Search form

Image"Principal for a Day" Programs Provide Lasting Benefits

Numerous school districts use the "Principal for a Day" experience to connect with businesses and community leaders for a few hours once a year. But many of those experiences turn into lasting partnerships that strengthen the school community and benefit students. Included: Tips for starting a PFAD program, plus activities to fill up the day.

Principal for a Day" has been an annual event in the schools of Grand Island, Nebraska, for a handful of years. Recently, more than a dozen community members -- from pastors to police officers -- shared an opportunity to shadow one of the districts educational leaders as their schools principal for a day."

Brad Wentzlaff, principal at Lincoln Elementary School, has participated in the program since its inception four years ago. This year, he welcomed Dana Jelinek, executive director of Grand Island Area Habitat for Humanity as his schools Principal for a Day (PFAD).

PFAD Activities

What are some of the activities in which Principals for a Day might participate? They might enjoy
  • Touring school facilities
  • Having breakfast or lunch in the cafeteria with students
  • Visiting classrooms and participating in class discussions
  • Talking one-on-one with students
  • Attending team meetings
  • Learning about the school's improvement plans
  • Hall duty
  • Teacher observations
  • Reading to a student or a classroom

    See more links to PFAD planning resources in the Additional Links section at the bottom of this article.

The Principal for a Day experience has always been a valuable one for Wentzlaff and his staff. Todays school setting is completely different from the structure most of our PFADs witnessed," Wentzlaff told Education World. Its important for community leaders to see how the leadership role of the principal has changed [since they were in school] and how instructional delivery has changed to meet the needs of all students."


Wentzlaff works hard to involve his schools PFAD in many of his actual duties, from covering the playground before school to doing the morning announcements, sitting in on school improvement meetings, reading to students, conducting informal classroom observations, and giving written feedback to teachers.

Wentzlaff always makes sure that students get a chance to read aloud to his PFAD. That opportunity to be a Lucky Listener," as Wentzlaff calls it, is one that all PFADs seem to enjoy.

Districts should take time to talk with PFADs before matching them to a school, added Wentzlaff. Their personal or business interests might suggest a particular school would be an ideal match. Pairing up schools and PFADs based on the interest factor is a must for a positive experience," he explained.

Yvonne Jones is one of dozens of Chicago principals who welcomed a PFAD to her school last month. As a matter of fact, she invited two members of the community to shadow her as she went about business at John B. Drake Elementary School. One of Drakes PFADs was a relative of the man for whom the school is named. The other was one of the schools partners.

Jones agrees that planning is the key to a successful day. As the host, it cant hurt to over-plan for the day," said Jones. Its important that everyone at the school is aware of the schedule for the day, the activities that are planned, and the overall expectations. If that is done, the day runs smoothly."

When possible, Jones tries to do a little bit of homework before the visit so she can make her PFAD an integral part of whats happening around the school. She shares the day's activities with the PFAD when he or she arrives in order to get a feel for the persons comfort level with whats planned. She always has a Plan B" in mind.

David Dovenic is one of Joness colleagues in the district. As principal of Alcott Elementary School, Dovenic welcomed five PFADs last month. They included a former student, now an adult; a current parent who is an area businessman; an author; a businesswoman; and a community representative/lawyer for the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

If the PFAD has a high profile in the community, Dovenic might capitalize on that profile by arranging an assembly for students. It is always nice to have successful role models present to the students," he said.

Invite Board Members
For a Special Day

Who comprises the School Board in your community? Many board members are good business people, or they are in the law or medical professions. While those members perspectives can be extremely valuable to the district, they may not understand the specific needs of schools.

We are much more in the people business than many other professions are," says Teri Stokes, principal at Weatherly Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama. While her district has not established a Principal for a Day program as such, she has invited board members to shadow her for a day. Only one member has taken up Stokes on her offer, but it was an extremely eye-opening experience for the board member She gained new insights into the daily running of a school and how hard teachers and other staff members work."

Maybe you would consider making a similar offer to board members in your district?

I think it is a mistake to just let the PFADs wander around the building and handle principal stuff" as it arises," Dovenic told Education World. I would suggest speaking with a PFAD before he or she arrives to learn what they're interested in or what their expertise is. Then I would make suggestions and draw up a schedule to hand to them when they come to the school. A planned agenda is always best."

Principal Frank Hagen agrees. He participated in Principal for a Day" events for eight years when he was a principal in Delaware. In preparing for my first experience -- and each one thereafter -- I made sure to include my staff in the planning for the day," said Hagen. We designated a location in the school where staff and students would greet our PFAD at the start of the school day. We planned a comprehensive agenda that included our guest in visiting classrooms and interacting with staff and students throughout the day. And at the end of the day, during a debriefing session, we always presented our PFAD with a commemorative school T-shirt."


Hagen has learned many things from his PFAD experiences. Among them he learned that the day-to-day operations in my school were similar to what the CEO or other community leader [the PFAD] experienced.

All of us have to deal with the unexpected, and we all call upon the professional expertise of our peers through shared leadership developed through trust and collaboration."

Principal Lolli Haws says a job-shadow opportunity can open community members eyes to the most demanding parts of the job. Haws learned that by participating in a job-shadowing trade arranged by a community partnership organization. She spent a half-day shadowing a vice president at a local credit union and that person shadowed her at school. Haws observed a much more relaxed environment. The VPs environment was calm, quiet, by appointment only and she was shocked at how busy and energetic the school climate is from a principal's view. I think she assumed I sat in my office all day."

