My Pet Peeve about School Dress Down Days

This is come off as a little crazy, but bear with me…

Dress down days at school can be fun, but if not managed properly, they could result in damage to the culture of your school.

Dress down days are special occasions when school dress policies are relaxed. For a uniform school, this could mean allowing students to wear something other than their normal uniforms. For non-uniform schools, it may mean less school scrutiny/involvement in what students are allowed to wear. Some dress-down days I’ve experienced include costume days near Halloween, pajama days during a spirit weeks, school sports team days when the school team is playing, and flag/national color days during a school multicultural events.

These kinds of dress down days are very valuable, promoting school spirit, generating excitement, and sometimes (if money is collected) raising needed funds for local or school charitable initiatives.

If mishandled though, dress down days can undermine all the good work that every good school is trying to achieve.

Here’s how:

Say you have a costume day. Students are encouraged to wear something fun and creative for Halloween. Some students come to school wearing jeans and the t-shirt of some music artist. You ask them about their “costumes” and they respond with something like “I’m dressed as Kanye West,” or “I’m dressed as Tony Hawk.” Or, you have a pajama day and some students arrive wearing shorts and a t-shirt. When confronted, they say “What? This is what I wear to bed!”

Yes, you could ignore this behavior and chalk it up to a few miscreants who aren’t worth the hassle.

Consider the consequences – the deeper, long term consequences.

Think for a moment about the other kids – the ones who took the time and effort to plan, design and create actual costumes. Think about the kids who endured funny looks and ridicule to walk to school in their pajamas.

  • What will these students think if the miscreants get away with wearing regular clothes to school?
  • How much effort will these students put into their next dress down outfit?
  • What will all students think about teacher control/influence over the school?
  • What will students think about teacher/admin interest or commitment to the school and school-related activities?
  • What will students think is next on the list of things that don’t really matter?

The students who put in the minimum effort into dress down days tend to be the same ones who put the minimum into everything about school – club membership, team participation, and academic activities. We should use dress down days as a fun and engaging tool to leverage these kinds of students to get more involved in the school community. After all, if they can’t get excited about wearing something crazy, how can we get them interested in joining something that requires actual effort? And, if they are afraid of taking a risk, wearing a costume when everyone else is wearing a costume is considerably safer.

Having said this, there may be students who do not want to participate. And that is okay too. Certain religions forbid the practice of celebrating Halloween or wearing costumes. Some families simply cannot afford the additional expense of costumes. Other students may be afraid to dress differently. But, allowing students to just wear whatever they want on a designated day is not the answer. Dressing down does not equal a free-for-all. If students choose not to get involved in a dress down day, then they should be made to come to school in their uniform, or (if a non-uniform school) following the normal school dress code.

How do we make this happen? We all have to step up:

  • Administrators need to, well in advance, create strict guidelines for any dress down day. For instance, the concept of pajamas has to be defined. What constitutes a costume must be made clear. Then, these guidelines must be effectively communicated to parents and students early in the school year.
  • Teachers need to call students out if they are not following the guidelines. Turning a blind eye to avoid hassle is not cool, it is a slippery slope to disinterest in, and the disregarding of, all other school rules and activities. You can’t complain about student misbehavior in your class if you let students do whatever they want in every other circumstance. Everything matters, or nothing matters.
  • Administrators need to support teachers if a student is sent to the office for questionable or non-participation. This includes enforcing consequences, such as sending students home, or having parents deliver appropriate clothing, if necessary.
  • Teachers need to participate in dress down days. Yes, wear pajamas on pajama day. Wear a costume on Halloween. Let students know that participating in school events/activities is important and meaningful. Lead.
  • Administrators need to support (especially in a financial way) the recognition and rewarding of students who do make an effort. This is an easy and positive way to generate excitement and letting all students know that extra effort matters in your school.

Dress down days are an essential element in the fostering of a creative, supportive and inclusive school culture. Don’t dismiss these days as unimportant or annoying. Take them seriously and be active in ensuring students participate appropriately.

Ed X!

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