The Principals' Office Blog

Coping with the Stress of the Holiday Season

Stress comes in all forms during the holiday season—overcrowded malls, last minute gifts to buy, skyrocketing plane ticket prices. We asked some principals if they experience an increase in stress at their schools during this time and here’s what they had to say.

Missouri Principal Teresa Tulipana writes: Stress is a reality of the holiday season. For some students, there is the uncertainty of what the holidays will bring and the prospect of being home for an extended period of time. Whether students will admit it or not, the structure of the school day gives them great comfort. Holidays are also stressful for parents because financial concerns and added responsibilities can create a great burden. Couple this with staff members who are experiencing similar stressors and a full calendar, and stress will definitely impact a school. I personally combat it by increasing my level of organization and focus on what’s really important—the people in the school and in my life. To help my staff combat the stress, I regularly talk about the stresses they may encounter, model a calm demeanor, and help them celebrate the joys of the season. I also give my staff “The Gift of Time.” This gift, in the form of a poem and candy cane, announces that all faculty meetings in December have been cancelled. Based on the reactions of the staff, you would have thought I bought them each a brand new car! Small gestures of understanding can make a huge difference when a school experiences a stressful time.

Oklahoma Principal Jan Borelli writes: I am principal at an urban school (99 percent of the children receive free- and reduced-lunch) with the highest incidence of child abuse for our county in our attendance area. Some children "act out" the problems they experience in the home while others withdraw and are sad. My faculty and I actively work to bring happiness and joy to the children; and the students at a local private high school adopt our children and come to the school to provide a Christmas (most of our children won't have one) and individual attention for the morning. Instead of focusing on our own stress, my faculty and I make a concerted effort to our children. Of course, the five pounds we gain from eating all the food during this time may be from stress!

Montana Principal Pat Hould writes: I have never felt that the stress level for my school as a whole increase during this time of year. I do believe that stress levels increase for some individual students. Students who have had significant loss in their lives, or who have had trauma that has been detrimental to their immediate families, seem to struggle during the holiday season. While most of my students think of the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays as a time for friends and families to gather, and as a time to exchange gifts, those students whose families have financial challenges struggle. I must say however, that the mere anticipation of the Christmas break does bring a certain "circus energy" to the last few school days in December!

Second Graders Convince Leno to Eat His Veggies

Let’s hear it for students from St. Ignatius School in Portland, Oregon for promoting healthy eating habits. The school’s second graders were being taught about the Food Pyramid when they heard that comedian and talk show host Jay Leno hadn’t eaten a vegetable since 1969. The students wrote letters to Mr. Leno imploring him to take a renewed look at the Food Pyramid and give veggies another try. Their persuasive writing paid off: Mr. Leno ate a veggie for the first time in 30 years on an episode of “The Tonight Show” this week. If you want to see a clip of the show, visit the school’s Web site at Principal John Matcovich says the entire letter writing project has been “a memorable example to our students of how powerful their writing can be.”

Leaving No Child Behind in the Digital Revolution

In this week’s Education Week, NAESP’s executive director Vincent Ferrandino and NASSP’s executive director Gerald Tirozzi discuss the digital divide in our nation’s schools and the need to ensure that children don’t get left behind in the digital revolution.

Rewriting the Book on Science Instruction

The University of Rhode Island School of Education—with a grant from the National Science Foundation—recently launched a five-year study to examine what prospective and current elementary teachers need to develop their teaching skills using exploratory and inquiry-based science lessons. Researchers will ask student education majors and mid-career teachers to discuss the current teaching of science in elementary schools, their content knowledge, and their readiness to change teaching practices.

More Students Receiving Free Breakfast

The Food Research and Action Center released a report yesterday indicating that a record number of students from low-income families—7.7 million to be exact—are receiving free- and reduced-price breakfast at school. While 40 states increased participation, the federal breakfast program still only feeds two in five children who need it. “Reaching a lot more children with breakfast in schools is probably the most cost-effective and fastest way to improve children’s learning and health, improve attendance and, of course, reduce hunger,” says James Weill, the Center's president.

Principal Overcomes Loss of Son

Check out an uplifting article in the Sacramento Bee about one of our 2006 National Distinguished Principals, Noel Hesser. The article explains how Hesser dealt with the loss of his son by increasing his efforts to help troubled students while he was principal of Gloria Dei Lutheran School. We applaud Noel and we're always happy to share stories about principals making a positive difference in the lives of students.

Soar to Seattle

Starbucks! The Space Needle! Pike Place Market! Did we mention Starbucks?

NAESP’s 86th Annual Convention and Exposition is just a few months away and for the first time will be held in Seattle, Washington. Thousands of principals will convene in "Emerald City" from March 29-April 2 for the largest professional development experience created exclusively for elementary and middle-level principals and assistant principals. NAESP's Convention will feature some terrific speakers, including the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman; author and educator, Jonathan Kozol; and educator, Erin Gruwell.
To register, visit

If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands

A happy student doesn’t necessarily translate to a high-achieving student, a report by the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy concludes. The report’s author Tom Loveless writes that “Despite the call to make schools more relevant, there is little evidence that relevance increases student engagement…Real student engagement is not about keeping students happy, boosting their self-esteem, or convincing them that what they are learning is relevant; it’s about acquiring new knowledge and skills and pursuing the activities that contribute to that attainment.”

The report—“How Well Are American Students Learning?—is based on national and international testing data and evaluates the role that student happiness and confidence play in achievement. Loveless is quoted in the Boston Globe saying, “The implication is not ‘Let’s go make kids unhappy. It’s ‘Let’s give kids better signals as to how they’re performing, relative to the rest of the world.”

This New Jersey Principal is a Jeopardy Champion—Who is Andrew Espinoza?

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings made a strong showing on last week’s episode of “Celebrity Jeopardy,” coming in second place. But the Secretary wasn’t the only recent educator to appear on Jeopardy. Last month, New Jersey middle school principal Andrew Espinoza appeared on the show. Andrew was a Jeopardy champion the first night after he responded to the clue, “Introduced in a 1981 novel, this big-screen character tops the AFI's 2003 list of all-time great movie villains.” While most of us were thinking Darth Vader, Andrew correctly answered, “Who is Hannibal Lecter? Congrats to Andrew.

Move over Katie Couric

Guest blogger and Oklahoma principal Jan Borelli recently told us that we should keep our eyes open for one of the newer forms of technology—podcasting. Today, Jan joins her colleague and fellow podcaster, Arizona principal Steve Poling, with the debut of “Principal Necessities,” a new feature where key education figures, authors, and specialists discuss issues, trends, and concerns that are facing principals and other members of the education community. The first broadcast features popular author and presenter, Dr. Ruby Payne, who discusses discipline strategies for the classroom. You can hear Jan and Steve’s interview with Dr. Payne by clicking here.

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