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Principal for a Day: Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Have a goal for the students in your school? At your disposal is one of the most desirable and inexpensive incentives you might hope to find -- your job! As an auction item, fundraising reward, and more, "Principal for a Day" motivates kids to reach new heights and may even inspire them to future careers in education. Included: Find out how to make PFAD more memorable in your school.

When Dr. Ruthie Lohmeyer was an elementary principal, she used the incentive of becoming "Principal for a Day" to motivate her students to reach goals. Those who earned the honor loved to carry her radio, wear her name badge, visit with classes, and sit in on meetings. So when Lohmeyer was appointed principal of Bonita Springs (Florida) Middle School, she was eager to introduce the concept and see how it would play with the older and wiser crowd.

"The biggest surprise for the students was seeing me have to empty trash in the cafeteria, help serve food since a worker was out, and respond to the 150 email messages I receive each day," Lohmeyer told Education World.

Make PFAD a
Memorable Event

Principals who host student assistants during Principal for a Day events often give the day special meaning by:
  • providing a unique name badge for the new "principal."
  • permitting the student to assist with announcements.
  • involving the student in routine administrative tasks, such as meetings.
  • taking the student helper on a tour of the classrooms.
  • allowing the student to arrange for a special treat or extra recess for his or her class.
  • inviting the student to read to children in early elementary classrooms.
  • capturing the day through photos and/or writing (sometimes through news coverage).

In some schools, the student who raises the most money in the annual fundraiser is awarded "Principal for a Day" status, but at Bonita Springs Lohmeyer invited the top three sellers to join her for a day. The students sold entertainment books to raise money to purchase school-wide access to the animated, curriculum-based online resources of Brain Pop.

"The little principals were on the morning news, visited classrooms, talked on the phone, ordered lunch from a restaurant, helped in the cafeteria, sat in on meetings, and played in the gym," she reported. "I laughed and enjoyed how exhausted the kids were at the end of the day!"

Without a doubt, Lohmeyer says that she will repeat Principal for a Day. She hopes that the experience will prompt one of her assistants to choose education as a career.


At Oakleaf School in Orange Park, Florida, "Principal for a Day" is one of the items up for auction at the annual school carnival. Parents bid on the prize on behalf of their children. The child whose parents place the winning bid becomes PFAD. The student-principal gets to read the morning announcements in place of the principal and shadow the principal for the rest of the day.

"One grandparent donated $400 to our school so her granddaughter could spend the day with me," said Oakleaf principal Larry Davis. "It was an excellent fundraiser and the event was covered by local television stations and newspapers."

When the student was asked what she liked most about being a principal, she responded by saying that "being a principal is very busy... the phone rings constantly, people are coming in the office to talk about issues and the daily schedule never has enough breaks." Kids are already excited about this year's upcoming PFAD auction.

"Our Principal for a Day really liked being on the morning news with 1,800 students watching, even though it made her nervous," added Davis "She was disappointed that she could not schedule more vacation time for students and having McDonald's deliver for lunch."


J. Warren Killam School in Reading, Massachusetts, holds a fundraising auction every three years, and last year the main goal was to raise money for the purchase of technology, such as SMART boards for the classrooms. Principal Catherine Giles decided to add "Principal for a Day" to the list of auction items. It was so popular that she had to add an extra spot to the list when a bidding war ensued.

"I asked the students to report at 8:00 am on their special days, which is when the students start arriving. I had a special badge for each of them that said their name and, of course, Principal, Killam School," recalled Giles. "We began by greeting our students as they arrived in our drop-and-go lane. All of the students were excited to meet their principal for a day!"

At the first bell, each student "principal" made the morning announcements, which included announcing birthdays for the day, describing the school lunch, and leading the school in the Pledge of Allegiance. After that, Giles and the student met with the PTO board. In one meeting, they discussed how to spend the "extra" auction money that had been raised, about $60,000, and her young helper surprised Giles by making some astute proposals.

I encourage all administrators to give students as many opportunities as possible to serve as leaders in their schools.

"The student suggested that we spend some of the money on a new play structure and then gave us reasons why the current structure needed to be replaced," Giles shared. "She truly impressed all of us. I gave her the play structure catalog, and she went through and circled structures and/or parts of structures that she thought our students would enjoy the most."

After the PTO meeting, Giles and the student helpers did "classroom rounds." On each of their special days, both students were confident and comfortable as they entered the classrooms, greeted their peers, and in many cases, answered questions. By the time the rounds were completed, it was time for lunch.

Prior to the PFAD events, Giles asked the girls to select their favorite type of lunch, so at lunchtime, they enjoyed a pizza lunch in the principal's office with a few friends. After they ate, Giles and the student principals supervised and talked with other students in the dining room and then went to recess to help monitor the playground.

"I think that what is most memorable for me about both of the days was the opportunity to observe our 'future leaders' in action," Giles observed. "I was so proud to witness their display of citizenship, responsibility, kindness, and respect. This is one of the jobs of an effective leader -- to promote leadership in others."

For the last hour or so of the day, the student principals helped Giles complete some office work. They addressed thank-you notes to local businesses that supported the auction, checked email, and signed papers. At the very end of the day, Giles had each of the girls write their "top ten things about being principal for the day." The girls also had their pictures taken sitting behind the principal's desk and with Giles as a keepsake from the day. The principal admits that she may have had more fun during these days than the students.

"School is all about the children who attend. Events such as Principal for a Day make us remember what it is all about," added Giles. "Through this experience, I too learned and grew. I encourage all administrators to give students as many opportunities as possible to serve as leaders in their schools."