Praising students: Are you doing it right?

Praising students: Are you doing it right?

Every student needs praise. But are you giving them false praise or worthy praise? Read on to find out and see how the difference impacts your students.

False Praise

False praise is praise given in order to appease, flatter, or manipulate students into doing what the teacher wants. In other words, it isn’t based on genuine accomplishment.

Also known as “caught being good” and less blatantly as “narration,” its target isn’t so much the student on the receiving end of the praise but rather those within earshot, who the teacher hopes to influence.

The beneficiary of false praise is the teacher, not the students.

Further, it’s praise given for expected behavior, which very effectively lowers the bar of what is considered good or excellent, putting the act of writing a remarkable essay, for example, on the same level as pushing in a chair or lining up for lunch.

This is incredibly confusing to students, and can even give them an inflated sense of their abilities.

In the case of narration, although you may be merely describing the positive behavior you see, students only hear praise—which is, if we’re to be honest, the entire point of doing it.

While it’s true that false praise can work in the moment, which is why so many teachers rely on it, the cost is the intrinsic desire to want to succeed. The cost is the kind of jump in performance and maturity from year to year that students in our current educational system desperately need.

So what should you say after your students complete an expectation as taught? “Thank you” will do.

Worthy Praise

Worthy praise is praise based on true accomplishment, which can be defined as new learning or effort or performance beyond what is commonly expected or what an individual student or group has done before.

The target is the student. The praise is for their work. And it’s never given in order to manipulate others into behaving. It’s honest feedback that helps define for students what excellence looks and feels like.

It also arrives after the work or task has been completed.

Worthy praise is a natural response that pours from the teacher’s heart. It’s an acknowledgement of what the student is already feeling on the inside.

It comes from a place of pride in a job well done and in a student who has taken the next step on their journey to be independent, capable, and hardworking.

The actual moment of praise may be subtle. It may be a nod from across the room or a silent fist bump. But its power to motivate and inspire students to seek taller mountains to climb has no bounds.

A Better Way

My firm stance on praise isn’t for the purpose of clickbait. I’m not trying to be controversial. (Believe me, it isn’t fun to be mocked or called names I don’t care to print.) Nor am I naive about the challenges of teaching.

After all, I’m still a teacher myself.

I simply believe, through three decades of testing SCM strategies in the most difficult schools, and through the many thousands of teachers using SCM, that there is a better way.

Our students are worth more than the undercurrent of manipulation and outright dishonesty flowing unnoticed through our schools. They’re worth more than the scores of teachers telling them hour after hour that being able to walk in line or sit quietly is somehow worthy of special recognition.

Although it can vary from student to student, praise based on true accomplishment is not only honest and will make you feel better about doing your job, it’s a powerful motivator and the primary way students know if they’re on the right track.

It provides real feedback.

It develops maturity, work habits, and a true sense of their abilities. It lets them know that they’re infinitely more valuable than the profound insult of low expectations.


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