CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Most teachers start their day off with attendance, but a local teacher has found his own unique way to connect with students before they enter Room 219.
Barry White Junior teaches fifth-grade literacy at Ashley Park PreK-8 School.
The Title I school encourages teachers to find creative ways to engage with students. But before Mr. White incorporates "vocabulary shootout" and shoe-tapping songs into his curriculum, he tries to connect with each of his students.
"The most critical component is the relationship, the rapport you build with your students because sometimes it can go underrated or overlooked," White says. "Before I'm able to deliver a substantial amount of content to them, they have to invest in the teacher."
White says he wants his students to be excited about school. In an effort to bring joy and build trust, White began creating individual handshakes with students.
The idea came to the Cleveland Cavalier's fan when he noticed Lebron James doing handshakes with his inner-circle. White decided it would be a fun idea to bring to the classroom.
He first tried a special handshake with a student in another class.
"She would come see me before she went to class and sometimes she would get in trouble because she would wait to get the handshake," White said. "Once I saw how simple, but how powerful it was to her, I thought it would be so cool to have for an entire class."
It was a slam dunk. White says once the handshakes started, they became contagious.
"I said 'Okay, if I can do 20, I can do 20 more I guess," White said.
Today, White not only has a personalized handshake for every single one of his students in each of his three classes, he also has handshakes with volunteers, fellow educators, and students in other grades.
"That's how he hypes our day up," said White's fifth-grade student Denise Hart.
The creation of the handshake itself is one of the ways the literacy teacher and student bond. White says the student comes up with a piece and then they fine tune it together. The fifth-grade teacher was part of founding the school's step club, which is a form of percussion dance. He says students in the club like to incorporate steps as their unique piece.
"We collect and collaborate and come up with it together, so a lot of it is based on who they are," White said. "That's what I love, they came up with it so it's really personalized to their personalities."
The process of remembering the handshake also builds the connection. White says it's all about muscle memory. The handshake needs to be done a couple of times to remember.
In the end, the handshake comes down to one thing: joy.
"I'm all about bringing joy to people's lives and inspiring others to do so," White says. "That's really why I do (the handshakes), to bring joy to them."
While spreading joy to students, White has been touched that the handshakes have inspired fellow educators. He has heard from current, up and coming and past educators about re-lighting their fire.
"That really makes my day when I get messages about how I inspired other adults," White said. "I'm all about bringing joy to people's lives and inspiring others to do so, hopefully, everybody can start doing it in their classroom."
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