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The Power of “Touch” In The Classroom


Most teachers know that a quick supportive touch on most students’ shoulders can be helpful in a number of ways.

Now, a study reported in the New York Times reinforces its importance. Here’s a line from the article:

Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not, studies have found

What’s been your experience?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. I firmly believe this to be true. However we now live in and age where this is really frowned on in our public schools. Any type of touch even supportive can land a teacher in hot water very quickly.

  2. Sometimes students need a hug or a pat on the back, etc – but like Mike said, we’re not supposed to touch. I still do it to be supportive, but I’m cautious and people really do get in trouble for it. I hate being so paranoid, but I even make sure the door’s always open if I’m alone with a student.

  3. Male teachers are not able to use touch as a method of support without opening themselves up to a whole world of possible allegations. I was an elementary teacher for 7 years and went to great lengths to ensure my own safety. Female teachers have no worries when it comes to touch as a method of support. Male teachers would be foolish not to be on guard.

    • I understand people’s concerns about physical contact. Personally, I’ve never had or seen a problem with a tap on the shoulder, especially with a male student.


    • Um, female teachers have to watch themselves too….there are plenty of news stories about women and inappropriate student relationships. That said, I still touch my kids’ arms or shoulders, or give them high fives, because everyone needs positive physical contact and they don’t all get it at home, as Phil mentioned.

      I think as long as you’re careful and it’s clear that you’re giving everyone high fives or shoulder pats and not just a few kids, you’re fine.

  4. I am not sure if it is actually the physical contact as much as it is to acknowledge the student. Many times I think that we as teachers teach to the whole class and when you take that extra time to acknowledge that particular student for something they have done right then we reach him/her.

    In my own experience, I know that I can get more of a response from my students when I take the time to acknowledge them outside of my classroom. It could be a simple nod of the head or a wink of the eye, but I try to make a point to acknowledge each of my students outside of the classroom and make them feel important at least by me. I know that I can usually get more out of them in the classroom.

    When I student taught at an Elementary school many years ago, I had a bunch of students run up to me and want to give me a hug. I froze. The teacher observing me told me not to ignore them but hug them back. I told her my concern about touching. She said, “If you are doing something wrong, then everybody is going to know. Some of the only acceptance and affection that these students may ever know could be in this classroom. Let them know you care.”

    I care about my students like they are my own children and have made it a habit to treat these students just like I would treat my own child: praise them when they do right, discipline them when they are wrong, and teach them the right way.

    When you are doing the right things teaching and your students are learning, don’t be scared to acknowledge them by patting them on the shoulder and stating, “You’re doing a great job!”

    All of the other students in the class will see this praise and work harder to get the same thing.

  5. I’ve been teaching for 9 years. And I agree that ‘a touch’ is a very important thing. By touching a student on the shoulder and saying “Good job / Well done” we show the student our support, encouragement, understanding, openness and readiness to help. This gesture can do magic, we motivate the students to be better, though they are not.

  6. As a student I had one class where I was VERY uncomfortable because of the dynamics of many of the other students. The only thing that kept me from total anxiety overload was knowing the teacher was patient and understanding. During writing time she would come look over my shoulder, see I had nothing, and just put her hand on my back to encourage me. She is still (18 years later) one of the teachers I remember most with the fondest of memories, just because of her gentle encouraging touch once in a while.

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