The Handshake: One Crucial Step in Social and Emotional Learning


When I was a teacher I was a big believer in relationships and life skills.  I take pride in being respectful, polite, and mannerly so I always encouraged my students to do so.  For me there is just something about holding a door for someone, walking a litter faster to grab the door for my wife, or a solid handshake that brings a sense of self pride.

Try this experiment: pick a random day during school and stand at your doorway and shake each students hand as they come in.  You could do this on the first day OR wait several weeks until you have a good pulse on your students.  Provide ZERO training on what a good/bad handshake is performed.

  • If you do it the first day make sure you have some sort of bell ringer/activity for the kids to come in a do right away because you will now have one too!  You need to quickly jot down how each student performed on this “quiz”.
  • If you wait and do it later in the year – see if their handshake matches what you perceive to be their self confidence, pride, or efficacy level.

Do they match?  Odds are that the results will be highly consistent!  Your believers will have a solid/great handshake and so on to those students who just are not self aware or confident who give you maybe the worst handshake ever.  This is a chance for you to make an impact and teach a life skill, do not miss it!

Are you a believer in Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?  The handshake is an example of something that can have a huge impact on your students.  Whether you are or not you are a big believer in the impact of SEL, you have to read, “The Psychological Approach to Educating Kids” written by Victoria Clayton via The Atlantic,  is a top notch article with tons of fabulous resources that highlight SEL and the amazing effects that it is having on students and schools.  If you do not see the value in SEL, I am thinking this article and its resources will change that!

Here is an excerpt form the post made me smile and chuckle to myself…

“‘I won the handshake competition, and there’s an art to it,’ one student said. ‘You have to do webbing to webbing, that’s the trick.’ Shake firmly, but not too hard, look the person in the eye, smile. The student demonstrated and, indeed, his handshake was a winner.”

I definitely find myself playing this game in my head, do you?

I remember in high school one of my favorite teachers and I would do this head nod as we passed each other.  Way to say hi but also sign of respect.  When we first started I used to “nod” by moving my head up as I walked passed.  One day he asked me if my gesture was conveying anything to others that I maybe did not think about.  You see, while I moved my head up, Mr. Garry always nodded by moving his down.  I never thought anything about it until he asked me.  After thinking about it for a second, I felt that it was arrogant or cocky so from that day forward I would nod by dropping out head vs. raising it.  To this day I still do the same as I pass people that I know but am not able to talk for whatever reason and I still think of Mr. Garry.  This might sound insignificant to some but it is something that SO many young people in this world do not often think about.  How do my actions create represent who I really am as a person and do my actions match my heart.

Small deal but that becomes even bigger when it comes to something like a handshake.  The handshake is something that is a tell of how you perceive yourself.  I play the handshake game ALL the time still do this day in my head!  As adults we know the value of the handshake but think about those kids that have a mediocre to weak handshake.  This is a HUGE teaching moment that you cannot miss.    Taking a few minutes to explain and demonstrate the importance of the handshake might be something that they remember for the rest of their lives.


20 Strategies for Motivating Reluctant Learners

Katrina Schwartz highlights the work of Kathy Perez in her recent post “20 Strategies for Motivating Reluctant Learners” via MInd/Shift.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

“She’s a big proponent of brain breaks and getting kids moving around frequently during the day. She reminded educators that most kids’ attention spans are about as long in minutes as their age. So a third-grader can concentrate for about eight minutes before losing interest. It’s a teacher’s job to make sure there are lots of quick, effective brain breaks built into the lesson to give children a moment to re-calibrate. Perez says teachers must be prepared for a diverse cross section of learners with a large toolkit of strategies for teaching in multiple modalities, with many entry points to participation and content.”

I love some of these things that she highlights.  As someone who has taught for years we encounter PLENTY of these students.  The question is:

“Do you let them fall through the cracks or find ways to meet their needs?”

Some of Kathy’s ideas may sound like common sense but I have seen them overlooked hundreds of times.  Here are some of my favorites from her list; are empathize, focus on the ABC’s: acceptance, belonging, and community, give breaks, snowballs, and HOPE!  Another gem in the post is this video: Ned’s Great Eight to Heart.

The Power of Family

How many of you have been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of a “family”?  I use the quotations here because the term “family” has MANY variations.  Websters defines a family as: a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head.  In school this would have a different meaning.  As educators, I believe that if we lead our students as we would lead our own family, relationships will blossom!  James Comer summarizes how the power of relationships will impact learning.

