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Home > Administrator's Desk Channel > Administrator's Desk Archive > Administrator's Desk Columnists > Pete Hall Archive > Pete Hall Article PETE HALL

Always Strive to Be a Better You

Why I Wear Red Socks to School


The earliest known knit socks were discovered in Egyptian tombs dating from around 200 A.D. In the subsequent 1,800 years, socks have taken many turns on the paths of style and function. Mine, for instance, are red.

Every day, red socks.

You, loyal reader, are not the first to ask the question, "Why?

Let me begin my response by explaining a couple of details.

  • My red socks do not match anything else I am wearing.
  • The socks are neither thicker nor thinner depending on the weather.
  • I am not averse to donning soccer socks, dress socks, wool socks, softball socks, or even brand-name (Tommy Hilfiger?) socks -- so long as they're red.
  • I have many pairs of socks, so worry not about their scent or starchiness.

    I wear red socks only on school days, to clarify an earlier statement I wrote, and only if children are scheduled to arrive. If I am to attend a meeting or conference off-campus all day, I do not wear them, unless of course I am speaking and wish to discuss the matter of my inner footwear with my audience.

    I can sense you repeating, "Why?


    I wear red socks for the same reason Johnny Cash always wore black. To paraphrase the late, great singer, I wear the socks "for the poor and the beaten-down -- living in the hopeless, hungry side of town."

    As a school principal, I work with hundreds of children every day. The life situations in which many of those children find themselves are rough -- poverty, lack of parental engagement, single-parent homes, poor nutrition, rough neighborhoods, loud dogs, bad music, and countless other factors. I work in a high-poverty neighborhood, but the troubles children bring with them to school are not exclusive to high-poverty neighborhoods by any means.

    School also comes at them hard -- deadlines, demands, schedules, assignments, expectations, and lockers that jam just for the sake of jamming during passing times. Imagine how a child feels while trying to navigate this harsh labyrinth some days. So, my thought is this: flash 'em some sock.

    I cant tell you the number of times I've encountered a sad child on the playground, upset at the way her mother screamed at her that morning, and through the course of our subsequent conversation I've said something like, "Well, at least you're not wearing red socks." That usually draws at least a wry grin -- which I can capitalize on and begin working with this child on some positive thoughts and strategies for handling life.


    We've all read in the newspaper, or heard from our colleagues, about the school principal who set a goal for the students and promised them, "If you read 1,000 books this year, I'll shave my head, paint it like a soccer ball, and rappel out of a helicopter during recess. Our first instinct is to raise our eyebrows a bit, snort, and say, "What a nut!"

    "I cant tell you the number of times I've encountered a sad child on the playground, upset at the way her mother screamed at her that morning, and through the course of our subsequent conversation I've said something like, "Well, at least you're not wearing red socks."
    The children at that school, however, will remember that nut. Or, more specifically, they will remember that nut's crazy, snort-inducing stunt. Forever.

    The short-term benefits of such a (zany, wild, extravagant, memorable) promise are clear: increased motivation for the students to achieve a goal, to meet a standard, to accomplish a task, to slay a dragon; amplified attention for a challenge, a cause, a purpose.

    The long-term benefits, perhaps rarely considered, run parallel to my red socks. The students will remember the stunt, they will remember my socks, they will remember the principal sitting in the dunk-tank with lime-green dyed hair and then they will remember, brace yourself: school.

    In 20 years, a couple of old classmates will be sitting around a campfire, enjoying a bottle of water or two, and this conversation may ensue:

    "Hey, remember that principal with the red socks?"
    "Yeah, the one with the skinny head and pointy ears?"
    "What was his name?"
    "I don't know, but that school was awesome."
    "I know, that's when we met, and remember when Adam brought the snake to school and it escaped?"
    The socks are simply a prop in the playhouse. The socks will jog the students' memories about their school days, bringing up recollections of the good times, the great times, and the times in between. The expectation is that they will then pass along those good feelings and stories to their children, thereby enhancing the positive relationship with school itself, and perhaps even strengthening the family bond.

  • The socks, by themselves, are immaterial. Some may say I wear red socks because I'm a Boston Red Sox baseball fan. That's actually true -- that was the inspiration behind the socks for me, but any school principal can pick up any little gimmick, gadget, or hooyah that can capture their students' imagination and burn a positive image into their memory bank.

    Then, whether the students start by remembering the principal with the earrings, the principal who stayed on the roof for two weeks, or the principal who dressed like a gypsy, they'll finish by remembering all that was good about their school experiences.

    So let's make those school experiences as positive as they'll want to remember.

    Always strive to be a better you,

    Article by Pete Hall
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2006 Education World