Years ago I was on a course and one of the other participants kept using the phrase “praise junkies”
She felt that as teachers we had become accustomed to doling out praise just because. Even when it wasn’t justified we would find something positive to say and therefore it had become meaningless – expected but not impactful.
Although it didn’t ever made me doubt the need to offer praise and encouragement it did make me think a little more carefully about how I used it.
Then I found myself on the other side of the teacher pupil relationship.
I got a rescue dog and signed up for training classes.
We were the worst pair in the group. He was wild and stubborn, I was a sweating struggling mess.
At the end of each session I’d be red faced and exhausted.
The trainer was great – patient and understanding.
On the rare occasions we got it right she would pounce and praise
Well done, he’s really responding to you.
Fantastic – I can see a big improvement in your lead technique – you’ve obviously been working hard at home.
I felt myself growing in confidence and stature. Every time she told me I had done something well or that she could see I was improving I felt a surge of pride and the urge to try even harder.
She praised effort as well as improvement.
She sounded as if she meant it.
She never ever praised me when I did something wrong, she simply pointed out my error and showed me what I should be doing.
Turns out that I may be a praise junkie after all, because if she hadn’t found anything positive to say about us I probably wouldn’t have completed the course.
Deserved praise delivered often is a great motivator.
So what do I want to achieve when I offer praise in my classroom?
I want to motivate
I need to mean it
Recognise effort, acquisition of skills and knowledge, improvement.
I aim to make my praise like my marking – meaningful, heartfelt and helpful.
I don’t want it to be expected just because.
My current favourite is to encourage pupils to evaluate their own work
“Wow, Emma I have three great things to say about your work – can you tell me what you think they might be”
And it’s not just pupils who benefit from praise – I think we need to make an effort to recognise colleague’s successes. Appreciate it when they’ve gone the extra mile.
Cos let’s face it – everyone likes deserved validation because I think at heart we may not be praise junkies but we are praise motivated.