How To Praise Students And Influence Behavior
By Michael Linsin
When I was a new teacher many years ago, I was told by a veteran colleague that the school's principal valued praise above everything else.
So when the boss walked through the door for my first formal observation, I started throwing around praise like a dog trainer with milk bones.
Wow, great answer, Jason!
Amazing work, Jessica! I'm blown away!
Gimme a high five, Theo! Way to go!
I've since discovered that this is a common belief in education; that the bigger, the more frequent, and the more over-the-top the praise is, the better.
But for most situations, excessive praise isn't the way to go.
It's not meaningful to students.
It lowers expectations.
It doesn't change behavior.
It's so prevalent that it has become humdrum to students.
A Better Way To Praise
For praise to be effective, for it to ignite motivation, influence behavior, and steer students toward excellence, it must be meaningful. It must stir something inside their hearts that makes them want to get better.
Here are four keys to make sure that your praise hits its mark:
1. Make it private.
Giving praise privately is more effective than doing it in front of the class. Yes, there are moments when public recognition is appropriate. But nine times out of ten, it's best to keep it between the two of you.
2. Make it subtle.
Small gestures of praise are powerful. Eye contact and a smile from across the room. A note folded over and left waiting on a student's desk. A hushed, "I knew you could do it." These small, subtle commendations feel less like praise and more like sharing a special, albeit quiet, celebratory moment.
3. Make it worthy.
Praise won't have meaning to your students if they don't deserve it. Only offer praise when you notice them doing something that is beyond what is a common classroom expectation. Watch for students working harder, performing better, or going out of their way to help their classmates.
4. Make it sincere.
Praise won't have its desired effect unless you're genuinely proud of your student(s). If you don't feel it in your heart, they won't feel it either. Heartfelt praise has the power to motivate and change behavior. It's the result of seeking excellence, hard work, and altruism in your students, and then letting them know how you feel about it.
More Isn't Better
If you've ever thought that all the praise you give doesn't make much of difference, you're right. The more praise you give for things that aren't worthy of it, and the more frequent and over-the-top it is, the less effective it will be.
When it comes to praising students, more isn't better.
Private, subtle, worthy, and sincere, though, are.