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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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