Engaging Administrators is of Principal Importance

Editor’s note: New contributor Sarah Svarda, three-time first-place National Scholastic Book Fairs® National Elementary School Contest winner, shares tips and best practices she has successfully used to organize and run world-class Book Fairs.

Sarah serves as the librarian at Discovery School in Murfreesboro, Tenn., a winner in 2012 of the National Blue Ribbon Award. She worked for five years as a third-grade teacher and has nine years experience as a media specialist.

Before starting her teaching career, Sarah attended Tennessee Technological University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in multidisciplinary studies (grades 1 to 8) and a master’s degree in instructional leadership. An accomplished Book Fair chairperson, Sarah was named the National Scholastic Book Fairs® National Elementary School Contest first-place winner in 2006, 2007, and 2010 and the second-place winner in 2008.

By Sarah Svarda, librarian, Discovery School, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

What haven’t we done to our principal? Good question! Every year, our principal plays one of the most pivotal roles in the success of our Book Fair. Let’s look at three easy ways to involve your principal in your Book Fair.

Enlist Your Principal’s Support. You need your principal’s support for your Book Fair and planning. It’s important to check with your principal first when planning important Book Fair details. For example, I consult my principal before I put any Book Fair dates on the school calendar. I also invite my principal to all of the Book Fair planning meetings I have with my PTA parents and Student Crew. Of course, she can’t make it to every meeting, so I email a meeting update to her if she were unable to attend. I also include her in any emails that I send to my planning committee. I stop by her office to share exciting new ideas and updates about the Fair. Keeping your principal involved in the planning helps her feel as if she is an integral part of your team.

Create a Principal Challenge. We also enlist our principal to perform a wacky challenge as a reward for meeting a Book Fair goal. She creates a Principal Challenge for every Fair we host. Some of my favorite challenges include:

The Principal on the Roof, in which the principal spends the day on the school roof;
Human Sundae, in which students take turns covering the principal in ice cream and toppings;
Principal Operation, in which the assistant principal performs a faux operation on the principal using Silly String, cooked spaghetti, whipped cream, and other messy props;
and Minute To Win It, in which the principal and assistant principal face off and try to complete various tasks within 60 seconds.

By the way, if your principal does not feel comfortable setting a challenge, you could ask a PTA parent, a teacher, or another faculty member who is popular with your students to step in. But this is a great way to keep her involved.

We also give our principal a role in our Book Fair kickoff. This is a schoolwide assembly we hold the Friday before the Fair to generate excitement among students over the weekend. This way, they’re extra eager to attend the Book Fair and family events planned for the following week. The Student Crew creates a role for the principal to play during the assembly as a way to create anticipation among students and teachers about what she’ll do next. For example, we’ve dressed our principal like John Travolta and had her ride a Harley into the gym, revving her engine loudly as everyone entered.

This year, to tie in with the Story Laboratory theme, our Student Crew put her on a gurney we borrowed from the local hospital and rushed her into the gym, where our assistant principal – dressed in scrubs and and sporting crazy scientist hair – was waiting to perform an emergency “mad science” surgery. We placed her behind a strategically draped curtain and performed the surgery in front of the student body with larger-than-life surgical supplies. Then our assistant principal screamed, “It’s alive!” as our principal emerged from behind the curtain transformed into the Bride of Frankenstein!

The opening skit at our kickoff always segues into the principal and assistant principal announcing their challenge. As our principal announces her challenge, we display a visual to show how we will work toward our goal. This year, that visual was a huge test tube that we painted and filled with mysterious green goo, which we watched ooze its way toward our goal throughout the week. At the end of our Fair, we displayed our gushing test tube in the front office for all our students and their families to see.

Include a Principal’s Pick. I just learned this year about another amazing idea for principal engagement. A colleague of mine created a Principal’s Pick board. You simply ask your principal and assistant principal to pick a favorite book from your Book Fair. For example, our principal picked an affordable paperback appropriate for early readers, while our assistant principal picked a title that would interest fourth- through sixth-graders. Through advertising, we let everyone know the principal and assistant principal would attend one of our family events and sign copies of their picks for students who bought them. We created a poster that read, “I am a Principal’s Pick.” The night of the event, our principals sat at a very official-looking table with a nice tablecloth decorated with die-cut stars, and we stacked several copies of each of their picks on the table. Students got their Principal’s Pick books autographed, had their pictures taken with the principal, and had their names placed on a star that was displayed on the Principal’s Pick poster for everyone to see during the week.

Try These Bonus Ideas! Inform your principal daily about your Book Fair totals, and have him email teachers and students with word problems about the totals every day. Students will look forward to seeing the daily tally, will enjoy solving the problem, and will become excited as they inch closer to their Book Fair goal. We asked questions such as, “How much more money do we need to make to reach our goal?” or “What percentage of our goal have we earned?”

We had a Student Crew member design a button this year, which we sold for $2 each as part of Scholastic’s All for Books® program. Every time a student bought a button, his or her name was entered into a drawing to be principal for a day. At the end of our Fair, we drew the winner’s name. That student not only became principal for a day but the principal had to be a student in the winner’s classroom. We had a blast and raised more than $300 in button sales alone!

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