Principals: Do Comedic “Stunts” Have a Place in Our Schools?

Posted on Fri, Aug 08, 2014 @ 12:08 PM

principalLast week, I reluctantly picked up a copy of Frank Sennett’s book, 101 Stunts for Principals to Inspire Student Achievement. Before I say anything else, I should probably clarify what Sennett means by “stunts” and give a few examples of how principals can use them to “inspire student achievement.”

  • Alan Cook, a California grade school principal has “eaten bugs, sprawled on a mound of rotten eggs, and spent the day atop a 60-foot construction cherry picker to reward the academic achievements of his students”
  • Mark Soss, principal of Roaring Brook Elementary in Chappaqua, New York, shaved off his 30-year old beard after 650 students kept their pledge to give up TV for reading
  • Janet Franklin, principal of Beaumont Elementary in Knoxville, Tennessee, donned a hot dog suit and encouraged students who had exceeded coupon-book sales to decorate her costume with condiments
  • Ron Hanson, a teacher in Bellingham, Washington, exchanged pies in the face with principal Brad Jernberg after students read on their own time for at least 20 minutes every day for a month

These sound gimmicky, don’t they? Especially when we take into account what well-respected scholars like Alfie Kohn, Richard Curwin, and a slew of others have to say about rewards-based systems of motivation: They don’t really work. Moreover, they actually negatively impact our students’ intrinsic motivation.

With that said, I admire these principals for taking risks and setting aside the serious business of learning to embrace comedy and laugh with students.

I guess I have a couple of questions then: How do you feel about using “stunts” to inspire academic achievement? Have you ever used “stunts?” If so, what were the results?

As a side note, I want to mention that the photo you see in the upper right-hand corner is actually my 10th grade biology teacher, Mr. Gunther—and the leopard-collared shirt and glasses he is wearing for this yearbook photo are mine! Although we were never overtly rewarded for Mr. Gunther’s “stunts,” I will say that his antics always amused us, lightened up the stuffy atmosphere of our school, and, in some strange way, cemented relationships between him and us.

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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, educational leaders

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