Simple Classroom Management Tool – Start Using Tomorrow

Is it possible to improve student behavior with one simple change?Are you looking for a way to reduce conflict in your classroom? Want to improve student behavior? Increase student learning and motivation? Better classroom management?

All of these dreams can come true (or at least get closer to reality) with one simple change to your daily routine.

All of these dreams can come true (or at least get closer to reality) with one simple change to your daily routine – add a handshake.

Shake every student’s hand, before they come into the room, every day.

I know it sounds too simple – but let me tell you – this one act makes the biggest difference in my students’ behavior, and in my own.  Let me explain.

A Hand Shake Makes a Different Student

I have heard it said many times before “a student wont learn from a teacher he does not like.” Now, I do not completely subscribe to that, but I believe there is truth to it.

Think about it – aren’t you more likely to go out of your way to please a boss who treats you with kindness and respect?

Research and experience shows that a positive, trusting relationship between teachers and students can significantly improve student behavior and motivation.  

This post by Jennifer Gonzalez from Cult of Penology discusses the link between positive teacher relationships and student motivation.

One of the best ways to begin laying that foundation of trust is through a hand shake at the door.  I first read about this strategy from the book The First Days of School by Harry Wong. This book is a fantastic resource – a must read for all teachers!

This brief encounter is powerful. It is a moment of the day where they connect with a positive, cheerful adult who is openly happy to see them.

Your smile (be sure you are smiling!) may be the first smile they have seen that day. Your warm ‘hello’ may be the first kind word they have heard that day.

It might take a while for some students, but they will begin to see you as an ally (and you are!). You are there for them, you care. When they know that, you will see your classroom management issues decrease. They respect you because they know you respect them.

This is also a great way to head off many potential problems before they begin.  Often students like to come barreling loudly into the classroom, bringing the chaos of the hallway with them. This is not how you want to start your class!

By requiring a handshake each day, you act as a sentry to the classroom. Students may only enter one at a time, and only after they have slowed down enough to greet you first. When needed, remind them of how they are expected to enter the classroom.

A Handshake Makes Me a Different Teacher

Being at the door to greet students is so simple, but not always easy. I am always tempted to use that five minutes between bells to chat with other teachers, or check my email, or grade a few quick papers.

But none of that is as worthy of my time as my students. When I shake their hand, and say hello to each of them by name, I am reminded of why I became a teacher.

Why I am still a teacher. It is for them, not me. 

Have you ever found yourself just going through the motions and getting frustrated because your students got in the way of your lesson plans? Yeah.. me too.

Nothing helps me snap out of a negative mindset like connecting with a student. That time spent in the hall before class helps me focus on what really matters – helping kids.

Use The Time To Gradually Build Relationships

Ask him how the soccer game went last night. Ask her about the art project she is working on, about the dance recital that is coming up. Ask about the interesting necklace he is wearing.

Angela Watson at The Cornerstone for Teachers talks about the 2×10 strategy for classroom management. The idea is to spend two minutes talking with a student each day for ten days. Angel says the results are “miraculous” when it comes to changing behavior.

Building relationships is especially important when it comes to your more difficult students. When they know you are on their side, that you see them and care about them even when they make your life difficult, you will have much greater influence.

They will start wanting to be in class with you, they will want to rise to your expectations. 

Michael Linsin from Smart Classroom Management writes about relationships a lot – emphasizing that they are the most important factor in…well…smart classroom management!hey

You set the tone for the day.  Sometimes things happen before school or between classes that can really stir up, or tear down, a kid. If they come in with a poor attitude, that attitude spreads.

Your class can become a hornet’s nest in no time, and you have no idea how it happened. (Especially if your are working with pre-teens!)

You can act as a buffer. When you shake her hand you are the first one to notice she is upset. Talk with the student, give them some time to calm down outside the room so they are feeling better before they come in.

Be enthusiastic, be excited, be encouraging – it will rub off on them!

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Don’t Wait, Start Tomorrow – It’s Worth It

I start shaking hands on the first day of school (it is one of the Five Steps to First Day Success!) but it does not matter what time of year it is – start tomorrow.

It might seem weird at first, especially if you have not done it before, but don’t let that stop you. Just stand outside your door, smile, and extend your hand to each student, say “hello”, and let the relationships grow!

I promise you and your students will get past any awkwardness very quickly. They will look forward to your daily handshake! It is one of the things my students openly complain about when they have a sub – there is no morning handshake.

I have seen some teachers (on YouTube) take this idea and run with it – they form a unique handshake with EVERY student! WOW! If you are up for that, AWESOME!  Take a video and send it to me – I would love to see!

But it does not have to be fancy. The most important element is a genuine heart. You care, and it shows.

If you want to learn more about how to build strong student-teacher relationships, and all the classroom management benefits that come with it, check out James Sturtevant’s book, You’ve Gotta Connect.

Share in the comments! What ways have you used to build relationships with your students? How have relationships impacted your classroom management?

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5 Replies to “Simple Classroom Management Tool – Start Using Tomorrow”

  1. We monitor the hallways between classes anyway so being present isn’t hard. Teaching middle school is hard enough so trying to connect in anyway possible is a big help. Sometimes, some of the hardest to deal with students turn out to be the one who defends you and stops other student behavior if they respect you. We all have days where we don’t feel like being too involved but it can sometimes pick us up and they can cheer us up like we do for them. I will admit though, I’ve seen too many that don’t wash hands so I’m not a touchy feely person, I stick to a fist or elbow bump. Sometimes just talking to them about something, addressing them in some sort of silly popular slang, or even by a nickname. The athletes live that you are at their games also.

    1. Shelby, you are right! Schools can be full of germs…I used to keep hand sanitizer by the door for myself, but I felt bad using it right after shaking a hand! I think I might have a strong immune system! The fist-bump works great too – there are some students who are themselves not comfortable with a handshake. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I so agree with establishing relationships with your students. Being in middle school and knowing how little they actuallly wash their hands, I opt for a fist bump or elbow bump. Sometimes just taking an interest to speak goes a long way. I’m not as methodical as this but I do try. Sometimes when you can make some sort of connection with those more challenging students, they are actually the ones who will call out any that are making trouble for you in class. 😊

    1. Shelby, you are so right – I think so often students act out because they need to feel valued, so showing that you value them fills that need in a positive way!

  3. What do you do if they refuse?

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