The Essential Art of 'Meet and Greet' in an Education Setting

Team TICS
October 18, 2023

Can you recall a time when you've arrived at work or walked into a meeting or social event and no one acknowledged you or tried to make a connection with you? How did it feel? Did you feel welcomed, or valued, or like you belonged? Did you feel like you mattered? Did you feel motivated to contribute and give your best? Did you stay emotionally regulated, motivated and engaged with your work? Probably not.

So, it should follow that actively welcoming our children into school, at the start of each day, will not only increase their sense of belonging but also increase their engagement with learning and reduce anxiety about coming to school. It might even minimise any behaviours which might prove challenging to us.

In his book, When the Adults Change, Everything Changes, Paul Dix asks; 

"At the start of the day or the start of the lesson, stand at the door and shake hands with your learners, like you might do if someone knocked on your front door at home. I am sure you wouldn't sit on your sofa and scream 'Let yourself in'. You would make your guest feel welcome with a small kindness or generous word. Imagine for a moment that this consistency alone was followed to the letter by every adult for the next school year. What would be the effect on learners, the environment, the behaviour in corridors? What would the ripples out into the community be? Would learners be more punctual to lessons, the adults feel more supported and the smaller people feel safer?"

Research also tells us how a familiar adult providing a friendly, respectful, warm and non-judgemental greeting each morning/at the start of each lesson, can reduce anxieties and lower arousal levels to increase feelings of safety and engagement with learning and attendance and reduce the likelihood of conflict and behaviours which may challenge us. 

The positive effects of a personal greeting can be noticed within the first 10 minutes of the day (Allday and Pakurar 2007; Allday et al 2011).

These studies showed that greeting the target student at the door using the student's name, followed by a brief, positive interaction that communicated expectations. Results of their study found that teacher greetings increased on-task behaviour during the first 10 min of class. When students receive personal recognition before class, they have been shown to engage in academic instruction and display on-task behaviour more quickly than when they do not receive the same attention from their teacher.

Research has even shown a reaction in our brain's frontal hemisphere on hearing our own name spoken. There are several regions in the left hemisphere that show greater activation to one’s own name, including middle frontal cortex, middle and superior temporal cortex, and cuneus. These findings provide evidence that hearing one’s own name has unique brain functioning activation specific to one’s own name (Carmody and Michael, 2006).

How?

At a primary school in Manchester, TICS associate Cat Jolleys introduced a meet and greet policy, created collaboratively with staff, families and children.

Cat told us “We knew for this strategy to work, it needed to be simple, consistently applied, easy to monitor and communicated effectively. So together we created some guidelines, a fair rota and ensured good coverage of all entry/exit points and a good mix of staff each morning and afternoon, so differing roles and skillsets (eg. languages spoken) were represented.”

The strategy included:

  • Smile and use a warm greeting! Be aware of your facial expression and non verbal communication
  • Use children's names and parent/carer names where possible (avoiding a generic and possibly patronising or incorrect 'Mum')
  • EYFS parents and carers welcomed into the classroom all year (not just the first week in September) to jointly enjoy a welcoming activity with their child eg. reading a book, finding their name card, writing their initial in a sand tray etc
  • Try and include a 'relational touchpoint' eg. complimenting them on their snazzy wellies or remembering an event or conversation shared previously (especially important if there's been conflict or harm the previous day - show the child this is a new day and rebuilds the trust and sense of belonging)

And?

Cat recalls measuring the impact after half a term: “Staff fed back about the time taken and how some mornings this led them to feeling rushed, but overall the feedback was positive with staff commenting that the pleasure they got from smiling, using children's names and the developing relationships with families, was energising and made their day start much more pleasantly. There was also lots of agreement about an unexpected reduction in staff anxiety about broaching tricky issues with parents or carers, as the relationships had deepened due to the regular positive interactions.”

The schools’ leaders also consulted parents and carer for their feedback: “During a parent’s evening we positioned ipads around the room with a simple questionnaire on (and utilising interpreters amongst our staff, or older children, for families without English as a first language) and the feedback was hugely positive. Parents and carers reported feeling their children were being left in the hands of staff who really knew them, cared about them and in an environment of safety and care.”

What next?

Now the system is embedded and modelled to new staff and written in policy and is just what we do at our school, we have noticed other, unexpected benefits. One KS2 teacher commented on a developed intrinsic motivation for some children, to add to the sense of community in school with them holding the doors for each other, cheerily saying good morning to peers and parents and carers greeting and interacting with each other more positively than before. A Reception teacher developed the practice to include her class taking turns to lead the register to regularly practice and rehearse explicitly welcoming and greeting each other in a way they might not otherwise and talking about why we do this and how it affects us, leading to huge developments in emotional literacy and vocabulary.

*a note on latecomers - it's possibly even more important that children who arrive to school late and come through the office or main entrance, are welcomed using the same principles, just as positively if not more so, if they are to get straight into class in a regulated state and engage with learning. The conversations and process for tackling persistent poor punctuality can happen, but not there and not then.

The evidence is there to show meeting and greeting every student every day in a warm, relational and positive manner is a trauma-informed approach which benefits everyone in the school community.

If an increased sense of belonging, community, respect and improved relationships sounds appealing - start with this!

References

Allday, R. A., & Pakurar, K. (2007). Effects of teacher greetings on student on‐task behavior. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 40(2), 317-320.

Allday, R. A., Bush, M., Ticknor, N., & Walker, L. (2011). Using teacher greetings to increase speed to task engagement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44(2), 393-396.

Carmody, D. P., and Michael L. “Brain Activation When Hearing One’s Own and Others’ Names.” Brain research 1116.1 (2006): 153–158.

Dix, P. When the Adults Change, Everything Changes : Seismic Shifts in School Behavior. Carmarthen, Wales, England: Independent Thinking Press, 2017. Print.

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