Praising Students Effectively
by Jo Lein, founder of the Teaching & Leading Initiative of Oklahoma, adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and, Leadership Coach at Tulsa Public Schools
Levi, a second grader, had always struggled in school. Known for his fun-loving, yet sometimes disruptive attitude, Levi was always the life of the party. Teachers loved spending time one-on-one with Levi. He would share insights about the world, ask thoughtful questions, and stay focused on what he was expected to do. But when Levi got into a crowd of peers, he would lose focus, run around, and even get physical with others. “He’s exhausting,” his teacher, Ms. Howard described.
Students like Levi exist in every classroom in every school. Educators recognize their strengths but in some cases their communication is overwhelmingly negative throughout the day. It feels like constant nagging to straighten up and act right. What is even more challenging is that their families are baffled by their continuous struggles in school. Sentiments like, “He doesn’t do that at home” or “it must be something related to classroom management” are common.
Praise is essential for Levi to stay engaged in and see the purpose of school. Unfortunately, his disruptive behavior has led to him not seeing his own strengths and assets.
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Researcher Dr. Terri Apter warns about the dangers of praise. She states, “Some psychologists warn that praise for overall ability is harmful because it suggests that any good performance is a result of natural ability, with the implication that a poor performance is a result of natural deficiency” (Apter, 2009). Therefore, praise must:
Be specific: Describe the specific behavior that you saw from the student. It should be observable.
Connected to character behavior traits: Connect the observable behavior to something that could be transferable (i.e. integrity, courage, empathetic, etc.)
Throughout the next few weeks, I made it a point to praise Levi. “Levi, I noticed the way that you came in and went straight to your seat to get started on your morning work. You are showing a lot of responsibility this morning,” I said one day. The next day, he did the same. Although he did not do this every day for the rest of the week, you could see his increased effort to meet the behavioral standards for the morning routine. Praise is powerful in shaping behavior and mindsets when done correctly.
Reference: Apter, T. (2009, May 26). The Science of Praise. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/domestic-intelligence/200905/the-science-praise
For more information about effective classroom management strategies for new teachers, please visit our Classroom Management Workshop page. We’d love to have you attend our next one-day workshop!
Speaker, Leadership Development
Jo Lein is the founder of the Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma, a nonprofit organization that brings instructional coaching to under-resourced districts and trains existing leaders in areas of instructional leadership. She is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and a Leadership Coach at Tulsa Public Schools.
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