Engaging Your School Principal


  • To introduce the principal to the research class
  • To begin building an alliance with the principal
  • To develop the principal’s buy-in for youth-led research


  • None

Prepare Before

Norms must be agreed upon and followed on a regular basis.  Ask the principal to stop by to introduce themself to the class.  Ask that they arrive in the last 20 minutes of class. You might want to do this lesson the day BEFORE the principal visits, or teach it just before they arrive. This lesson does not have to be with the principal and can be any other key decision maker in your school.  If you are unclear who this person should be ask yourself, “If we create problems, who is likely to first hear the complaints and criticism? If this project is a huge success, who is most able to advocate and broadcast what we’ve done?” In most cases, this is probably the principal, even if other key decision-makers are equally important to the success of your project.

Warm Up

When was the last time you interacted with the principal?  Describe this interaction.

Was it a positive experience or a negative one?  Explain.

How often do you interact with the principal? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Never?

How would you describe this person?  From what you know, what are they like?


Today, we are going to have our first meeting with the principal.

  • What are some tips that you should follow?
  • What do you want the principal to think of the group after you meet?
  • What do you want the principal to learn about the group?  About the project?
  • What information do you want to learn from the principal?

Brainstorm a list of things you want the principal to learn about your group, and how you want to present yourselves as a group to the principal.


Is it difficult to think of tips to follow when speaking to adult allies?

Do these tips seem foreign to you or do they make sense?

To what extent do you think you need to code-switch?

What might happen if you did not follow these tips?


If these did not come up, make sure these tips are included:

  • Follow the agreed upon class norms
  • Act confident
  • Sit up straight
  • Be conscious of non-verbal communication
  • Each of us are always on stage
  • Treat the person with respect, even if you don’t like them
  • Treat the principal as you would like to be treated
  • Practice active listening skills
  • Arrange the seats in a circle so that there is no back row
  • Assume best intentions on the part of the adult ally, as well as your classmates


Tell the class that the principal will be arriving shortly to introduce themself to the class.  The purpose of the visit is to get to know the principal and share the purpose of the class.  The purpose is NOT to attack the principal NOR to tell them all the details of your project.   It’s the start of developing a relationship, knowing you will need their support later. Develop an agenda as a group.   It should include a brief opening activity, questions for the principal, an explanation of what you will be doing this year and how you will be communicating with them throughout the year. Clarify which people will be leading which parts and who will be their back-up in case of absences.  (A sample agenda is included below.)

Roleplay the introduction, with you as the principal.   As they practice, include some of the typical things that might happen with a principal such as coming later than expected, having to leave in the middle because of a call, coming in with their own ideas (“what I want you to work on is….”) or anything else that might be expected from your principal.

After each practice, ask the group what went well and what could be improved both in their verbal and their non-verbal behavior.

Sample Agenda

Person 1:  Welcome and Check-In (7 minutes) Ask everyone, including the principal, to share their name, grade, and one memorable high school experience.

Rest of Group (7 minutes):  Ask the principal to respond to some or all of the following questions (these questions may be shared with them prior to the visit):

  • What experiences brought them to this position?
  • What is their role at the school?
  • What is their favorite part of the job?  Least favorite?
  • What are they looking forward to this school year?
  • What goals do they have for the school year?
  • What is their hobby or favorite thing to do outside of school?
  • What would we be surprised to know about you?

Person 2:  Explain Class and Project  (3 minutes)  Explain the purpose of the research class as outlined in the course syllabus and based upon the student’s experience so far this year.  Other students may add their ideas and explanations of the course.

Person 3:  Ask the principal if they have any questions for the students.

Thank the principal for visiting and introducing him or herself to the class and explain follow-up  (as we go further in our project, we will continue to keep you informed of what we are doing and might need your support or your insight).


(Before the meeting)

  • What is the most important thing you want the principal to learn about this group?
  • What is one aspect/behavior or norm that will be the most challenging for you to follow?
  • How can the group best support you?

(After the meeting)

  • Did the class follow the agreed upon norms and tips?
  • What did students do successfully to develop an alliance with the principal?
  • What can we do differently next time we meet with the principal or other adult allies?
  • What did you notice and learn about the principal?
  • What are our next steps to build this relationship?
  • How can you use this experience in the future?