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Principal Toolbox

Looking for great ideas to help you do your job better? Just drill into our toolbox for all the tools you need -- like the ones below submitted by school leaders across the country.

Cheerleader and Punk Rocker Reward Students for Making the Grade
This year was our schools fourth consecutive year of achieving an A grade on our state achievement tests. Of course we do all kind of things to motivate our students to do well on the tests, and we always reward them for their success too.

Students Pledge to End Bullying
Students and staff at Forsyth (Missouri) Elementary School have chosen to take a stand against bullying. A bulletin board display of student-signed handprints is a very visual reminder of the PreK-4 students' very public pledge to end bullying.

Teachers Learn Together in the Think Tank
Last year we implemented "Think Tanks," voluntary staff meetings where we all become better teachers by learning from the teachers next door to us. This informal way of meeting has brought some very powerful changes to our campus.

That's Me!
This is a fun activity that gets people out of their seats and builds enthusiasm. The activity is simple: Just call out each of the statements below and ask each staff member to shout out 'That's me!' after each statement that describes himself or herself.

Shop Til You Drop -- Fun Places To Shop
Where do you shop for fun or gifts and other items to liven up staff gatherings? for Teacher Appreciation Week? for other special times or school events? Here you have my starter list above, but I would like to know where else you shop for those unique items...

'Handclappers' Applause
This is an easy, non-threatening, and fun ice-breaker for the start of the school year or the start of any meeting. I also like this activity because it is one that teachers could take from our meeting and easily incorporate into their classrooms. You might even give out some door prizes of class sets of...

Thats Me!
This is a fun activity that gets people out of their seats and builds enthusiasm. The activity is simple: Just call out each of the statements below and ask each staff member to shout out Thats me! after each statement that describes himself or herself. To really get folks actively involved, you might

Got Excellence?
Got Excellence? was our theme for this year, so we purchased bright blue T-shirts with our GOT EXCELLENCE? theme printed on them in big letters. Teachers love them! We have divided our staff into Teams of Excellence. Each month, the teams are assigned a different task

Back Strokes
This activity is a fun one for the start of any staff meeting. It works better once youre into the school year and staff members know each other pretty well. It can also be a nice activity to use to lift spirits after a tough period (for example, at the end of state test week).

Remember the Hoop
This is a great activity for building communication. Begin the activity by arranging your staff into teams, no team greater than eight people. Provide each team with a hula hoop. Begin the activity by having two participants in one team stand facing one another about 1-1/2 steps apart.

Keep on Swimming
When your staff has been working hard, hard, hard at a particularly challenging task, use this poem of encouragement to thank them for their efforts and inspire them to keep going. You might print out the poem on nice paper and put it in staff members' mailboxes.

Jelly Bean Test
Looking for a fun activity that will involve everyone at the start of a faculty meeting? Pass around a bowl of jelly beans and invite each staff person to choose one jelly bean. When every person has a jelly bean, invite the people that chose a black or white jelly bean to stand up.

Year-End Toast & Celebration
I have used this idea as a way to celebrate the end of a great school year, but you might like to use the idea at the start of the year. The centerpiece of this idea is a cake. I order a cake with our school-wide theme for the year on it. And I buy bottle poppers for each staff member.

Heartprints: An Inspiring School-Wide February Activity
I have had a great response to this school-wide activity. One morning early in February, I read aloud the book Heartprints, during my morning announcements. This heartwarming story, told in verse, describes how readers can brighten the world with acts of kindness.

Celebrate the 100th Day of School
On the 100th day of school, teachers plan lots of fun activities that involve the number 100. For example: Plan a beanbag toss and give a prize to the student who is the first to score 100 points. As a group, write 100 compound words. And so on.

Celebrate the 50th Day
Many schools celebrate the 100th day of school in big ways. But how about celebrating the 50th day too? Or you might prefer to celebrate 50 Days to Go! Either way, a special day is a great way to build school spirit.

Group Hug
This fun and spirited activity can be used to build camaraderie at the start of the year or at any other time. For the activity, you will need to arrange your staff into teams. Give each team a set number of balloons and an extra-large (XXL) T-shirt.

Mailbox Treats
I like to give special treats on special days or to recognize above-and-beyond efforts or for no reason at all! Thats why I created this image that you are free copy and use. Each image includes a little space where you could write a personal message.

Wrap It Up
This is a fun all-staff activity to do at Halloween time or at anytime you are trying to wrap up instruction or a project. Begin the activity by arranging teachers into teams. Give each team four rolls of toilet paper. (The number of rolls can be adjusted to the size of the team.

Two-Minute Frenzy
This activity is designed to accentuate positive things that are happening in our schools. It is also designed to get your staff up and moving! Have teachers stand. Then give your staff a prompt, examples provided below.