Isn’t this worth investing time in!? I recently had a revelation about the power of family and how it has influenced me.

I am the oldest/2nd oldest, on either side of my family and growing up was taught to provide a great example for my younger family members.  On my dad’s side of the family we have “family dinner” at my grandmother’s house EVERY Sunday.  People miss here and for different reasons but the beauty of this was talking with them about how my week was, what’s new, having a group to support me, etc.

It was here, in these moments, where I always wanted to have something great to say that would make me look good, feel good, but most importantly not disappoint anyone.  I was pretty good at being a role model, I believe, up until I started to disconnect myself from my family.  After college I got married which quickly turned into a divorce.  Suddenly I was no longer confident in my answers to how was your week, what’s new, etc.  I fell into a dark place for almost two years and always found salvation in teaching and my classroom family but was uncomfortable to share with my real family.

Then I met my wife, reconnected with family, created a family of my own (we have 3 beautiful girls), and have a job that I am passionate about.  It has completely restored my drive and desire to be a role model, leader, father, and husband.  I feel like I did when I was 18 but now have weathered some storms and feel stronger in my own skin that I ever have before.  I rediscovered who I am.

“Sooooooooo Justin, great story of redemption but what does this have to do with education?”

I believe that if we build families at school then our students will grow and behave similar to how I do with my own family.  If we want to significantly help our students grow and learn, this occurs with significant relationships.  As teachers, we have the ability to develop a family within our classrooms.  My goal as a teacher was to create an environment where my kids felt safe, appreciated, and most importantly, loved.  In Episode 1 of my podcast Perspectives in Education, I talk with a former student of mine and she reflects on what it was like to be a part of my “family” at school.   It takes time but the benefits are priceless.

I found that my students started to act like me when I was around my family.  They knew that each day I was there to greet them, be there for them, support them, but at the end of the day I was going to ask them how their day was.  They did not want to disappoint me so slowly I started to see growing as they learned more about themselves.  They were taking control of their lives in school, I feel, because of the power of family.  They wanted to share positive stories, try new things, and grow into someone that I and their classmates respected.

This is the power of family.  It is developing a group of people that support, love, believe, and listen to you.  Through these powerful relationships, your students can change, evolve, and grow.  Think back to a teacher that influenced you the most.  What did you love about them?  Did you ever want to disappoint them with behavior, not completing homework, or failing tests?  Odds are you did the best in those classes because of the relationship you built with them.  Don’t you want to be the one that your students still talk about 10, 20, 50 years from now?

Bottom Line

This is your chance!  Cultivate and plant family atmosphere with your students, water them daily with love, empathy, grace, and understanding, provide them a voice, and most importantly LISTEN, and watch your family grow!  It will change your life and the life of your students.  I am confident in it because of seen in first hand and also because family changed mine.



3 Ways to Build and Implement Successful Classroom Relationships

The article was posted by Meredith Sanders and comes from Getting Smart.  She highlights how she was able to build significant relationships with students.  Here is the introduction and here 3 concepts.

“A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.”

‘This is a quote I try to keep in mind daily. As a teacher, we have the potential to reach so many students on so many levels every day. Building rapport with some students comes easier than with others, but it is one of the most important things a teacher can do. Positive encouragement can change your day, your students’ day, the classroom environment and even the school’s atmosphere.’

  1. Consistently Build Relationships with Your Students.
  2. Create a Bridge Between School and Home.
  3. Cultivate Community in the Classroom and at School.


Growth Mindset, Building Significant Relationships , and Achieving Your Dreams

Episode 1: Student Perspective

Our first guest for our podcast was Miashanti Smith.  She was a student of mine who had an amazingly positive attitude on life.  Miashanti dreamed of playing professional football and I remember laughing, in my head of course, because she was a young woman.  Little did I know that their was a professional football league and now, she is a significant role player for the Pittsburgh Passion.  Outside of her dream she also faced a variety of other hurdles to tackle: oldest of 12 siblings, living in a dangerous neighborhood, being identified as having special needs, and just being a teenager trying to fit in.

In this episode we discuss:

  • The power of LISTENING
  • Growth Mindset
  • Dealing with Adversity
  • Urgency in Education – How that influences the learning process
  • The POWER of Building Significant Relationships

Please share and comment!  Would love to get feedback and suggestions.  If you are interested in sharing your story, please reach out to me!