Improving the way we praise

“Sweet words are like honey, a little may refresh, but too much gluts the stomach.” Anne Bradstreet

I stumbled across this article about giving the kind of praise that promotes healthy self-esteem rather than narcissistic views of self and abilities. That click led to some other articles on the same topic, looking at Praise vs Feedback, Praise for Girls, and another referencing the excellent Verizon video showing how conservative views of what girls should and shouldn’t do can deter them from tackling things like science and engineering.

I work in a boys’ school, so in my professional life the girl-focussed articles are less directly relevant, but the core message is still important: we must take care to show children with our words and actions that we value their efforts.

Things I am taking from this reading on a dreary Friday afternoon:

  • from the work of Carol Dweck: praise the process eg “I can see that you have worked really hard to write this story/ improve your piano playing/ latest achievement of any kind”
  • give the child your time and undivided attention: it proves that you value their actions (this is pretty hard in a class of 25 students when at least 5 of them are asking for help at any given moment)
  • superficiality and throw-away comments do more harm than good

More than anything else this feels like something that has to be an attitudinal shift for teachers (and parents), because it requires real effort to slow down and focus on one thing long enough to find that meaningful connection. In some areas that comes more easily than others – in conversations with my students about books they have enjoyed, it is easy to relax into a discussion about likes and interests, not least because that is likely to be a one-on-one or small group discussion. Finding times within a frantically busy lesson to pause beside someone and let them know that you saw their thinking and correction of their own spelling mistakes (for instance) is a lot harder.

And this weekend I will be listening to the way I talk to my daughters and son, looking for ways to give them the kind of feedback that shows I value them as young people who are growing into confident, capable individuals whom I will support in whatever direction they choose to travel.

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