Hallway Greeters Make the Morning Transition Safe and Pleasant
School Spotlight: Dame School, Concord, New Hampshire
When the morning bell rings, Linda Stephenson, the guidance counselor at Dame School, steps out of her office. A moment later, children start coming through the front door of the school. “Good morning, Parker,” Linda says to one first-grader. As children walk into the building and start down the long corridors that lead to the classrooms, they pass Linda and several other adults. Some of them respond to the adults’ greetings with a cheerful “Good morning!” Others return a quiet nod, rush over for a quick hug, or share a brief conversation about what happened at their house last night.
In just a couple of minutes, the flow of students has reduced to a trickle and another bell sounds to start the day. The trek through the hallway was a calm, welcoming transition to a day of learning.
A need for change, a team-crafted solution
The hallways at Dame School used to look much different. Children would enter the building haphazardly and then talk loudly and run down the halls. This unruly and potentially unsafe transition from playground to classroom frustrated and worried the staff. “You could just feel the tension in this place, from the start of the day to the end,” says first grade teacher Dawn Morris.
Staff members expressed their concern to the Dame Leadership Team, which consists of school administrators, teachers and support staff, parents, and members of the surrounding community. Together, the leadership team thought about proactive ways to smooth the morning transition from outside to inside. The goal was to achieve a pleasant atmosphere by helping children maintain self-control as they traveled through the long hallways.
The first step was teaching the children how safe, friendly hallway behavior looks, feels, and sounds. Teachers discussed the ideas with their students, modeled the hallway behavior they were looking for, and then let the children practice.
As the children were learning, so were all of the adults in the school community. From doing Morning Meeting in their classrooms, leadership team members were aware of the power of greetings to help children and adults establish a calm, respectful, and joyful basis for working together. They thought that greetings might have the same good effect in the hallways. Therefore, the leadership team decided to ask adults to be in the hallway greeting children as they entered the building in the morning.
Learning to be hallway greeters
Hallway greeters were asked to look at the children as they entered the building, greet as many children as possible by name, and remind children who were off track about what walking through the hallway should look and sound like. “It’s very different from hallway monitoring,” explains principal Ed Barnwell, “because monitors watch, but don’t engage, and they usually focus on punishment for misbehavior. We know you can’t punish kids into learning social skills.”
During the staff’s first year of trying out their roles as hallway greeters, they needed to do a little adjusting. “We noticed that staff were clumping up in certain areas,” remembers Ed. In response, the leadership team asked support staff to station themselves in certain areas and classroom teachers to be at their doors to greet and welcome children. Now, any available adult acts as a hallway greeter, and the practice is much less formal. It’s just part of the routine at Dame School.
“Things are much slower and happier,” says Pat Steiner, the Student Support Room program assistant, when describing how things have changed. The number of students running through the hallways has decreased, and the noise level has dropped considerably.
Another significant benefit of having hallway greeters is that this simple practice gives adults and children a chance to interact in an unstructured, noninstructional setting. Through their greetings, adults make it a point to convey excitement about the day, especially with children who may have struggled with self-control the day before. The cheerful adult greetings remind these children that this is a new day and encourage them to keep trying. “It lets the children know that we really care about them, want to get to know them, and are ready to help them do their best,” says Linda.
“The real change,” notes Ed, “is that now the kids are initiating greetings and conversations. Children ask adults how their evening was, or how they’re feeling that day. It’s really amazing to see small children taking an interest in adults’ lives. And it speaks to the kind of community we’re building at Dame.”