Over the past few weeks, you might have seen a story about a teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina who has committed himself to community building in an innovative way. This teacher, Barry White, Jr., has individualized secret handshakes with each of his students. He takes time before each of his classes to welcome his students and take attendance by shaking hands with all of them in their unique and customized ways.
Here at Swift Kick, we care a lot about community. Although it’s obvious that Mr. White cares about his students, I’ll break down some of the reasons why this kind of community building is important as well as impactful.
The optimal classroom (and team!) depends on community building.
Do you remember a time when you’ve survived an entire semester-long class without learning any of your classmates’ names? Has a professor split you into awkward groups where nobody talks, or asked the entire class a question only to be met with prolonged silence? These kinds of situations only occur in classes where there is no community building built into the curriculum.
How, you may ask, is creating handshakes community building? In trying to come up with individual handshakes, I can almost guarantee the students talked to each other, laughing and competing with each other. One of them may have wanted to have the most intricate handshake. Another maybe wanted to have a handshake nobody would ever think to try. The possibilities of conversation topics are endless. This is how to lay the foundation of a solid community.
Greeting everyone = meeting everyone.
If you’ve been in an educational environment long enough, you’ve probably heard the phrase “meet students where they’re at” at least once before. This sentiment boils down to adjusting your expectations based on what students come into a classroom knowing. Then, you’re prepared to bring them to a higher level of understanding. How does this pertain to personalized handshakes? Teachers have to meet their students in order to know where their students are. Mr. White took a great deal of time to get to know his students’ personalities by creating a handshake with each of them. I wouldn’t doubt that Mr. White has a better understanding of who and where his students are because of his commitment to them.
Take this concept and apply it to your other teams. How can you meet your team members where they are? Will taking a little extra time out of your day to share something special with them help them feel seen, heard, and understood?
Handshakes are more than just hellos.
Have you ever sat in the same class for weeks, only to be called the wrong name by your professor? How did that make you feel? As someone who goes by a name that is different than the one listed on the roster, this happens to me often. Correcting a professor every time they attempt to call on me wears on me after a while. It makes me think I’m invisible.
Personalized handshakes tell a student that their teacher sees them, hears them, and commits to being present to their needs. In no words at all, each student who enters Mr. White’s classroom automatically walks in feeling remembered and therefore empowered. The different handshakes Mr. White has with his students will ultimately make him remember their names better.
Apply these ideas outside the classroom!
No longer in a classroom setting? No problem! Each of these concepts can be modified to fit any team. Build a culture within your office or workplace that encourages community building. Commit your team members’ names to memory by giving them the task of coming up with a unique handshake to share with you. Make it a mentorship program; office pros can teach new team members the ropes and signify this relationship with their own secret handshake. Have a team member who’s not so into the physical contact? Share nicknames with each other or personalized waves. The opportunities are endless.
Community building is integral to creating a cohesive team and ensuring their commitment to your goals and to each other. Mr. White proved that personalizing one aspect of his students’ day truly made a difference in their lives. Can Mr. White’s techniques help you build a better team? Try out individual greetings at your next team meeting and see what happens!
At Swift Kick programs, we have a section to create secret handshakes too! Check them out in our Facebook videos!