5 Positive Hallway Conversations

dreams don't workunless you doI spend a lot of time in our hallways.

At the very least, I’m there before school, during every passing period, in the cafeteria at lunch, and at parent pickup after school. (Ok, I’m expanding to include some of our common areas, but work with me here.) Part of my job in each of those locations is to look for any issues–times where students aren’t meeting campus expectations–but while this is important, it’s not exactly the sort of life giving work that I wanted to do when I grew up.

Over time, I began to wonder how I could use this time differently. I needed to accomplish the initial goal, but I wondered if I could repurpose or reframe my time in the hallways to make it more than just enforcing expectations.

Going into this year, I wanted to find ways to make my interactions more positive with students. I’m one who believes there’s great value in initiating positive interactions with students, and it always frustrated me when I felt like all I did during a passing period was remind students to be on time, wear their IDs, and enforce the dress code.

So I set out to try something different. I’ve been trying these ideas out over the past week. Some are easier fits than others for the first week, but I’ve tried each. Because so many educators have time assigned to be in visible in the hallways, I want to share them (and I want to know what you’d add to the list). Here are five things I’ve tried.


1) Address a student by name during each passing period. I’m not great with names. Right now, I know a lot of names, I know even more faces, and they’re slowly matching back up; still, the process is slow for me. This active step helps me constantly push the number of student names I can easily recall up. If you see someone you know, ask him or her how the day is going. If you don’t see anyone you know, learn a name. Students often walk the same routes. Get to to know them as they move past your location in the building.

2) Hold a door open for students. This afternoon, I held the door open for students as they left toward our parent pickup area. It created a natural conversation space for me to interact with students, and some positive conversation came out of it that wouldn’t have otherwise. As an administrator, the perception can grow among students that my job is to correct mistakes. Of course addressing students who are not meeting campus expectations is part of my job, but it’s far from the entire (or even the majority) of what I do. Holding open the door puts me in a place of service to students. I like that.

3) If you’re on a campus with athletics programs, wish students good luck at their events on game day. We have close to 500 freshmen on campus, and seeing the volleyball, football, and cross country athletes in their respective gear has already helped me learn several names during time in the hallways. By no means am I saying reduce students to their involvement in extracurriculars, but I’m far from the first to know it’s a great foot in the door to get conversation going with students.

4) Thank students for meeting expectations. This seems odd when I mention it to some people, but I’m a big believer in taking time to provide positive reinforcement for our students who choose to meet our expectations (and yes, this includes everyone from the ones who often struggle to those who could teach the expectations to others). In a seven period day, students could encounter nine sets of expectations (one for each class, one for the cafeteria, and one for the hallways; I’m sure I could list more…). Getting this right is no happy accident, and rewarding students with a bit of acknowledgement shows that we are noticing their work do do things the right way. I think that matters.

5) Ask a consistent question and notice when you get an irregular response. For me this revolves around student IDs. Our students are expected to wear their school IDs when on campus (much to the chagrin of some), but everyone forgets daily expectations from time to time. I regularly ask the same basic question–“Sir/ma’am, do you mind putting on your ID for me?” No, it’s not the most direct way to communicate the “put your ID on” message. Yes, they can say, “No,” in response, but I’m good with that. It’s actually that way by design. You see, what students see as a simple question about a campus expectation I use for much more. I’m constantly looking for students who might not react appropriately so that I can intervene and figure out what’s going on. Maybe life got turned upside down since school ended the day before. Maybe something’s going on between this student and another. Maybe the student missed breakfast for one reason or another. Asking a consistent question helps me intervene when bigger issues may be at play. It has a fringe benefit of identifying students who might need some coaching as to how to address adults well (which happens if I consistently get less than ideal responses to my question). Either way, it’s informing my next steps, which I like.

What other ideas do you have for engaging in positive interactions with students? Share them in the comments or get in touch with me on Twitter (find me here). Hope your time in the hallways is well spent!

5 Positive Hallway Conversations

15 thoughts on “5 Positive Hallway Conversations

  1. Aaron,

    Just a note to say thanks for the writing the post. What a great reminder of how powerful those hallway conversations can be. Have a great weekend.


  2. I like to point out cool cultural references I see on a student’s shirt as he passes by. It lets him know I’m human too and might appreciate the things he appreciates from a cultural stand point.

  3. Hi Aaron! Thanks for the great reminders for the start of the year! I find a simple “Good morning”, or “just 2 more classes let’s make them great” opens conversation. I also find basic compliments work too. “I like that shirt” or “nice haircut.”

  4. Thanks for these great suggestions, Aaron. I am working with Technology Coaches and we are constantly looking for ways to remain connected with students. These nitty gritty suggestions are tremendously helpful! Good luck this year!

  5. Thanks for sharing. I’m not in a school yet – still finishing my teaching studies. However, this reminded me of my times as a QA Manager and General Manager where there were compliance issues at play. In QA I walked the halls and talked to staff so they felt comfortable telling me of any irregularity or coming to me in a crisis. It meant I knew what was going on in the plant and new the people. As a General Manager those hallway conversations and occasionally carrying a load for a team member were such important relationship building tools. I started getting staff to give me a Ta Da when they’d done something good and I’d go thumbs up excellent back. Sounds silly but lifted the mood of everyone.

    1. I think you’re onto something here. It’s that validation piece, that part that says “I see you working hard and making an impact” that we have to highlight when we have the chance. Thanks for adding that this isn’t just an education only topic!

  6. I like these tips and pinned the “Five Positive Hallway Conversations” to an Education board. But I’m not sure “Thank students for MEETING expectations” is what we really want to do. Shouldn’t we encourage them to EXCEED expectations?

    1. I like the way you’re thinking.

      I think encouraging students to exceed expectations can really make an impact on a student’s day, and I also think if we set our expectations for all students high enough, meeting those expectations can be a meaningful accomplishment. Seems like two great ways to encourage students to push themselves if you ask me.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  7. After doing lunch duty as a counselor for twenty years, I finally figured out one of the most positive interactions I could have with students was when I rolled the garbage cans up to their table and said, “can I help you with that?” Or “do you want to slide that trash my way?” It disarmed so many students and I started many good conversations with students as a result.

  8. I often compliment…”cool sneakers, that color is awesome.” My favorite is walking next to them when they are strolling, and I mean strolling to class. I usually walk next to them and say things like,”wow, let me slow up for you or I heard they are giving out $20 bills down the hall.” They love the play and start laughing. I’m 63 and sometimes I make reference to that and do a power walk passed them! They love it! One student has a huge flattop hairdo. I sing, “Here come Ole flat top” from Come Together. Now we are friends and he knows a Beatle song!

  9. I’m 64 yrs old “grandmother type” and many students stop by my room on their way to class to get a morning hug! I think we sometimes forget how many young people wake up to an empty house and get themselves off to school in the morning. We may be the first ones to greet them and set the tone of their day. Show them they are valued!

  10. Aaron! Loved my years in the hallways. Definitely the best way to help the outliers in our schools. The hallways, the buses and even the bathrooms are the hardest spaces for kids.
    Made lots of friendships with kids that I still talk to today, even though I’m now retired!
    Kids need us to be their eyes and ears, but they also need us to make them feel welcome in the world even on their worst days!

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