Tennis Courts

Why is Waldorf so big on shaking hands?

November 18, 2016


As a Waldorf teacher, you are called on to be present. You have to reflect every day on where the students are at, what you could do better, what you didn’t do as well as you’d like. That really requires that you pay attention.


When you shake their hand there’s already so much information there. Are their hands big or are small? Are their hands warm or cold? Whose hands are generally warm, and whose hands are generally cold? You’re also getting specific information about where they’re at on a given day. That idea of cold, hot, dry, damp, fleshy. This is part of them telling you who they are. That’s where it begins, but there’s more.


You’re looking at each other and the conversation may go like this … How are you? Did you have a nice weekend? That’s a nice blouse you have on. You got a haircut. You’re seeing each other and you’re recognizing them. Think about that. Over time, that regular seeing, that regular recognizing … they are seen. And they see me. Every day, you are being greeted by a human being who is paying attention to you: “I’m looking out for you. And I try to see you.” I think that is where the intangible sort of self-confidence that people talk about in our graduates comes from. That presence comes from knowing, “I’ve been seen.” It’s a simple little thing, but there’s so much that makes it worth doing.


With my current class, after so many years of being together, the greeting moment for us is a little bit of this uplift. It sets the stage, and then it feeds into what happens next that day. When you’re reflecting on them, you’re trying to imagine them as they are, or as they were, and not how you wish they would be. I create the space in which they can discover themselves or fashion their relationship and connection to the world, to move into it with their imagination and their feelings and awaken to thoughts that tell them about themselves. It starts every day with the handshake.


This is an excerpt from the interview “Why I Teach,” included in our forthcoming Windy Hill magazine, due to go live by the end of this month. Keep an eye on our Publications page for the issue, and the full interview.