The poet Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. In a school setting, the words of Maya Angelou greatly resonate with many of the day-to-day routines, including how we greet others. The way we start our interactions—through words and actions—can reveal a number of characteristics about us, such as our cultural or geographical background, comfort level, and interest in learning about others. Greetings can also help us build new connections with others and strengthen bonds, especially when we make sure that the other person knows they are important to us.
In a classroom setting, personal greetings play an important role in creating a positive learning climate. Studies have shown that the way teachers greet students can influence student engagement level and behavior in class. According to one study, the effects of a personal greeting can be noticed within the first 10 minutes of instruction time (Allday and Pakurar 2007). When students receive personal recognition before class, they have been shown to engage in academic instruction and display on-task behavior more quickly than when they do not receive the same attention from their teacher (Allday et al 2011; Allday and Pakurar 2007; Weinstein et al. 2009). Even in the postsecondary setting, implementing personal greetings were found to increase performance on quiz grades by almost 30% (Weinstein 2009). Greeting students with a personal recognition can also aid in building an atmosphere that fosters safe and supportive environments for students from different cultures and gender identities who may face discrimination outside of school (Dubois & Losoff, n.d; Alrubail, 2014). Particularly for transgender and gender non-conforming students, the recognition of their preferred social name is a key element in expressing support and acceptance of who they are (Dubois 2014; Lev & Alie 2012).
There are several ways to use the power of a personal greeting to strengthen bonding with your students and improve your classroom’s climate. Before implementing a greeting routine to the start of the day, take time to learn students’ names. Consider learning the pronunciations of names and learning social names that some students prefer to be named. This task can feel overwhelming, given the number of students one encounters on a daily basis, however there are plenty of resources available to help you and your students will greatly appreciate your efforts for years to come.