Saturday, 28 October 2017

30 Reflections on the 30 Days of my #shakeyhands pledge

We started this year with a day of training from Pivotal’s Paul Woodward.  I had spent the summer reading the book, ‘When the adults change, everything changes’ and tweeting endlessly about it.  I had attended Northern Rocks 2017 and seen Paul Dix speak about the book and his work; his faith in young people, passion about what he does and determination to make change is compelling.
My pledge after our training, the one thing I was going to hold on to from our day in school with Paul was the ‘Shaking Hands’ Challenge – I had already committed to welcoming each student at the start of every lesson last year as part of our Oracy whole school initiative and seen great impact, how would this change my practice further...

  1. Behaviour is reciprocal: for every warm welcome I gave, I got one back and this had made a real difference to my lessons – it starts a wave of warmth.
  2. The handshake creates CONNECTION: the previous year I had welcomed children at the door of my classroom as part of the oracy initiative, but kids would be late, slip by me in twos and threes... a handshake makes a real connection between you and every individual child, every lesson.
  3. A strong handshake: my dad used to test my handshake, clearly no one had ever done that with our students, because they didn’t do it well; firm grasp, eye contact, smile/warmth, some use of oracy – ‘Nice to see you’/’You ok today?’. Now each and every one of them does it well every lesson.  I can see that this might make a real difference at interview one day.
  4. Eye contact and handshakes: that moment of significant eye contact has really helped me to assess where each and every child is at in every lesson.  My assessments are quick and might be generalised, but knowing that you are starting with twenty tired, grumpy from a test teens before you approach the work informs my practice with them in lessons quickly.
  5. Relentless routines work: you already know that as a teacher, but the minutiae of our practice is at the heart of this; from the beginning of the third week when everyone knew every lesson was starting with a handshake, the quick opening fix of reliable, direct connection with my students provided relief for anxiety and fear from the start. They knew I was going to be there smiling and offering a warm welcome at the threshold of my room.
  6. Knowing who is ‘less themselves’: the handshake helps me predict who might wobble in lesson and helps me to support them to prevent this.  I know who I have to ‘plug the gap with’; I planned in a moment for a chat to the side, reassurance or praise to keep them going.
  7. Threshold caring: the warm wave we start spreads to the corridor, I end up being there for longer than before and my presence on the corridor changes the corridor as much as it changes my room.
  8. Promoting positive conduct: when I engage in a handshake all of my professional attention is on a positive start, we are all about moving forward positively together. This is a game changer – a simple action refocuses both my and the students' attention on being positive with each other.
  9. The muddied water of sanctions are best avoided: after the handshake, the students and I already know we’re good with each other so it becomes easier to back away from sanctions and stay on the shores of positivity.
  10. Build a bigger table, take down the walls: I enjoy great relationships with the students I teach, but this strategy brings everybody to the table.  It breaks down the walls between us; those students who stay on the edges on the lesson are invited in alongside everyone else.
  11. I haven’t needed punishments: after a handshake, if I need to speak to a student outside to redirect their behaviour, that conversation takes place in a different way: I already proved I am ready to welcome them, they already know I am trustworthy because I am consistent. Small change, massive win.
  12. I am more significant in my room: the small change makes me more powerful in the room, I have a small connection with each child which multiplied by twenty becomes a powerful connection with the class.
  13. Minimising the need for others: if I call for help from someone else, they ultimately already have less connection and therefore impact than me – I have more power than them with these young people, because I have that connection.
  14.  A positive plus a positive makes a bigger positive: the equation matrix shows a truth, when a negative is involved in any way from either side of the equation the positive is minimised and negated. All lessons need to start with real positivity to have a chance of keeping the balance positive.  As a teacher, as the adult in the room, you have a responsibility to promote the positive.
  15. The handshake acknowledges me: My family is the main carer for my husband’s mother who has dementia.  Middle of the night phone calls are our reality.  Students have noticed when I look tired, I have been able to acknowledge it and that has been a GAME CHANGER for keeping me going.
  16. The handshakes have changed over the 30 days: at the start they were tentative, unsure and, quite frankly, not very good, now they are certain, their hands outstretched to me expecting mine, they are warm and strong.  That’s no metaphor, that’s reality.
