The Importance of a Handshake
Each morning at CAC’s elementary campuses, a few prekindergarten through fifth grade students approach the stage to lead their peers and faculty in their daily chapel program. After they have led the prayer, scripture, songs and pledge, these students take a seat. It’s at this point during Pleasant Valley Elementary’s program that the school’s principal, Mrs. Shelia Cruce, makes her way forward. Before reaching the stage, however, Cruce turns to those students, leans in until she is eye-to-eye with them, and shares a few words as she extends her hand for a firm handshake.
It’s a small gesture, giving a handshake, but for many students, it’s one that has had a lasting impression.
“It made me feel accomplished, like I had just done something great, like I had stepped onto the moon,” said CAC senior Dylan Smith. “When you’re an elementary school student, the principal is basically the President of the United States to you. So having her shake my hand after I would do something in chapel was really cool.”
Cruce said she began this practice years ago after a sixth grade student gave her a book called The Essential 55 by Ron Clark. The author, Cruce said, listed 55 things students should be taught besides academia to be successful in the world. What Cruce discovered through the author’s research was that many children were not learning how to meet, greet and look people in the eye as they have a conversation.
“I realized our students knew how to bump fists and give high fives, but they didn’t know how to reach for a hand, and they didn’t know how firm or how long to hold their grasp.”
“I realized our students knew how to bump fists and give high fives, but they didn’t know how to reach for a hand, and they didn’t know how firm or how long to hold their grasp,” Cruce said. “So I thought, ‘I can implement this in chapel.’” However, what Cruce initiated went beyond simply teaching a proper greeting. As she addresses each child, she compliments that student on his or her specific contribution to chapel. To this day, many former students remember those words.
Cruce didn’t realize the impact this simple act had until one day she mentioned how peculiarly quiet students were during that portion of chapel. Her teachers pointed out that their students are always trying to hear the words she shares with the kids up front.
Sheila Fitts, a mother of three current PV Elementary students and a CAC senior, said she believes the lesson a good handshake, eye contact, and the expectation of speaking to an adult teaches these students will extend beyond the classroom.
“It’s easy to go about your normal routine, but when Mrs. Cruce takes the time to personally greet my children with a ‘good morning’ and then expects a ‘good morning’ in return, I believe it sets the foundation for my children to go out of their way for others as well.”
Fitts said that by greeting each child by name and sharing her words, Cruce helps inspire these students to stand in front of their peers and serve the Lord in worship each morning.
“I am forever in awe of the courage these students show from pre-K 3 to fifth grade by standing in front of the entire school and faculty to lead chapel every day. The love and encouragement shown by the teachers, parents and Mrs. Cruce, along with her personal handshake and ‘job well done’ is just one more piece to the puzzle that gives them that courage.”