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Prototyping Everyday Greetings: Lessons from Kenya

Hello!! Good morning!!

Each time I've gone back to visit Kenya, I've been struck by the cultures of greeting there. One of my favourite morning interactions in Kenya was anytime after 6:30am on a weekday, when elementary school students in blue and white uniforms would call out an enthusiastically repeated “how are you? how are you? how are you?” to the mzungu (foreigner).

But arriving at any location, the first thing that adults do is greet each other, each time they meet, by shaking hands. Any staff person to arrive in the Longonot High School staff room would begin by walking around the room to shake hands with each of his or her colleagues. The last to arrive had a whole series of hands to shake. This seemed like a natural and normal part of the day; in fact, on the few occasions when I attempted to just make a bee-line for my desk and get working, my colleagues laughingly informed me that the 'Kenyan way' is to sit for some time.

Back here in Canada, I tend to arrive at my seat with very few greetings indeed – and what we're hearing from students, parents, educators, administrators and community partners in each of our districts is the importance of greetings of various kinds – small and repeated interpersonal connections that allow us to get to connect, make eye contact, see each other as authentic distinct human beings.

Why greetings? As this theme has emerged, we've collectively wondered why greetings aren't already happening. For teachers, there's so much else happening when school begins, or when a class starts: somehow there just isn't always time to take those extra 5 seconds, multiplied by 30 or 40 students, to start the day off. There are so many other burdens: marking, preparing for the class, recording attendance, checking in with particular students about specific assignments or projects. What then about non-teaching staff, parents, community members: what would happen if greetings were a part of the school 'culture', a part of how things work day-to-day. What if, somehow, every student was personally greeted at least once per day?

Others have said to us that greetings DO happen, at their school, and that they see what a difference it makes to have students feel seen, known, recognized. In particular, it means a lot to have teachers take a moment to share a greeting, a hello with students beyond just the students in their classes. Many students and youth feel isolated at school, and that a personal greeting can make a huge difference. They know that many students and youth feel isolated at school, and that a personal greeting can make a huge difference. Colleagues at McCreary Centre see this in their data – when students are asked why they dropped out of school, one significant consistent response they heard is that 'no-one knows my name'. Researchers in the field, from Social Emotional Learning BC (SEL-BC), suggest that even a simple greeting can produce oxytocin, and be part of increasing connectedness at school.

So, as we enter prototyping in the WellAhead pilot districts, we'll be trying out various versions of a simple, daily greeting. We'll start with 'user research' – beginning to delve into the question that keeps coming up: why is this not already happening? Why aren't people greeting each other in the mornings, as class begins, ongoing?

Stay tuned as SD43, SD67, and SD70 try out everyday greetings: we'll see what we learn from 'prototyping' this seemingly simple practice in suburban Metro Vancouver, in the Interior, and on Vancouver Island. Tutaongea – we will see what happens!