I believe the opportunity heightened educators in her eyes," added Haws, who currently serves as principal at Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia. It is probably very helpful to her as tax levy and bond issue referendums come around to have had a chance to step inside a real school and get a flavor for our world."

Many members of our Principal Files team have never participated in Principal for a Day programs, but that doesnt mean they dont see value in the idea.


More than 1,400 volunteers served this year as a Principal for a Day in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Among the participants were Felicia P. Fields, an actress best known for her role in The Color Purple on Broadway; Bryan Clay, a U.S. gold medalist in the Decathlon; and Adam Burish, right wing for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Another PFAD, Eric Anthony, was among five new CPS Family Tree members. His ancestors include Susan B. Anthony, for whom one Chicago school is named.


I know the first thing they would say is How can you get any work done with everyone wanting a part of you all the time?" said John J. Stone, principal at Rindge (New Hampshire) Memorial, a K-5 school. I know they would be surprised at how we multi-task all day long."

I would imagine that the most surprising thing would be how many decisions we need to make on the fly each day," said Lee Yeager, principal at S&S Middle School in Sadler, Texas. I dont think people realize just how many different calls, disruptions, and events principals deal with on a daily basis."

Michelle Gayle, who is principal at James S. Rickards High School in Tallahassee, Florida, thinks community members would be surprised at how many hats are worn, and worn simultaneously, throughout the day.

I don't think the community realizes that resources are as limited as they are and that principal must do so many things to ensure excellence in education."


Principals say that PFAD programs offer untold opportunities to build relationships between schools and the community.

Principal for Day was one of the most valuable ways for me to publicize the success of our students, the professional dedication and personal expertise of our staff, and the positive and collaborative climate of our school," said Frank Hagen. Each year, my school and our PFAD were prominently featured in the local newspaper and on TV stations that covered the program."

The Grand Island Independent newspaper has been extremely supportive of the Principal for a Day program from the onset," added Brad Wentzlaff. A main feature in the state and local section of the paper highlights stories shared in our late afternoon wrap-up session, and the paper includes photos and a list of participants. They also include their own key employees as PFADs in the program.

This year we even had a letter to the editor that praised the program and the efforts of all the principals."

In Chicago, an afternoon wrap-up luncheon celebrates and acknowledges the participants. The luncheon includes addresses by the mayor and school leaders, and awards are presented to partners whose contributions have gone above and beyond. Most of the partnerships involve a commitment to continue the relationship well beyond the Principal for a Day" event, which is held each fall. They tutor, help in fundraising, and simply spend time with our students," said David Domovic.

It is always great to have people from the community visit the school," added Yvonne Jones. This program gives us an opportunity to highlight our school's accomplishments and discuss some of our challenges. When community people take the time to visit they are looking for ways to connect and to be supportive. Resources can come in many different forms, including human resources and financial support."

This year, Jones nominated one of her PFAD partners for the annual outstanding partnership" award. It was a wonderful way to acknowledge his contributions and commitment to our school," she said.


Planning Your Principal for Days" Day

Shadow Day
An effective way to communicate with opinion leaders in the community is through school shadow days, during which the visitors see firsthand what is occurring, and have the chance to ask questions. The National Association of Middle Schools (NMSA) offers this kit to help schools set up Shadow Days.

Principal for a Day" in the News

Executives Get an Education as Principals for a Day
This Education World article looks at PFAD programs from the perspective of the community members who participate in them.

Mobile County Community Leaders Will Be Acting as Principal for a Day
About 100 Mobile community leaders took part in the 2008 Principal for a Day program.

Walking in Their Shoes: What I Learned as Principal for a Day
Milton Chen describes his day as a PFAD at the Chinese Education Center, a San Francisco elementary school for 175 newly arrived Chinese students.

Principal for a Day" Web Sites

Chicago Principal for a Day
The Chicago Principal for a Day program, which is sponsored by Merrill-Lynch, includes online enrollment forms, suggested activities, and more..

Principal for a Day
Cobb County (Georgia) business and community leaders bring their corporate skills into a school setting as they shadow a public school principal for a half day.

Principal Contributors" to This Article

The following members of Education Worlds "Principal Files" team, and several invited guests, shared their thoughts about the Principal for a Day experience.
  • David Dovenic, principal, Alcott Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois
  • Michelle Gayle, principal, James S. Rickards High School, Tallahassee, Florida
  • Frank J. Hagen, principal (retired), Saint Michaels (Maryland) Middle/High School
  • Dr. Lolli Haws, principal, Oakridge Elementary School, Arlington Virginia
  • Yvonne Jones, principal, John B. Drake Elementary School, Chicago Illinois
  • Teri Stokes, principal, Weatherly Heights Elementary School, Huntsville, Alabama
  • John J. Stone, principal, Rindge (New Hampshire) Memorial School
  • Brad Wentzlaff, principal, Lincoln Elementary School, Grand Island, Nebraska
  • Dr. Lee Yeager, principal, S & S Middle School, Sadler, Texas

    To explore other practical articles from the Principal Files series, go to our Principal Files Archive.
    Click here to learn how you might contribute to a future "Principal Files" article.