That hand shake

I’m sure the vast majority of those working in education have witnessed the amazing skills of Mr White, the elementary school teacher from the US (see video here). He has a personalised handshake for every student across three of his classes. 

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He says that it helps create trust and build relationships with his learners. Whilst this isn’t something that I would do, I like this isolated example (and hope it stays isolated), and have always valued positive working relationships with learners. Indeed, Hattie found, in his meta meta analysis, a high effect on achievement (0.72) when teacher-student relationships have respect, trust and care. Furthermore, the whole notion of routine adds to the effect of this approach to supporting learning. I’m an advocate of behaviour management strategies which create positive habits, as can be seen in my previous post on owning your room.

So all is good, right? We should encourage all teachers to do something similar in their practice? 

Perhaps not. Firstly, relationships are important, but if you’re not doing the learning stuff right, then it doesn’t matter how much the kids like you. I argue that teachers should focus their attention on effective learning strategies.
Secondly, I do wonder how much practice the 50+ different handshakes took the teacher and learners to master? Rather, how much this impeded the learning of the curriculum? Sure the whole idea may have just evolved over a period of months and the curriculum wasn’t impeded too much, but still, time is precious.
Finally, at what point does being the fun, exciting, cool teacher lose the authority that may be required to manage the learner that is disruptive, or the learner that oversteps the teacher-student boundary? I really struggled with behaviour management when I started out teaching, all because I wanted to be the cool teacher that the students liked. Suffice to say that learner behaviour was pretty poor and I learnt an awful lot from this mistake. I had a job to do, and it wasn’t to be their mate.
I don’t mean to rubbish an idea, because in this isolated case, it may work wonders, but remember folks, there are hundreds of thousands of teachers doing great things every day – great things without the ‘innovation’, or being the cool, hip teacher. They’re changing lives. 


5 thoughts on “That hand shake

  1. I have a great relationship with students. The kids like me (very popular), there is fun friendly banter outside of the lesson (and sometimes in), and behaviour is outstanding (been noted by Ofsted and SLT).. My results are also at the top end. I work at an inner city school. It is all about expectations.

    1. Thanks, Jule for the comment. I don’t doubt you. I was speaking from my experience and many of my trainees… Though this is post 14 education. It didn’t help that I was not too dissimilar in age when I first started teaching!

  2. I think those who are trying to judge the appropriateness or effectiveness of the handshake in a UK context are frankly missing the point. The teacher is merely using an innovative way in which to build relationships with his students and the personal question for individual teachers should be ‘in what way do I build my individual relationships with students – not just one or a few, but all of them?’ Where the answer is ‘I don’t’ or ‘I don’t know’ then the real reflection in behalf of the teacher should begin along the lines of ‘why not’?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Rakesh. Just to note, that I don’t think I made a judgement per se, rather raised some potential pitfalls and things to consider. It would be unfair to pass judgement on nothing more than a video. Having said this, we shouldn’t assume that innovative = more beneficial. Many of the responses that I have seen adopt this perspective. I’m not sure why the US/UK context matters? Perhaps you could provide more on this point?

      Relationship building is important and there aren’t many that would disagree.

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