple, he has an idea for something really big: riding an elephant to school to promote reading.
In her years as an elementary school principal, Kellye Goostree has shown that she’s up for just about anything. The principal at Cedar Grove Elementary in Smyrna, Tenn. (winner of PTO Today’s 2007 Parent Group of the Year search), bravely lets students decide what she’ll do if they meet their PTO fundraising goals. Cedar Grove staff members turn the stunts into educational exercises, having students suggest ideas, categorize them, vote, and make graphs as they progress toward their sales goals.
“It’s a lot more fun and we’ve raised more money when we let the kids get involved in it,” Goostree says, noting that she always retains final veto power over their selection.
In previous years, she and the assistant principal have held and kissed an 8-foot boa constrictor, kissed a cow, and eaten canned dog and cat food. One year, the assistant principal wore an inflatable clown suit and Goostree served as the ringmaster. When Goostree ate a chocolate-covered cockroach last year, staffers positioned a video camera to give students a close-up look at the bug, and she stood next to a microphone so they could hear it crunching in her mouth.
Getting the Goat
At St. Anthony Parish School in Athens, Wis., a pledge by the staff to sing karaoke and kiss a goat motivated students to more than double scrip sales. Principal Lucy McCarthy promised the reward if students made at least $60,000 in sales. Over two weeks, the fundraiser brought in $68,000, nearly three times as much as the year before.
Students, parents, and some grandparents gathered to watch the entire St. Anthony Parish School staff kiss a pet goat belonging to two students whose mother teaches at the school. “The goat didn’t seem to mind at all. It was a very friendly goat,” McCarthy says.
After receiving the kisses, the goat was led outdoors and the volume was cranked up on the karaoke machine. McCarthy sang a Shania Twain song, dressed as Shania, and the parish priest performed his own version of “Que Sera, Sera.” The rest of the staff members, who were dressed as lions, sang “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
A few parents had originally suggested that McCarthy ride a donkey on the playground, but she opposed the idea for safety concerns. She’s already brainstorming ideas for next year, looking for “something cute but safe.”
“This will be hard to top,” she says.
Kiss, Kiss: Kids love to see grownups smooch just about any kind of animal. Newspapers have written stories about principals kissing pigs, cows, goats, donkeys, even a fish.
In Costume: Students get a kick out of seeing normally serious teachers and principals wearing costumes. Popular options include dressing as an animal or a book character and making an avid sports fan wear a rival team’s jersey.
Grossed Out: Inspired by Fear Factor and How To Eat Fried Worms, principals have ingested a variety of insects and unpalatable fare like pet food.
Dishing It Out: Kids get to play with food, drenching the principal in ice-cream sundae toppings or covering the principal in a hot dog suit with ketchup and mustard.
On Top of Things: Several principals have camped out on the school roof overnight or moved their entire office to the roof. A brave few have skydived onto school grounds.