It’s all fun and games for Outstanding Principal of the Year Ronna Hoffman
Jun 10, 2019 01:18PM
● By Jet Burnham
Principal Ronna Hoffman plays games with students as incentive for their good behavior. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Being a principal is not all fun and games—unless you’re Jordan School District’s Outstanding Principal of the Year, Ronna Hoffman, who keeps a closet full of games in her office at Riverside Elementary, to handle any situation that comes her way.
A student has met a behavior goal: They are sent to the principal’s office … to play Candy Land. A student completes an assignment in the best handwriting their teacher has seen all month: It’s off to the principal’s office to play Monopoly Jr.
“It tends to be used as more of an incentive but sometimes it's used as a reward,” said Hoffman. “We've tried to make it that you earn it by doing good things. Sometimes, I'll just have a kid come down who just doesn't feel good or is just having a rough day.”
It’s a winning strategy.
“They're so open when you're playing a game with them,” said Hoffman. “They're laughing, and they're comfortable, and then you can get to the root of what's really bothering them.”
The tradition began when Hoffman was assistant principal assigned over student behavior. She quickly discovered playing together was a great way to connect with the kids.
“I can't say enough about relationships—relationships matter,” said Hoffman. “If you don't have the relationship, you don't go anywhere, kids don't learn, they're not happy to be here. It's the difference between them wanting to try or not. It's all about the relationship.”
Assistant Principal Amy Adams said students respond well to Hoffman because they know she genuinely cares about them.
“She’s like the mom to all of the kids,” said Adams. “She loves them, and she cares about them like a mom and worries about them like a mom.”
Hoffman works to ensure Riverside’s culture centers around relationships. Students are encouraged to get to know each other, even if they aren’t in the same class or grade level. An extra push for kindness this year has helped students look beyond themselves to connect with others. They are encouraged to look for those who are being kind and helpful.
“It just kind of gets that mindset going, where kids start looking for the kindness instead of looking for ways that someone's being mean to them,” said Hoffman.
Students are excited to perform kind acts and to report when others do them as well because they may just end up on the news. Students record acts of kindness they witness on forms that the office staff sorts through each day. A few are chosen to be read over the air on Riverside’s daily morning news show.
“I think kids like their names on the news, and so they're doing kind things,” said Hoffman. “They may not start out for the right reasons, but we're getting there.”
Hoffman’s principal game plan includes building relationships with her teachers, advocating for them and doing what she can to meet their needs.
“When she says she cares, she truly does care,” said second-grade teacher Kathy Wride. “When she asks you, ‘What can I do to help?’ she means it. She is not really my boss; she is a true friend. I will forever be grateful to her and everything she does to make it feel like family here at Riverside.”
Carly Hogsed said when she first moved to Utah to work as speech teacher at the school, Hoffman took the time to get to know her and give her the support she needed.
“The way she treats this community is contagious,” she said. “It makes for a fabulous place to learn and work.”
It’s all part of Hoffman’s game plan.
“I feel like if I have happy teachers, I'm going to have happy students and they're going to be learning,” she said. “A school is really only as good as its teachers, and that makes Riverside awesome, because we really have dedicated teachers.”
Adams said Hoffman is an example of a great leader.
“She always has teachers’ backs,” she said. “She celebrates with them, she cheers for them, she cries with them. I’ve loved working with her for the last two years. I’ve learned a lot about the kind of principal I want to be.”