Head of School Blog: A Handshake

Among the many meetings I scheduled this summer, perhaps none was more helpful than the time I spent with the eleventh and twelfth grade representatives on the student council before school.  Among other things, I asked them if they had any advice for me as the new Head. One student offered and the others quickly agreed that I should take a page from Mr. Wells’ book and make time to greet students, rain or shine, in front of school each morning.  


This has not been the first and I expect it won’t be the last time I take a WWRWD? approach to school leadership, but it is worth noting that I have always been a bit of a serial greeter. Whether out in the carpool circle, perched at the top of the stairs, or in the door of my own classroom, I have always positioned myself so that I had the opportunity to smile, look my students in the eye, offer a handshake, a fist bump, or a high five and welcome each student into our space.  Intuitively, I knew that doing so provided each student with a sense of belonging, a sense that at least once that day, he or she was being seen, that his or her presence was being celebrated.


How affirming then to have come across Youki Terada’s article entitled, “Welcoming Students With a Smile" in which she highlights the results of a research study that suggest that, greeting students at the door sets a positive tone and can increase engagement and reduce disruptive behavior. Spending a few moments welcoming students promotes a sense of belonging, giving them social and emotional support that helps them feel invested in their learning.”  The study goes on to state that this simple practice can increase student engagement by 20% and conversely decrease disruption potentially adding “an additional hour of engagement over the course of a five-hour instructional day,” according to the researchers. I confess I am a bit of skeptic when it comes to social science research but the results of this study line up with my instincts and so you’ll forgive me if I succumb to a temporary case of confirmation bias.  


When he was a freshman in college, I asked my son whether he felt prepared for the rigors of the academic program. Having been educated in an independent school not unlike Falmouth Academy, his response did not surprise me.  “These kids are really smart, dad, but there are three things that I know how to do that they don’t. I can budget my time, I can write, and I am not afraid to speak in class and talk to my professors.” These and other “soft skills,” are increasingly being viewed as the must-haves for college and the workplace.  And they are the ones repeatedly cited on survey after survey of our alumni. Falmouth Academy graduates have the confidence and curiosity and core skills that set them apart in college classrooms. And it all starts with a handshake and a smile.


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