You’ve seen the adorable videos. Teachers have special handshakes they use to greet students as they enter the classroom. For instance:
I can’t help but smile when I see a video like that. What could set a better mood to start an academic day?
Of course, I’d smile even more if we had research to show such a strategy might be effective.
Well, let me shake your hand this morning with good news: we do have such research.
Beyond Cute Videos
All teachers recognize the problem. In the hallway between classes, students revel in their freedom. We want them to settle down and get working.
How can we best make that vital tonal transition happen?
A large research team investigated a proactive strategy they call “positive greetings at the door.” The strategy focuses on two steps:
First: greeting each student positively at the door: “Good morning, Dan — great hat!”
Second: offering “precorretive” reminders: “We’re starting with our flashcards, so be sure to take them out right away.”
The researchers trained five teachers (in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades) in these strategies.
Happily, the researchers did a great job to ensure the validity of their research. For instance, the control group was not merely five other teachers going about “business as usual.” Instead, this control group was also trained by school administrators in other classroom management strategies.
In other words: all ten teachers got training. Five practiced “positive greetings”; five practiced “attention control.” Overall, more than 200 students were in these classrooms.
The Envelope Please
What effect did all these greetings and all these proactive reminders have?
Researchers video-taped classes before and after these trainings.
For the control group, little changed. Time on task was in the mid-to-high 50%, while disruptive behaviors took place about 15% of the time.
For the positive greeting group, researchers saw big changes.
Time on task went from the high-50% to more than 80% of the time.
Disruptive behaviors fell from ~15% to less than 5% of the time.
All that from positive greetings.
Will This Strategy Work for Each of Us?
Researchers chose classrooms that were both racially and economically diverse.
At the same time, they asked principals to nominate classes that had seen higher-than-average levels of disruption.
That is: if your class is already well behaved, you might not see much of a change. (Of course, if your class is already well behaved, you don’t really need much of a change.)
Another important point: the video above shows a teacher demonstrating verve and drama. If that level of energy doesn’t match your style, don’t worry. You DO NOT need a big performance to make the strategy work.
You can keep it simple and quiet.
Stand at the door. Greet students by name. Perhaps shake their hands. Give them proactive reminders of how to start well.
The volume level doesn’t matter. Your daily personal reconnection with each student does the work.