News: Greetings and salutations

Can simply greeting students with something positive improve behavior?

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine students walking into their classrooms at the beginning of a day or a class period. Kids may have lots of thoughts—dreads about failure, worries about bullying, happy talk about a party, continuation of talks from the hallway, crushes on peers, ideas about later sports practices.... So many ideas!

Now, imagine a little more:

  1. Some students walk into a classroom where the teacher is sitting at his desk, writing notes (about something... who knows what?) and, seeing the students arriving, he looks up and says, "Oh! Good morning! Please get started on the Do Now Activity on the board."

  2. Some students walk into the classroom where the teacher is filing papers at a cabinet near her desk; seeing the students arriving, she calls out to one, "Hey, Sara-Ann, I need to talk to you about your homework. I'm here to help you!"

  3. Some students walk into the room and, as they pass the door where the teacher is standing, she looks students in the eye and, with a smile, greets her or him with something positive: "Man, new kicks?” “Nice braids!” “That's a great sweater...."

Would such variations in first-of-the-period experiences make differences in the students' behavior?

In a word, "Yes."

Imagine yourself as a student in those three scenarios. Under which one do you think you'd be more likely to behave well...let's just say “behave well” means, get to work right away, work hard for the first part of class, etc.?

The three made-up scenarios I used here are actually not far from the conditions that researchers have examined in real schools with real teachers and real students. It happens that students behave differently depending on the situation—read on to learn what happens.

Understanding Effects

In the behavior analysis world, these scenarios describe examples of "motivating operations." Motivating operations are events or conditions that increase or decrease the reinforcing power of other (usually subsequent) events. In these start-of-class situations I just described, each scenario described a motivating operation that likely

  1. Decreased the chances that a student or students would find the teacher's attention reinforcing—that kind of motivating operation is called an abolishing operation.

  2. Increased the chances that a student or students would find the teacher's attention reinforcin—kind of motivating operation is called an establishing operation.

  3. Had ambiguous effects on the chances that a student or students would find the teacher's attention reinforcing—we might call it "an I-don't-know" motivating operation!

Unlike many of the processes reported in the behavioral literature, which usually examine the effects of conseqences on behavior, motivating operations examine the effects of what happens before the behavior—the antecedents. These antecedents turn out to be pretty dang important in behavior (see Kern et al. 2002) and instruction (i.e., teaching) in general.

Research

The scenarios described previously were dang close to actually-tested situations, in fact. Researchers have studied them, for real. Here are descriptions of three studies showing what happened.

  1. Allday and Pakurar found that when teachers greeted target students at the classroom door, using the student's name and a positive statement, the greetings "produced increases in students’ on-task behavior from a mean of 45% in baseline to a mean of 72%" (2007, p. 317) during the first 10 minutes of class.

  2. Allday et al. (2011) examined essentially the same teacher greeting procedure as noted in the previous paragraph, but with high school students and with different dependent measures; they found that teacher greetings decreased the time that students took to get to work after they entered the classroom.

  3. Cooke et al. (2018) examined whether positive greetings at the door affected middle school students' behavior; they found that student in classrooms where teachers employed a positive teacher greeting had more academic engagement and less disruptive behavior than in classrooms of teachers randomly assigned to a control condition.

The Real World!

As Randy Sprick, one of my favorite gurus of behavior management noted, "When teachers greet each student by name and chat with them respectfully, students feel safe, secure, comfortable, even loved. When children feel honored and safe, they stop misbehaving. When they stop misbehaving, teacher has more time to focus on teaching" (2004, p. 3).

At a local elementary school, I know an assistant principal who routinely greeted students as they got off the buses, rain or shine, as the children came into the school in the morning. Parents wrote notes to her, some notes that showed the parents' incomplete mastery of literacy, expressing appreciation for her efforts to greet kids positively as they came to school.

Now, just let’s think about this situation again. Kids arrive at school and an authority figure greets them kindly. They go to their classrooms and their teachers greet them kindly as they arrive. If I’m a kid with problems, my apprehensions are lowered and I’m aiming for a good day.

Kind greetings is a damn low-cost intervention that can produce good outcomes. Key idea: It establishes (i.e., enhances) subsequent positive reinforcement.

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References

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, 393-396.

Allday, R., & Pakurar, K. (2007). Effects of teacher greetings on student on-task behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40, 317-320.

Cooke, C. R., Fiat, A, Larson, M., Daikos, C., Slemrod, T., Holland, E. A., Thrayer, A J., & Renshaw, T. (2018). Positive greetings at the door: Evaluation of a low-cost, high-yield proactive classroom management strategy. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 20(3), 149–159. http://doi.org/1d0o.i.1o1rg7/71/01.10197873/10097813070775137873531831 jpbi.sagepub.com

Kern, L., Choutka, C., & Sokol, N. (2002). Assessment-based antecedent interventions used in natural settings to reduce challenging behavior: An analysis of literature. Education and Treatment of Children, 25, 113–130.

Sprick, R. (2004). Civil schools are safe schools: But are they attainable? Texas Instructional Leader. See also https://www.safeandcivilschools.com/