  17. The determinedly invisible child: Naturally shy, determinedly melting into the crowd with their goodness and determined not to merit individual attention.  This strategy lays waste to the ‘invisible child’ strategy – that some of my quieter girls did some of their best performance work on a public evening performance this term after 30 days of hand shaking is no coincidence.  We have broken down those walls with a seemingly small, fleeting hand shake; those girls talk to me differently now and better they work differently with me.
  18. Magic moments: I have had some magic moments with the students in my classes elsewhere in school; arriving at the scene of a fight to help, the child I taught assumed we’d shake hands before we talked about it, which felt like magic to me. I was immediately aware he trusted me, he wanted to talk to me and he was done fighting.
  19. Students hands come in all sorts of conditions: I knew when the hand dryer wasn’t working that day.  I resolved the issue – wet hands aren’t nice to shake... some students chose not to dry their hands anyway so we've talked about it, sometimes we high five instead.
  20. Handshakes or hugs: I teach drama and often really get to know the kids well through afterschool rehearsals, performances and trips.  The quantity of time spent with them leads to a strong relationship over time; the handshake has helped to bridge the nervous start with new classes.  Many of my returning year 11’s gave me a hug not a handshake at the start of term – the daily handshake is an affirmation of this connection, it ensures we don’t forget our connection... even in the penultimate week of term.
  21. 6th Formers: I thought it would have more impact on our younger students – the students who have liked it most and who when arriving a little late, always come to my desk and offer their hand are my sixth-formers... telling year 10 that got them into the habit of doing it too.  It’s become a non-negotiable part of starting our work.
  22. Year 7:  Having said that, year 7 absolutely love shaking my hand – they each have a something to tell me and at the start of an oracy lesson that’s very fitting, but at the start of your high school career it could also be life changing.
  23. A moment is all it takes: a moment is all it takes to notice someone is not ok and noticing that can make all the difference; you might be putting a note of concern in to the safe guarding officer or you might be going round to stroke a back or soothe ruffled emotions before they start to burn your lesson.
  24. Contamination concerns: I haven’t used hand sanitizer and I haven’t been ill.
  25. Conversations with colleagues: a colleague remarked that if a student swore at her, she ‘needed’ a punishment to know that the disrespect had been challenged and her authority restored.  A child had sworn repeatedly in my face the day before, it turned out PE was next and he had forgotten his kit.  We went somewhere quiet and he told me.  I sorted the issue, he thanked me, we shook hands and I hadn’t thought much about the swearing at all since then.
  26. Your behaviour reflects you: as much as any swearing or behaviour might reflect the student it comes from, my behaviour as a teacher reflects me.  I want my students to know I am going to be positive first always.  The hand shake is an affirmation of this.
  27. The Power of Meta Cognition: Knowing that you are doing something deliberately to achieve a specific outcome helps in learning... this is what the handshake is.  A deliberate act of warmth and welcome to promote a positive learning environment.
  28. The Power of Warmth: that connection did as much for me as it did for them. Teaching can be a lonely profession – I felt connected through the handshake to the wider school, my colleagues and their efforts as much as to the students within my class.
  29. Small changes, seismic shifts: my classroom has always been a warm place to be, the handshake is a tangible and reliable affirmation of this.  It roots me in this practice; particularly at the end of a long term.  At the start of every lesson it reminded me of my commitment to being the teacher I want to be.
  30. Effort vs. Outcomes: it's a small effort at the start of every lesson, it has given me stronger relationships with students, which I can see has had impact on outcomes and the number of sanctions I have needed... it hasn’t given me more marking.


  1. I loved Paul's book but have always been wary of the handshake - not sure if it was necessary given that there are other ways of getting and making every child feel welcome (which is the key principle of it). I was wary of cultural issues and people generally feeling uncomfortable. I also remember kids I've taught with OCD who would have hated their hands being touched. BUT you've really made me think again. It sounds like it's had a huge impact for you and your children - thanks for writing this.

    1. We offer a handshake but children are free not to shake it, no offense is taken. Gradually most children do seem to shake hands with us.

  2. I didn’t know you had a position!

    It had been transformative for my invisible students - those ones that lurk and pay deference to everyone else. I don’t have a student who would struggle on the parameters you suggest at the moment, but have found it can become a symbol of warmth - culture is what you make it.