Golden Handshakes

Reading time: 3
Plasticine Man Handshake

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
Read more about John Dabell

Should we meet and greet students every morning?

Getting the term off to a good start is massively important, but then, getting each day off to a good start is vital too. There can be no let up. You’ve probably heard of Barry White Jr.? He went ‘viral’ earlier this year and became an internet sensation when a video showed him ‘greeting his students with their own personalised welcome’ routine. Take a look.

If this can work for Barry and his students at Ashley Park Elementary School in North Carolina, US then it could work for you too. Creating unique handshakes for every pupil in your class might be a tall order, but just a simple handshake isn’t. Could this well-mannered ‘basic’ be a seismic shift in fuelling more positive relationships across your school?

It’s a bonding experience, makes pupils feel important, valued and gives them a sense of belonging. It also creates trust that goes a very long way.

Shake On It

Promoting handshaking as pupils enter a classroom isn’t a popularity contest, although Barry White Jr has surfed somewhat of a celebrity wave since he came to the world’s attention. This has to be a whole-school push to truly make a difference.

It’s a point Paul Dix makes in his book When The Adults Change Everything Changes. He asks us to consider what it would look like if everyone was putting out of the ‘welcome mat’ outside their classrooms:

As you stand at the door of your room with a learning support assistant you look down the corridor and see every member of staff doing the same. Imagine that there had never been a day when anyone lost their focus, not a routine out-of-place or a door that is unwelcoming. What would the effect be on the learners, the environment, the behaviour in corridors? What would the ripples be out into the community?

The ripple effect would be amazing, but it’s important for adults to greet each other with handshakes too as this demonstrates and communicates respect and enthusiasm too. But visible kindness doesn’t just apply to shaking hands. A warm welcome into school every day is showing your face, being in the playground, having teachers dotted around the school site saying “hello” to pupils as they move from A to B.

There is another reason this has to be whole-school too. A successful initiative successfully applied ‘locally’ in one classroom can cause friction and even resentment among colleagues. When it comes to behaviour management then corporate efforts are what counts. The cultural shift needs everyone on board doing the same thing.

Relentlessly Bothered

For ‘meet and greets‘ to work then they have to be consistent – not just for the first few weeks when good intentions are riding high but all the time. Imagine how confusing it is for pupils when they get used to something only for it to be inconsistently applied or abandoned? The reason all classroom management initiatives fail is that they are inconsistent or give way to something else – or we can’t be bothered.

But “deliberate botheredness” is crucial and needs to be drip-fed into school life because as Paul Dix says, it “is the key to sustaining and maintaining a positive rapport with your students.”

The drip, drip, drip of excellence and being bothered changes mindsets.

It’s a bit like having a ‘high vis’ head – a head that stands in the playground or by the school gates whilst the term gets underway is great leadership and management. A head that doesn’t keep it going term by term loses respect and trust.

Handshakes don’t take much effort but their impact is huge. Look at what Barry White Jr has achieved at Room 219. He’s made a difference and he says that the handshake comes down to one thing: joy. Handshakes build emotional currency, make connections, feed wellbeing and make school a positive place to be full of 2%ers.

Why not make handshakes contagious at your school and make kindness go viral? They are a wise investment with plenty of returns. They are also a commitment but worth every ounce of effort.

Handshakes really are golden.

4 thoughts on “Golden Handshakes

  1. I feel that the meet and greet is absolutely crucial and should be very consistent every lesson. It helps to clear corridors, set the tone. Also there is nothing worse than when an inspection comes and suddenly teachers act differently. The kids can almost feel the ‘falseness’ of it all. It should be a big part of the school culture to start every lesson with a positive beginning. I’m not sure it’s necessary to go to lengths of shaking hands, it’s a little uncomfortable and may not suit everyone’s style. However the welcome mat approach is a lovely way of looking at it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.