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The “please” and “thank you” rule

5 min read


In the hospitality business many companies have instituted the “10 and 5″ rule: Any employee who works in a hotel is asked to do the following when they encounter a guest:

  • Within 10 feet, greet with a smile and eye contact.
  • Within 5 feet, greet using an appropriate verbal greeting.

This simple rule when followed by every employee has the potential to enhance the culture and climate of the entire organization. Companies who have instituted this rule have significantly increased their rates of customer satisfaction. The wisest companies, however, don’t just mandate that employees follow the rule, they explain the reasons behind it and invite staff to contribute to meeting the company’s mission. Employees who follows this rule feel valued and empowered. This sense of ownership creates a shared responsibility for doing whatever is necessary to help the company succeed.

Although business practices do not always transfer easily to schools, the social/psychological research behind this type of approach to social change indicates that it could be effective in schools. A rule like the “10 and 5” can overcome many of the obstacles that schools typically encounter in improving school climate:

  • School staff have difficulty knowing what the improved climate should be and how to improve it.
  • Expectations for improving school climate can easily be perceived as criticism of current efforts.
  • School change initiatives are added to many other “things” that staff feel that they have to do.
  • School change is also usually perceived as requiring time and money, which are always scarce.
  • School change initiatives usually require professional development for new skills or knowledge.

To overcome these obstacles to improving school climate, I am proposing a rule similar to the “10 and 5” rule (although it would also be a good one to try): The “Please and Thank You” rule. The rule is simple: staff directives and instructions to students are always preceded with a “please“ and followed with a “thank you.” Many staff do this already, but few schools have every staff doing it consistently. The positive impact of this rule is derived from gaining universal and consistent adherence to it. There are two important conditions for establishing this rule:

  • It has to be explained and connected to the school’s mission.
  • It should also be voluntary, since a false and insincere “please” or “thank you” offered by someone who feels forced to comply is counterproductive.

It is hard to see any downside from instituting this rule. At worst, trying the “please and thank you rule” is an experiment that does no harm; at best it could start to change the culture and climate of the school for the better.

Here is how this rule could change school climate:

  • It contradicts the hidden message of staff and student interactions when “please and thank you” are omitted. This absence of “please and thank you” implies that students they are just there to follow orders; they don’t warrant the common courtesies offered to other people.
  • When staff voluntarily use “please and thank you” they convey that they don’t take students for granted. They show gratitude and appreciation for students working with them in the learning process.
  • Respect and appreciation is not something earned it is afforded to every individual regardless of how they perform.
  • It treats students the way they should treat each other.
  • It’s easy to do. It requires no extra time and money.
  • Once it reaches a critical mass of participants, it becomes difficult for anyone to resist doing it.
  • It is difficult to defend not saying “please and thank you.”
  • It shows that change is possible and invalidates the cynicism that plagues school cultures that are resistant to change.
  • It could prompt staff and students to explore other small changes that could improve school climate.
  • It demonstrates that change can come from voluntary collection action rather than top/down mandates.
  • It emphasizes the value of caring about how people are treated.

Sometimes in our attempt to improve schools, we forget that big changes and positive results and can emerge from small and simple gestures designed to improve relationships. The best rule of thumb for positive change is simple: Improve relationships and everything improves. Positive change becomes, not just possible, but inevitable when people treat each other with greater respect and kindness.

Please, give the “Please and Thank You” rule a try in your school. Thank you for reading this.

Jim Dillon (@dillon_jim) has been an educator for over 35 years including 20 as a school administrator. He is currently the director of the Center for Leadership and Bullying Prevention. He has written three books, Peaceful School Bus (Hazelden), No Place for Bullying (Corwin) and Reframing Bullying Prevention to Build Stronger School Communities (Corwin). He writes a blog at

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