If you’re a regular reader of SCM, then you know we recommend worthy praise only.
That is, we recommend praise based on exceptional effort or new (but challenging) learning.
Which can vary from student to student.
Praise for expected behavior, however, is verboten. (A simple “thank you” will do.)
Stick to these guidelines and the praise you give your students will be deeply motivational.
It will mean something to them and propel them to greater and greater improvement, both behaviorally and academically.
Praise based on true accomplishment, as defined above, is honest, provides useful feedback, and develops intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation.
But there is a danger lurking.
You see, the start of the school year brings with it more new learning than at any other time.
Add to it the excitement of teaching an unfamiliar group of students, and if you’re not careful, you’ll be throwing out praise indiscriminately.
It’s an easy trap to fall into.
You want to make a good impression. You want your class to like you. You want to encourage their first Bambi-like steps in a new grade level.
So you go overboard. You praise too often. You praise too enthusiastically. You praise for things that, frankly, aren’t worthy of it.
Which is especially harmful at the beginning of the school year.
It lowers the bar right out of the gate.
When you stray outside the guidelines of effective, meaningful praise, you send the message that the common, the everyday, and the expected is worthy of special recognition.
It gives students a false sense of what it takes to succeed in your classroom and beyond. It lowers the bar of excellence from just out of reach and worth striving for . . . to ho hum, easy-peasy.
It causes boredom, shoddy effort, and a miscalculation of their ability in relation to peers.
It devalues true accomplishment.
When you jump out of your shoes to give praise for what your students have already proven they can do, or for average or expected work, you render praise for true accomplishment less meaningful.
You essentially tell students that spending hours on an essay or going above and beyond to help a classmate or dramatically improving behavior is the same as performing an everyday routine like lining up for lunch.
So why should they go out of their way? The truth is, they are not the same, and behaving as if they are saps the life and spirit out of students.
You’ll lose respect and attention.
Whenever you praise students to flatter or manipulate them into doing what you want, deep down they’ll know it. Sure, they may smile on the outside, but they’ll know in their heart that it means nothing.
Teachers who praise often, loud, and carelessly struggle with listening and respect because they prove themselves early on to be disingenuous.
Before long, even worthy praise will go in one ear and out the other.
Heartfelt And Honest Only
When you praise students for everyday expectations, you weaken your influence and ability to motivate them to take the next step, to really challenge themselves, and to make big jumps in improvement.
And when it happens the first week or two of the school year, when you tell them they’re awesome because they turned in their homework or wrote the date correctly on their paper. . .
You place the brass ring of success about knee high. You give them nothing to shoot for, nothing to aspire to, nothing to fuel their intrinsic motivation.
You create a culture of entitlement, dissatisfaction, and lethargy and push them in the opposite direction from where you want them to go.
And once this culture is established, it’s very difficult to change.
So don’t let it happen.
Don’t succumb to the pressure to praise every small success. Don’t listen to the dominant educational culture that says that you can’t praise too much.
Commit yourself to praising only new and challenging learning. Praise effort that goes beyond what your class or an individual student has done before.
Make your words true.
Look for work, performance, energy, or altruism that stands out, that inspires, that moves you.
And then praise from the heart.
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