The Morning Handshake

 

Caleb Hurst-Hiller greets a student.
Caleb Hurst-Hiller greets a student.

Welcome to the new CCSC blog! What better way to begin than with a post on the CCSC tradition of the Morning Handshake?

As a relatively young school (this is our eighth year in operation), we haven’t had long to burnish school traditions, but the Morning Handshake, a ritual that began on Day One, is already deeply rooted in CCSC culture. Each morning, every student shakes hands and exchanges a greeting with an administrator upon crossing the threshold. (For those of you who enjoy crunching numbers, that’s about 1,800 handshakes a week, or 64,000 handshakes a school year, not counting the Summer Academy, which is when new CCSC students first encounter the Morning Handshake routine.)

 

Founding Head of School Paula Evans says the Morning Handshake reflects the school’s mission to know every student well. “Students can often feel so anonymous coming to school; just the act of shaking hands with an adult, making eye contact and saying hello breaks that anonymity and signals that each student is a valued member of the school community,” she says. Ms. Evans, who served as a morning greeter for CCSC’s first seven years, recalls, “I always loved having even a very short chat with students as they came through the door.”

 

Becky Wilusz welcomes a student at the Lower School entrance.
Becky Wilusz welcomes a student at the Lower School.

This year, Mr. Hurst-Hiller, Mr. Cook, Ms. Makarious, and Ms. Wilusz take turns shaking hands and greeting students at the school’s Lower and Upper School entrances between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. daily. Upper School Principal Chris Cook sees a benefit to students in the consistency of the morning greeting team: “It says that wherever you come from, you can count on us to be here every single morning to greet you with a smile before we get on with the serious work of helping you reach your potential.”

For Ms. Wilusz, new to CCSC this year as Dean of Curriculum and Program, Morning Handshake duty has been a great way to forge personal connections with students and to quickly learn their names. “The Morning Handshake reinforces our school values of community and citizenship, especially the latter—learning how to interact respectfully with those you don’t know or are just meeting,” she notes.

Here, Mr. Hurst-Hiller deconstructs the role of the Morning Handshake:

Relationship-building: It’s yet another opportunity to build and maintain relationships with students, which is at the heart of what we do and as responsible for our success as anything else. The handshake is only a part; it’s accompanied by a “hello” or a “how are you?” Once students are known, the greeting is more personalized. It doubles as a check-in – about the previous day, an upcoming basketball game, the current humanities essay. It’s personalized, one-on-one attention. And every single student gets it.

Culture-building: CCSC is a professional environment for students as well as staff. We have a dress code that promotes that feel and approach. And we ask that students leave pieces of themselves outside, or in the foyer, and to enter the building ready for the challenging and rewarding work ahead. The handshake sets that tone. It’s not a high-five. It’s more formal than that. We’re here to do important work. Together. It’s also modeling on a daily basis how to treat others with respect. It becomes habit. It becomes something with which our students are comfortable. So, when a visitor is roaming the halls or our students are receiving awards or they’re walking across the stage at graduation, the handshake is routine, comfortable, natural, perhaps even preferred.

Point of triage, if necessary: The handshake also enables administrators to quickly gauge where students are emotionally as they enter the building for a long day. Are they sleepy or maybe just hungry? Excited or upset about something? If necessary, we can alert the student’s advisor before they see each other at Morning Meeting.

Chris Cook (R) and Caleb Hurst-Hiller at the Upper School entrance.
Chris Cook (R) and Caleb Hurst-Hiller at the Upper School entrance.

Mr. Hurst-Hiller shares an anecdote that shows how CCSC Morning Handshake is having a ripple effect in the broader community: “Recently, a delivery man who regularly comes by to drop off bulk school supplies stopped to watch the routine, as he often does. He smiled. On the way out, he said, ‘I don’t know why every school doesn’t do this. Every student should get a handshake.’ And yes, now he gets one, too.”

So, we close this inaugural blog post with a virtual handshake to readers: Hello, thank you for reading all the way to the end. We hope you visit this blog regularly. We look forward to your comments.

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