Dear R&R: How Can School Leaders Balance Fun and Respect?

Dear Rick & Rebecca:

I’m preparing for Halloween at my school. Some of my elementary colleagues don’t dress up at all and most of my secondary colleagues rarely do.

Last year, I dressed up as a magician and it was a lot of fun. I actually made a few balloon animals in the foyer, too. But, one of my students brought a knife into school and I had to address that discipline matter right smack in the middle of the day. My costume was clearly a distraction to the student and parent. I guess I should have washed all of my face paint off before proceeding any further, but everything happened so quickly. I’m worried that as a principal, I walk a fine line between having fun with the kids and keeping a certain level of professionalism and respect. I’m often torn with what to do—be real with the kids or keep a certain level of respect. What are your thoughts on how to balance fun and respect?–The Fun-Loving Principal

Balance Fun and Respect

Dear Fun-Loving Principal:

Balancing student fun with professionalism is a tricky line to navigate.  In addition to walking the professionalism line, many school districts prohibit the celebration of Halloween, altogether, avoiding religious conflict of beliefs.  To circumnavigate this, schools resort to “dress like your favorite book character day” which brings us back to the original dilemma of dressing up in the spirit of culture and passion.

Student motivation and relationships are essential to building school culture and unity. Yes, you are the leader, but you are human as well (and a fun human at that). You can, indeed, engage in the silliness with your students while still maintaining leadership presence and professionalism.  Creating healthy boundaries, being prepared, and thinking things through ahead of time can make all the difference.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Should I celebrate with my students?
  2. How can I exhibit passion, charisma and fun while still maintaining leadership presence?
  3. Have I “dialed in” to my peers to gain input? Would my supervisor be okay with this?
  4. Have I thought through my “Plan B” for shifting gears? Do I have someone on standby to handle discipline, or initiate protocols in case of an emergency during the event? If there were a crisis on my campus and the news crews showed up would I be caught looking like a clown, or could I easily be transformed back into a professional look? (maybe no makeup?)
  5. Do my students know what “shifting gears” means and will actually look like? Do my teachers know how to reel them back in? Are there routines and expectations set in place?  By modeling self-control and explicitly teaching respect and disrespect it will provide your students with an essential life skill of knowing when they are approaching the line and possess the ability to stop.  Students must understand boundary setting and when fun crosses the line and turns into degradation.

It isn’t about dressing up or not, it isn’t about if you can have fun or not. It is about being prepared,  thinking several steps ahead, and setting everyone up for success. There is a time and place for everything and dressing up for the sake of community, motivation, and fun is a great way move your school forward with culture and climate. These are the moments that kids will remember 10 and 20 years from now.  It’s our opinion that both students and adults should always maintain a level of mutual respect, character, and integrity while experiencing the joy that emerges from non-academic interactions.  The key to building powerful relationships with our students is modeling the balance of work and play.  Hey, we all should probably loosen up a bit, anyway (with a plan B in our back pockets, of course)!

Thanks for writing and Happy Halloween!

R&R

You can read Rick and Rebecca’s previous post here.

Free Book! Send Us Your Questions/Advice

If you would like to share a challenge–or an additional good solution–send an e-mail to drjetter1@gmail.com.  Each week, Rick and Rebecca will choose their favorite question or nugget of advice for possible inclusion in a future column. That school leader will receive a coupon for a FREE book (up to $25), courtesy of Advanced Educational Products (AEP), a national supplier of books for K-12 schools and libraries.

Rick Jetter (@RickJetter; www.rickjetter.com) and Rebecca Coda (@RebeccaCoda; www.digitalnativenetwork.net) offer weekly advice on navigating the waters of school leadership. With more than 34 years of combined teaching and school leadership experience, Rick & Rebecca’s new book, Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank, will be released by Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. in December.