Teaching

This Teaching Routine Takes Just 5 Minutes. Its Impact Lasts Much Longer

By Elizabeth Heubeck — February 23, 2024 5 min read
Second grade teacher Kaylee Hutcheson greets her students as they enter their classroom to start their day at Hawthorne Elementary School in Mexico, Mo., on Feb. 14, 2024.
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Teachers, what if someone told you that engaging in a daily classroom ritual with your students that takes less than five minutes and requires little to no training could improve your students’ mood and behavior immediately, make them more likely to engage in learning, and maybe even elevate your own teaching skills?

Yes, it sounds like a gimmick. But it’s not.

It’s a simple practice that involves greeting each student individually as they walk through the classroom door. Second grade teacher Kaylee Hutcheson has embraced the practice this year, and has no plans of stopping.

Second grade teacher Kaylee Hutcheson starts the school day with her class at Hawthorne Elementary School in Mexico, Mo., on Feb. 14, 2024.

For Hutcheson and her 2nd graders at Hawthorne Elementary School in Mexico, Mo., the ritual looks something like this: Every morning before the school day officially begins, she meets her students in the gym, then they walk together to her classroom. She stands at the door, with her students lined up, waiting to enter. Then comes the fun part. “I give them their choice of greetings: high-five, elbow taps. Lots of them are huggers; that’s their love language,” said Hutcheson.

The 26-year-old, only in her 4th year of teaching, got the idea for the morning greetings on one of several teacher TikTok accounts that she follows. “I’m always looking for new resources online,” she said. But the ritual is more than just a trendy teacher hack picked up on social media.

The practice has some solid research tying it to an array of benefits, from improved classroom management to better student engagement. It’s even been shown to improve educators’ teaching skills. Below, we explore what this simple routine looks like for a classroom teacher and what research reveals about its impact.

Can morning greetings be an antidote for bad behavior?

Classroom management is an age-old challenge and, in recent years, teachers have reported worsening classroom behavior. Seventy percent of educators agreed that students in their schools are misbehaving more now compared with the fall of 2019, according to a nationwide 2023 survey by the EdWeek Research Center. In another 2023 Edweek Research Center survey, more than one-third of over 1,800 educators said that classroom management challenges such as student cellphone use, disruptive behavior, or lack of respect are causing them to consider leaving their jobs.

Anecdotal and scientific evidence suggest that a daily greeting ritual could lead to improved student behavior.

Hutcheson said that since she’s been engaging students in daily individual greetings, she’s noticed fewer classroom disruptions and behavior issues throughout the morning. “I really do think the morning greeting plays a big part in that,” she said.

Hutcheson packs a lot into just the two to three minutes that she spends individually greeting her students before they enter her classroom.

“I have 24 students, so I don’t always get time with each of them individually every day. This allows me to start our day on a super positive note,” she said. “I definitely want them to know that I’m glad that they’re here.”

During the greeting, as Hutcheson looks each student in the eye, many use the opportunity to share something with her. She’s heard about new puppies, siblings, and more. But not all students want to share, or even engage in the greeting, all the time.

“I tell them they don’t have to; it’s their choice,” Hutcheson said. “I do have a few students who don’t typically greet me every day. But I still make a point to greet them and say their name.”

Some compelling research supports the greeting practice that Hutcheson picked up from social media. Educational researchers have even given it a name: Positive Greetings at the Door (PGD) strategy. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions that analyzed the effects of the PGD strategy on 10 middle school classrooms reported positive results.

In the study, teachers randomly assigned to use the strategy for one semester reported more academic engagement and less disruptive behavior among their students after using it routinely, compared to a group of control teachers who did not use it. The participating teachers also said the strategy was feasible and reasonable to enact.

Building rapport can have a positive impact on both students and teachers

Research has shown that a feeling of belonging can have a positive impact on students’ learning success. Similarly, several studies have concluded that students’ positive rapport with their teacher is tied to a greater willingness to engage in learning.

These findings probably come as no surprise to teachers who have experienced this in their classrooms.

Perhaps more surprising is recent evidence showing that positive student-teacher relationships can improve teachers’ effectiveness, too. So says a study conducted by the University of Missouri College of Education and Human Development that analyzed data from 280 school districts across the state and asked students in grades 4-10 to rate their teachers’ effectiveness on high-impact teaching methods, such as sparking cognitive engagement, promoting critical thinking and problem solving, and making curriculum interesting and relevant. Students were also asked if they felt that their teacher “cared about them, made themselves available, and made learning enjoyable.”

According to the survey responses, students who reported having more positive relationships with their teachers also noted that their teachers used more high-impact teaching practices. “Positive teacher-student relationships change student behavior, and in this study, we found building those positive relationships actually leads to better teaching, too,” said Christi Bergin, lead author of the study.

While educational researchers seek to measure the effects of classroom practices as basic as a student greeting, teachers like Hutcheson said they simply do what appears to be working in her class.

“The [individual student] greeting is not something that’s mandatory, or something we’ve ever talked about at a staff meeting,” she said. Now, it’s just a part of my daily routine.”

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