Quotes That Resonate
Using powerful quotes is a nice way to get people thinking and talking. It can lead to some great discussions. I select a handful of quotes (examples provided) and display them around the room. I ask teachers to wander the room to read and think about the quotes.

Four Corners
The "Four Corners" activity is a fun getting-to-know-you activity that takes very little preparation. Before doing the activity, you will want to create four large poster-board signs, each with a different letter -- A, B, C, or D -- on it. Post each lettered sign in one of the four corners of your meeting room.

Pat on the Back Single 'File'
We did this "Pat on the Back" activity at our first staff meeting of the year, although it is an appropriate activity for anytime during the year. The activity is done simply by using a file folder with 2 holes punched at the top of the open folder.

'Paws' for Good Behavior
We are a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) school. Our mascot is the jaguar, so we give Jaguar Paws to students who display good character. Students can use those paws to shop at the Paws Store and to participate in a weekly drawing to shop in our treasure chest. In addition to...

Have a Ball: Making a Large School Seem Smaller
I just took over the principalship of a large (1,100 students) high school. Not only are there more than 125 employees, but the campus is more than a quarter of a mile long. I learned through a staff survey that there is division within the staff due to the size of the school and the fact that it is...

Data Takes Center Stage in Our School's 'Data Den'
We have set up a room to serve as our "Data Den." The image shows one grade level's data charts. We meet regularly in this room to examine data, celebrate student achievement, plan for student needs, acknowledge each other's talents, and build additional skills. By displaying grade-level data...

Technology and Professional Development Go Hand in Hand
Technology usually comes with a sizable price tag, so when we purchase technology it must be tied to increased student achievement and individualized instruction. We no longer purchase technology or equipment without doing our research; offering professional development to show how its use can...

Academics, and Even Attendance: Charts and Graphs Tell the Story
As a Total Quality Management school, students and teachers are always setting goals and recording progress toward those goals. Frequently, students and teachers alike use tables, graphs, and charts to illustrate that progress. Each student has a notebook in which they keep their goals and charts.

Rewards Motivate Students to Achieve Reading Goals
When our students read 34,000 books, they were rewarded with a live concert. A local group of musicians from our high school were supposed to perform, but had to back out at the last minute, so we went to Plan B and had our teachers form groups and perform for our students -- which they loved!

Student Stars: Good Citizens Stand Out
We have a Student Stars party every six weeks to celebrate students who achieve. Included in that celebration is each class's Good Citizen -- a student who shows exemplary behavior in the classroom. The nice thing about the Good Citizen award is that the students who earn this recognition don't have...

A "Great Escape" For Testing Week
Louisiana requires five consecutive days of testing in March for our first- through fifth-grade students. This is a very stressful time for both staff and students; fourth-grade testing is high stakes, pass or fail. As a leadership team, we try to do everything possible to not only relieve some of the stress as we...

Making Decisions, Made Easy
We use a lot of surveys as a way of gathering stakeholder input. We survey staff on an "as needed" basis about programs, activities, and a wide variety of other things. Periodically throughout the year, we use consensus grams, which are a quick and anonymous way to get staff feedback on everything from...

Keeping Everyone Informed: A Hallway Calendar of Important Events, Dates
Another important element of staff motivation is keeping staff informed. We have a school bulletin board Web site and a staff bulletin board site too We also do a monthly calendar that can be found inside the entrance to our school. It is a whiteboard, so important events and deadlines -- even staff or...

Gift Ideas for Teacher Appreciation Week (Or Any Other Time)
Many companies - you get their catalogs -- provide personalized gifts. Everything from pens and pencils to mugs, and stationery to sportswear, can be created with your school name and/or logo on them. Each year, we try to give a nice gift during Teacher Appreciation Week, like this toolkit we gave...

Student Artwork Becomes Special Gifts of Appreciation
We are always looking for nice gifts to give during Teacher Appreciation Week. Student art of your school can make a great gift. Copy and laminate that art for a nice memento. Or use that art to create a set of placemats, a mousepad, a T-shirt, a coffee mug, or some other similar special gift.

A Personal Note: Two Minutes Pays Big Dividends
One of the simplest and least expensive ways to recognize staff for the things they do for students and each other is also one of the easiest to do. Every day, we try to recognize a few of the things -- big and small -- we witness or hear about. Taking a few minutes to pen a simple note of thanks is a great way...

The FISH! Philosophy 'Spawns' Improved School Culture
The FISH! philosophy is a fun approach to team building and culture improvement that has been adopted by many schools. One year, we used FISH! as our yearlong school-wide theme. We included lots of fun tie-ins to that theme. One of our teachers volunteered to do the Fish Catch Of the Day...