Worth Repeating Part 3: Epic Classroom Management Begins With a Smile?

teacher appreciation 11According to Margaret C. Wang, Geneva D. Haertel and Herbert J. Walberg in an Educational Leadership article titled Synthesis of Research / What Helps Students Learn?, “An analysis of 50 years of research reveals that direct influences like classroom management affect student learning more than indirect influences such as policies.”

Can you believe that? According to the research, the most important factor influencing student learning is classroom management. Moreover, classroom management begins on day one with you and your expectations for learning.

Effective Teachers Manage Their Classrooms

Consider these statements by Harry and Rosemary Wong in The First Days of School:

Effective teachers manage their classrooms.
Ineffective teachers discipline their classrooms.

As a teacher, I always wanted an organized and well-managed classroom so that I could teach the rigorous and relevant mathematics I wanted my students to learn. A well-managed classroom begins with consistent expectations. Consistent expectations are taught through procedures and routines.

Begin Each Day with a Handshake

Young Woman Bending Down and Smiling with Arms Stretched BackLet’s begin with a simple routine: Start each day by standing at the door with a big smile and warm handshake.

During our new teacher orientation a few years back, Annette Breaux encouraged teachers to be like Wal-Mart greeters. Wal-Mart actually pays people to meet and greet customers because Wal-Mart gets it — happy shoppers who feel wanted and welcome are more likely to buy what is being sold and return to the store again and again. Wouldn’t this model work for students, too?

According to Breaux, you want students — your customers — to feel happy and welcome when they enter your classroom and you want them to buy what you are selling — a passion for learning mathematics, reading, music or art. We also want our students to come back repeatedly.

How can you become the Wal-Mart greeter for your classroom? Simply stand at the door, every day, every period and greet students! Greet them by name. Smile. Thank students for coming to class. Comment on their new haircut, cool T-shirt or nice attire. Inquire about the upcoming football game, volleyball game or other extracurricular activities. Ask about their work on assigned projects.

Four Steps for Positive Greetings at the Door

Dr. Clayton Cook from the University of Washington has actually given a name to this routine — the Positive Greetings at the Door procedure.  Dr. Cook breaks Positive Greetings at the Door into four easy steps:

1. Stand at or around the door to focus on greeting students. Make students feel important even before they sit down.

2. Positively interact with students as they come in the door. Positive interactions can Businesswoman giving thumbs upconsist of verbal interaction (praising a student for walking in quietly, saying, “hello, how’s it going”) or nonverbal behavior (shaking hands, giving the student a thumbs-up). Look students in the eye and teach them to give greetings back! Your goal is to initiate at least five positive interactions with students as they walk into your classroom. Take a minute to look back and scan the room for students who are responding to your positive expectations. Recognize the appropriate behavior you want all students to model.

3. Next, provide pre-corrective statements to individual students or the entire class. Tell students about the behaviors you want them to exhibit in order to have a successful day in your classroom. Praise and reinforce positive behavior.

Close Up of Music4. Remind students to look at the learning target or agenda on your board so that they can become engaged in the learning process immediately. I’ve seen many teachers post warm-ups on the board, give five-minute challenges or a brain teaser for a group of students to solve, provide a quick writing prompt or just let students know what supplies to have out so that learning can begin. Have your favorite music playing when students enter; classical music sets the tone for learning — but so does rock ’n’ roll! When students pass through your door, it is a signal for learning to begin — even before the bell rings.

Practice this procedure routinely. Students say that teachers who meet and greet them at the door are the ones who also care about them personally, and this personal interest motivates them to do better in class. Remember, you will not get to rigor and relevance until you first build positive relationships with students

People Don’t Care How Much You Know Until They Know How Much You Care

John Maxwell gets it: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Show students you care about them personally and about their learning. Set a positive tone for learning each day that students enter the classroom. You won’t regret establishing this routine — but you MUST practice it consistently. You can’t do this just on opening day and expect long-lasting results. Be at the door every day for your students.

By the way, as students leave your classroom each day, tell them goodbye and let them know you look forward to being with them tomorrow!

Here’s your chance to share tips for meeting and greeting students at the door. What consistent expectations do you set as you greet students each day? (Remember to give a shout-out to your school by letting us know where you teach.)


Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker, 50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior. Larchmont, NY : Eye of Education, 2010.

Cook, C. R., |. (n.d.). Positive Greetings at the Door.

Wang, M. C. (1993). Margaret c. wang, geneva d. haertel and herbert j. walberg in an educational leadership article titled synthesis of research / what helps students learn?. Educational Leadership51(4).

Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong, The First Days of School. Mountain View, CA : Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc., 2009.

About donnadalton

Currently, I am honored to serve as the Chief Academic Officer for Chesterfield County Public Schools. This year begins my 41st year in public education and my final year in Chesterfield. Prior to this position, I served as the Director of Professional Development, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Mathematics Instructional Specialist. I have taught mathematics at the elementary, middle and high school levels. I have been married for 40 years to my husband, Bob, and our house is ruled by our sweet dog, Bella. We have one son and a daughter-in-law and are proud grandparents to Tyler and Kinsley!
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16 Responses to Worth Repeating Part 3: Epic Classroom Management Begins With a Smile?

  1. Jessica, L Thomas says:

    I like to greet each class and student as they walk into the art room. I love starting my classes with this routine everyday. It sets a great tone and allows the student, teacher and myself to connect.

  2. Glynis Riccio says:

    I believe it is important to exhibit joy each and everyday to the students! Joy about learning, joy about relationships and joy that we are alive! I make sure to let every person I come in contact with each and every day that I know they are important and that I care.

  3. Peggy Innes says:

    Great advice Donna. I plan on doing the same at the bus loop or the parent drop off zone each morning this year. It’s fun to teach our students how to pause to greet one another each and every day. After a few days, they catch on and begin to greet you first!

