This is the first of a series of monthly blog posts that I will be posting on the Lowrie Center for Christian School Education’s website.  The monthly strategy will be based on my first hand experiences as a part time instructional coach in a local Christian School and in keeping with the role of a coach who desires to offer insight into improving “player” performance. 

I have entitled this strategy “Powerful  Praise”  Too often I hear “cheap praise” and quite honestly, for me, it can be compared to that feeling some of us use to get when fingernails were scratched along the surface of a chalkboard.  Cheap or empty praise differs from powerful praise in that it in no way helps the learner know exactly what they have done that has value or was noteworthy. 

I sat on the sidelines of a soccer game today.  I was subjected to three people sitting next to me that must have said “good job” almost every time a member of their team touched the ball.  When, however, the player actually deserved a word of praise the player probably paid little attention to what not only the spectators were yelling, but to their coach who likewise was screaming “good job”.  Cheap praise becomes the dripping faucet that at some point one no longer hears.  Cheap praise has been shown to have little or no value.  It has even been shown to be harmful in that the perception is that everything one does is equally good.  We want to acknowledge that every child has strengths and we want them to know what those strengths are.

How do we shift to Powerful Praise?  Simply begin to align praise with what was specifically noteworthy.  Players need to be encouraged to do things that contribute to the effectiveness of the team and to winning a game.  Likewise, in classrooms students need to be encouraged, through the teacher's affirmation,  to continue using strategies or doing things that characterize a successful learner.   

So rather than “good job” on the soccer field one might say:

  • Nice Pass
  • Way to aim
  • Great hustle, move, or throw-in
  • That’s the way to follow that ball
  • Keep up that teamwork

In the classroom a teacher might say:

  • Good observation, listening, or example of taking a risk
  • Way to think
  • Wow, that showed discernment, creativity, effective collaboration
  • Excellent question
  • Your diligence is paying off
  • Well-crafted answer
  • Good conclusion

Teachers must begin by acknowledging that responses to students may have become empty.  Teachers must recognize the skills and values of an effective learner and then watch for opportunities to acknowledge these behaviors when they arise.  It is also important to realize that there are times when no response is OK.    Can we do it?  Yes we can!  

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Comment by Jeanette R Dunlap on October 6, 2018 at 8:53am

Great reminder! I will be sharing this with a teacher I am mentoring.


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