3 Ways You Should Never Praise Students

Smart Classroom Management: 3 Ways You Should Never Praise StudentsHeartfelt praise based on true accomplishment is powerful stuff.

It feeds your students’ internal motivational engines.

It spurs them to greater success.

It reinforces the slow-to-grow belief that hard work matters, that it really is more than worth the sweat and toil.

Certainly they can see the proof of its fruits without your acknowledgement—sharper skills, higher competence, deeper confidence.

But shining a light on their accomplishments can heighten the experience, making it lasting and more impressionable.

Good teaching requires you to keep an eye out for excellence, effort, or achievement beyond what is commonly expected. It calls for you to praise artfully, choosing the right tone, timing, and mode to match the student and the situation.

Although a thoughtful, subtle response is often best, there are times when a spontaneous reaction is just right—one bursting with joyous pride in your students and their successes.

Too many teachers, though, praise not out of genuineness, not out of a pure motive to highlight hard-earned achievement or excellence . . .

But out of their own desires.

What follows are three ways you should never praise students. For not only are they ineffective beyond several minutes, but they’re more about the teacher and his or her wants and needs than they are about the student.

1. For personal gain.

In this scenario, the teacher praises an individual student for the sole purpose of placating or subduing his or her behavior. It’s done proactively and dishonestly. You see this over and over again, often all day long, with difficult students.

“Great job so far today, Anthony. Keep it up, partner!”

The student is praised not in response to any valid improvement, success, or accomplishment, but rather in an effort to mollify, satisfy, appease, and otherwise keep in check for as long as possible. In other words, the purpose of the praise is to benefit the teacher.

2. In order to manipulate.

This form of praise is used to manipulate an entire group of students into compliant behavior. The way it works is that the teacher will choose one student to praise for expected behavior with the hope that it will cause others to do the same.

“Wow, I sure like how David is sitting. Way to go!”

Often called “caught being good,” this too is disingenuous. The teacher isn’t really impressed with David. After all, sitting appropriately is an expectation and not in any way an accomplishment. The teacher is using David as a pawn to get what he or she wants.

Note: An honest way to influence other students would be to simply thank David for sitting appropriately.

3. Out of obligation.

Most teachers have been told time and again that they can’t praise students too much or too enthusiastically. So they let ‘em have it every chance they get. Upon seeing behavior that isn’t poor, they pounce.

“Good job, Karla! You found a library book just like I showed you!”

They keep at it because they think that that’s what good teachers do. And along the while, true and beautiful accomplishment passes beneath their noses either unnoticed or praised with the same insincerity one receives after finding a library book.

Worthy Praise Only

All three examples above are forms of false praise. That is, they’re ways of praising students based on something other than true accomplishment.

The problem with false praise is that it lowers the standard of what is good. It gives students an inflated sense of their own abilities. And it communicates unmistakably that fulfilling the barest minimum is not only good enough . . .

But somehow special.

It places what is good and lovely and exceptional on the same local theatre marquee of what is commonly expected—instead of where it belongs . . . in lights on Broadway.

A deeply moving poem, then, chiseled and shaped through hours of dedicated work, gets the same reaction from the teacher as does sitting up straight in one’s chair.

For praise to mean something, for it to help change behavior, inspire excellence, and fuel a dream of becoming the next E.E. Cummings or Emily Dickinson, it must be worthy.

It must be genuine and real and come from the stirrings in your heart.

It must be a moment in time, a shared recognition, a soulful celebration of a step beyond where your students have been before.

Note: True accomplishment varies from student to student and can only be discerned through the keen eyes of an observant teacher.

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6 Responses to 3 Ways You Should Never Praise Students

  1. http://tinyurl.com/smalcamm28328 February 8, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    “3 Ways You Should Never Praise Students — Smart Classroom Management” was indeed a
    remarkable article, can not wait to look over a lot more
    of your blog posts. Time to spend a little time online lol.
    I appreciate it ,Damien

    • Michael Linsin February 8, 2013 at 7:54 am #

      You’re welcome, Damien!


  2. Amy February 17, 2013 at 6:49 am #

    Excellent reminder!

  3. TG March 31, 2013 at 3:31 am #

    Effort is always something that is praiseworthy. Ensure you know what is a particular student’s capabilities and look for the effort to produce their personal best. This way, the average student trying the absolute best gest recognised for that, but the highly capable student who is doing fairly well but not their best should not be prasied. Also improvement. If someone always gets 10 out of 10, and one day they get 8, not so good. Parise for that will lead that child to think it’s OK. But for the child who always gets 5 or 6 out of 10, recognising the improvement in getting 8 will make them want to get 9 next time.

  4. Linda M March 11, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    Finally!! Common sense! But not at our school! Our school requires us to hand out ROAR tickets ALL the time even if they’ve only been good for a few minutes.

    We are told that kids can get as many as 40 a day! That’s for 350 kids. That’s 14,000 a day if they all got 40. You have to carry around with you about 50 – 100 in your pockets all the time. They even made it part of our evaluation (They count how many tickets we hand out while administrators are in our rooms watching us. We have to tell the student why they are getting it at the same time)

    Then our entire class gets only 15 min. a week to spend their roar tickets at a roar store for candy, suckers, pencils or whatever. So kids are walking around with 200-400 tickets all the time. They want to sit and count them during class and wonder why teachers get upset.
    They use it like money to buy things from other kids!

    It has become insane! And everyone is wondering why the school is in chaos!
    Not me.
    Thanks for reaffirming what I already knew was right.

    • Michael Linsin March 11, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

      Hi Linda,

      I’ve heard similar stories over the years, but your’s takes the cake. It’s hard to understand what your school/district decision-makers are thinking. A policy like that directly hurts kids and makes teaching more difficult. Insane indeed!