  4. Amy Lott says:

    One of the most important things to me as I greet a child with a smile is to make eye contact with them. Sometimes I have to bend down to do it but I try to find their eyes. A child’s eyes can tell a whole story and allow me as the teacher to provide them with extra attention if I can tell they are worried or concerned. If their eyes give me a sense of excitement, I make sure to ask them questions to learn more about what excites them. This in turn helps the kids learn that I care about them. (I am a fifth grade teacher at SCES).

  5. Alycia Allen says:

    In my first grade class I begin each day greeting each child by saying “good morning” when they walk in the door. As the year progresses, the students are the first to say “good morning” to me and their classmates as soon as they come in. This greeting time also allows me the opportunity to observe if anyone is upset or may have had a challenging morning so that we can talk about their day. I sometimes have piano music playing as they unpack and get started on their morning activity. They always go straight to the whiteboard to see what activity I written for them to complete!

    ~ Gates ES #gatesrocks

  6. Lisa Blevins says:

    At E. Scott Elementary, the expectations have always been to welcome our students at the door with a smile and a greeting! When you walk our halls between 9-9:15am, you will see teachers following this practice throughout the building. It’s especially important in an era of technology and social media, to teach children how to greet and shake hands with others. Go Scorpions!

  7. Anne Glasco says:

    The first part of the day is such an important moment to help guide the day! I greet each student at the door with a smile and a hug or handshake. I take that moment to teach proper greeting techniques (eye contact, strong handshake, saying “hello”) and also get an idea of the mood of my students. If needed, I am able to pull students aside if I notice their day isn’t starting out positively. I teach my students to wait by the door until I greet them, so if I am attending to another student in the classroom, they know to wait for me! After the first couple of weeks, my students know my expectations for coming into my room and this gives me the time to focus on greeting each student as they enter my room to start their day. (3rd grade teacher at Falling Creek Elementary)

  8. Deborah Furr says:

    Hopefully the ladies in the office at Crenshaw ES always make all of our guests feel welcomed,… parents, students, and staff. Of course, we love to hug on our little friends but all are welcomed! May 2016-2017 be the best year yet!

  9. James Wright says:

    I love it! I did this every day last year, it netted some success. Most of my kids came in and promptly started the warm up and I always knew which ones were going to be a challenge.

    This year (at Manchester Middle School), I think I’ll add music to the routine. It will give background so the kids don’t feel like they have to fill the silence.

    I also likes Anne’s idea, I did let students get in without greeting them if something detained me away from my door.

  10. Elizabeth O'Shea LC Bird HS says:

    From the first day of school I greet students at the door. As they walk in, it is important to me that they know that no matter how badly things went for them in the previous year, week, or day, they start with a clean slate every time they enter my room. I even include a statement about starting out with a fresh start each day in my expectations document which they take home for their parents to read and sign. After all, we all have bad days. I try to make sure my students know that one bad day does not ruin our relationship!

  11. Shawn says:

    I’m currently a 9th grade English teacher and department chair at Matoaca High School in Chesterfield County. Not only do I greet my students with a smile, I find it very important to learn their names and a little about their interests as soon as possible. In previous years I’ve pretty much trained my brain to remember some little tidbit of information about each of my students, so that I may then use that information to engage them during the opening weeks of school. After this time, it remains important. One never knows the home life a student may come from. I think they found it comforting to know that I don’t always lead with my content-area knowledge first. Instead they found a teacher genuinely interested in them as a person.

    Shawn Dugger

  12. Ginny Heintzelman says:

    All great ideas!! Greetings and wrap ups are a way of life all day long for me as I teach Elementary Physical Education at Spring Run Elementary. Every 45 minutes, it is a new hello and then recap of what we learned and where we will go with what we learned the next time we meet. I always have some instant activity ready which lends itself to the lesson for the day for my students and music is usually a part of it,..What student do you know who wants to come in and sit down when they enter the gym??? ……….I think I will try having the music playing as they are entering rather than begin the music once everyone is in and we are ready to engage in the warm-up activity. I’ll keep you posted on how that impacts the management and self directed learning in of my gym/room? Music is always a motivator to move. Everyone enjoy your first day/week!!!

  13. Jane Lanham - social worker says:

    Thrilled to read this information and see the positive approach taken with students! The impact you have as teachers on a students mental health is significant – and the smile goes a long way to that! I am new in this position and have already benefited from the smiles sent my way! Thrilled to be with CCPS!!!

  14. Kathryn Griffin says:

    I, too, this year have started playing music first thing as students are coming into the classroom and getting started with their morning routine. I’ve been playing “relaxing” music but will throw in some “rock n’ roll/pop” also to mix it up and see what happens! I also greet each student by saying “Good Morning _____” and making eye contact which is important in letting each student know that I acknowledge them and am genuinely happy they are there! (2nd grade SCES)

  15. Nita Mensia-Joseph says:

    People Don’t Care How Much You Know Until They Know How Much You Care
    Can you imagine living in a home where no one says “thank you” or “please” or “good morning”? Well it happens all the time and in good homes with caring parents. Why? Many times it is the day to day challenges that parents face in order to actually provide for their children. In other cases it can simply be the “hypnotic effect” of familiarity that causes us to forget to do the little things that say “I care.”
    It is important to practice these habits every day with children, and not allow the hypnosis of familiarity lull us into complacency. It could be the only time some of our students get to hear what caring really sounds like.

  16. Jacob Mertz says:

    As a teacher who teaches the entire school population, learning names is a big hurdle. When I’m at Car Rider duty in the morning, if I don’t know the student’s name, I politely ask them. A lot of students ask, “How did you remember?”

    “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” –Dael Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

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