Recently I was cleaning out my office closet and noticed that most of it was full of my costumes and accessories that have accumulated over the years! I thought to myself, I wonder how many other principals’ closets look like this?
I’ve taken Dave Burgess’ philosophy of going above and beyond to create excitement and engagement in my school to heart. When I bought all of our teachers his book Teach Like a Pirate for a book study years ago I didn’t realize at the time that this movement would need to start with me. I kept preaching how others should change and go over the top. How could I expect my teachers to dress up, do more, and try new things if I didn’t model this first!? Thank you Dave for being a pirate and leading us all!
It doesn’t stop with talking and acting like a pirate. Costumes show that I care more about my students and their well-being than I do about my own pride. These costumes are as important to my development as to the effect on others. They are reminders to me that leadership is about the positive impact you can have on your school. Sometimes I’ve needed to go over the top to make specific points to our students, families, and staff, and costumes have been a fun way of doing this!
Parents stay up late at night before the holidays, even when tired, to set up their child’s elf in funny positions. Dressing up like Elf on the Shelf was to remind our teachers that they too can create special moments and memories every day for their students. I could just talk about that like most principals or I could actually be the elf on the shelf for the day!
Acting in our school musicals has been an amazing way to be immersed in the lives of our students. Seeing how hard they work to memorize lines and dance moves has motivated me to do the same in my daily job. I’ve played many roles and some actually included singing (I sure hope it’s not recorded!). My favorite was playing Mufasa in The Lion King. My death scene was epic. What was more meaningful though was seeing more boys participate in the musical over the years since they saw their male principal involved!
At Ashland, we’ll do basically anything to motivate our students! Dressing up as superheros for a pep assembly was a blast. It is an unreal feeling to see the spark in the kids’ eyes, realizing that they think you are the real thing! It’s humbling to think that they are so engrossed in the moment that they think you are really a true superhero.
Imagine a massive banana walking through the school telling everyone that we’re bananas for our teachers! We even gave them real bananas for a snack (although I’m sure a huge bonus would have been better…). Remember it’s the effort that counts.
Even when doing something serious like active-shooter scenarios with the Washington Field Office FBI SWAT team, we couldn’t resist trying on their gear for pictures! Never miss an opportunity to capture a memory.
I have different, more official-looking costumes such as my stars and stripes suit to celebrate our country and military-connected students. Our gold suits celebrate our gold standard, our gold star, chasing 100% pass rate and the success for every single student. We got close this year with scores in the 90’s for every grade and subject!
I’ve challenged my administrative team over the years to join me in this effort and they never backed out! I’ve been blessed to have the most amazing leaders to work with, but one of the best parts of dressing up is the laughter behind the scenes. I’ve always felt that bringing others along for the ride helps to remind you that it’s not all about you. Involve others. Have fun. Laugh a lot. Be silly together, it’s way more fun!
Costumes can be inexpensive. The neoprene ones especially are cheap online. Mix and match to reuse them for different characters and occasions. For instance, the muscle shirt for Thor was perfect under a shirt for a lion as Mufasa. Also consider borrowing them from your friends that have Holloween costumes.
As leaders, we are symbols for what we want our school to be. Everything we do sends messages, but consider going over the top and stepping outside your comfort zone into your courage zone if you want to make the biggest impact on others that you can! It’s not easy. Many times it feels scary and awkward which is what stops most people from trying it. But the hard stuff is often what is the greatest. How do you want to define your legacy? I remember my principal as a kid wearing a suit and there in the office when I got in trouble. I’m not going to be that type of principal for my students! I love our #principalsinaction movement because it is a daily reminder to get out, be better, and be active for our schools.
I’ve come to realize that a shirt and tie or a school t-shirt and jeans are both costumes as well. Every day we wear some sort of ‘costume’ and that ‘costume’ sends a message to our team whether you know it or not. Don’t be a wuss! Costumes show that you care enough to take a risk and make others laugh. I challenge you to step into your courage zone and be bold at least once during the upcoming school year!
P.S. Thanks Danny @alienearbud for the push for this post today. Your Better Leaders Better Schools podcast rocks!