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Daily Greetings Strengthen School Culture

How do you start your mornings? Coffee, email, planner? Instead, you should stand at your school’s entrance every day. It can have a major impact on your culture, your relationships, and your culturally responsive leadership. The outcomes will surprise you.

It’s 7:45 AM and I am outside our front entrance, in “my spot.” Wrapped in a scarf, wearing gloves and rocking my favorite pea coat. It’s about 42° which is cold for San Francisco (sorry everyone else). I spend about 20 minutes of my day, almost every day, greeting folks as they enter. Sometimes I’m giving head nods, fist bumps, or high fives. Anything to get a smile, reaction, and start the day with some energy.

Why is this a priority and what effect does it have? If you are a culturally responsive leader, you need to have strong relationships with your staff and students. Principal Kafele always speaks on this power and recently wrote, “This time of the morning is invaluable for the leadership toward setting a tone while favorably impacting the overall climate and culture of the school,” in his blog post.

This is the foundation of all learning and any deep equity work. Remember you are an engineer for equity. You will need teachers to have these relationships with students, especially marginalized and historically oppressed students. We are working to flatten the hierarchy and dismantle white supremacy in schools.

This starts with you, Leader.


How Does this Connect to School Culture?

Doug Lemov, in Teach like a Champion, wrote about the threshold of the classroom and the power of teachers standing at their doors to set the tone as students enter and communicate care.  The same can be said about a Principal at the front door of the school. Staff and students are entering a special place every day, as they cross that threshold.

Seeing you standing there, reminds everyone that.

Terrance Deal in his book, Shaping School Culture writes about how the Principal is a symbol of many things to many people. People are watching. You set the tone. Your actions have the power to change school culture. It matters where you spend your time, and this importance extends to everyone in the building. If you want to shape your school culture, Deal writes that you must model what you expect. This includes professionalism, punctuality, and consistency. Additionally, this means how you interact with students and staff.

Be a beacon of love.

What Daily Greetings Communicate

  1. Students matter to you and are welcome at the school
  2. You are here and you ain’t going nowhere
  3. This time and interaction matters to you
  4. You care about school safety and community
  5. You are accessible and a HUMAN
  6. It is possible

You should be feeling like Luke Skywalker out there. Ready to fight for your community. Leading from the front.


Make Greetings More Interesting

  • Bring a bluetooth speaker and play jams
  • Have a question of the day
  • Give fist bumps, high fives
  • Tell a joke, the lamer the better
  • Tell a fact of the day
  • Give greetings in different languages


Students are Watching Closely

Funny story. One day after school, a student comes up to me with the picture above. It’s of a dolphin riding a skateboard eating pizza on its way to our school. (Lucky dolphin). I asked her who was standing in the door. She said, “you are because you are the principal”. I said, “of course. That’s awesome.”

I had to reflect that it’s not about business cards or paychecks. It’s not about titles or fame. It’s about creative pictures on whiteboards and the fact that I am included. It’s about the fact that students know I’m there to say good morning and wish them a good day. It’s expected of me and students can count on me being there. Since I don’t teach high school Spanish anymore, this is one of the times I look forward to. It keeps me sane and grounded.  

Quotes from School Leaders across the Country and around the World

@JCRattiFCPS says “I greet students at the buses. 1st quarter, I met them at the door to be sure they knew I was glad they were there…. And it’s my first year in the building, so I HAVE to build those relationships.

@isiatt  in Toronto says, “A smile goes a long way, as does greeting students by name. Sometimes that’s all that’s necessary.”

@bethsmithie in Kansas says, “It’s important to me to be at our front door every morning. I love greeting students & teachers plus staff know where to find me.”

@WiseOwlMangum says “I stand at the front entrance everyday! When I’m not there, the students ask where I was because they didn’t get a hug or a high five.”

@Pak_Liam in Albania says “To build relationships, with teachers, parents and students.”

@Seneca_High in Kentucky says “I love greeting my sleepy teenagers and welcoming them back to school. I want their first interaction to be positive each day!”

@JGG0321 says “Outside every single morning! Rain or Shine”

(These were shared on my twitter feed, @trussleadership)

Unexpected Consequences of Standing at the Door

Being at your door greetings students every week can have a domino affect on your school culture. Anthony Muhammad writes about winning the war and transforming your school culture. I noticed that after some time, our Assistant Principal and other staff would greet students again in the hall as they entered. One of our security guards greets students as they enter the parking lot, so that is at least 3 adult greetings that each student get before they even get to a classroom! I also notice teachers greetings students more often than when I first starting working at my school.

Another outcome is that people stop with to chat, some ask about my daughter, or just talk sports. Students propose ideas, tell me lunch needs to be better, or gloat about beating us in the staff/student Basketball game.  One veteran teacher told me, “you have the record for most consecutive days greetings students.” I’ll gladly accept that acknowledgment.

Some days, students join me “to say hello too.” They hold the other door open with me. One day I found a student, Juan, standing there, in “my spot” giving fist bumps to students as they entered the school. I think I was late that day. I asked Juan, “what are you doing there”. He said, “I’m being Mr. Truss.”

You can’t beat that. So I stood with Juan and watched him do the greetings. He loved it. And so did I. 

That’s what culturally responsive leadership is all about.