A Series of Observations on High-Fives

At Twitter Math Camp this summer, Glenn Waddell (@gwaddellnvhs) talked about a few things he does in his classroom to help create the culture of positivity that he wants to foster, and one of the things that resonated with me was giving each student a high-five as they walk into class. He said that at first, the students thought it was pretty weird, but after a few weeks, they were waiting for him to come to the door so they could get their high-fives, and would ask for an extra high-five if they had been absent the day before.

I thought I would try high-fives this year. I do already greet my students at the door, and I am a high-five kind of person, so I figured this could work for me. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

At first, most of the kids gave me weird looks as they high-fived me. One refused to do it altogether (in a joking, not defiant manner). I allowed them to make that choice – if they don’t want to high-five me, that’s fine.

After a few days or maybe the first week or two, everyone expected a high-five as they entered the room. I started to see them put their hands up in anticipation, instead of responding to my hand being up. (And that one kid started giving me very half-hearted high-fives.)

After a couple of weeks, some of the classes have lined up outside the door and waited for me to come greet them. This doesn’t happen often – I don’t usually have anything I need to do during the passing period.

One student (again jokingly) refused to give me a high-five because I “scared him” by not being at the door when he expected (I was in the bathroom). He informed me I was grounded. I asked him what I was grounded from and he said I was grounded from teaching that day. I told him that was ok because he was taking a quiz. He tried to change his mind and insist that I was grounded from giving quizzes, but I told him it was too late – he’d already chosen my punishment. (Freshmen are hilarious.)

Occasionally, someone will still get by without a high-five (usually because they weren’t paying attention) and I’ll make a pouty face. Someone else in the hallway (not one of my students) will usually come over and give me a high-five to make up for the one the first kid didn’t give. This is always funny.

Most of the time, the high-fives give me a chance to gauge the moods of each student in a split-second. (Glenn pointed this out too.) I can tell by the tone of their high-five, the way they return my verbal greeting, and their body language if something is “off” that day.

Most of the time, the high-five garners a smile from most of the students. The act of doing the high-five seems to elicit a smile, almost subconsciously.

Most of the time, the high-five has that effect on me, as well. I have to smile, which improves my mood (if it needs to be improved), and means that the first thing my students get from me each day is a smile, or at least an action with a very positive connotation. It’s good for me. And it’s good for my kids.


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