Replacing Praise with Encouragement (Like Jesus)

I went to a teacher workshop recently called Using Praise? Change Your Ways! It was about using praise vs. encouragement. I was really surprised by what I learned.

I think most teachers were trained to use praise to encourage behaviors. I don’t know how often I say things like, I like how Tom is sitting on the carpet. Or, I like how Isabelle is doing her work at the table quietly.

Like everyone else, I had been taught through my teacher training that using praise was good. (Of course, it couldn’t be empty praise – Good Job! – but specific praise –  I like the way you color the blue flower by staying inside the lines.)

The workshop gave me food for thought.

Apparently, many new studies show that praise is not good and that we should be using encouragement instead.

What’s the difference?

At the start of the workshop I didn’t see much of one. But by the end, I realized that praise is judging and evaluating and encouragement is specific. Encouragement focuses on the process rather than the product, is sincere, direct and in a natural voice.

Encouragement does not set children up for failure and avoids comparison.

Encouragement helps children develop an appreciation of their own behavior and achievements.

So as a teacher I should say I noticed you colored your flower blue, rather than I like how you’re sitting quietly, coloring your flower.

I also learned that children can become a praise junkies … not that we didn’t already know that! We all have praise junkies in our classroom. How often do you hear, from the same child: Do you like my drawing? Do you like my shoes?

Anna Owen – from Starnet, who taught this workshop – suggested a few books to read, including:

Punished by Rewards: The trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and other Bribes, By Alfie Kohn

The Intentional Teacher: Choosing the Best Strategies for Yound Children’s learning, A. Eptein

Positive Displine in the Classroom: Developing Mutual Respect, Cooperation and Responsibility in Your Classroom, J.L. Nelson and H.S. Gleen

If any of you are using encouragement over praise I would love to hear from you. I am still learning about this new approach, and would like to gather more information and skills as I try to implement it.

By the way, I think maybe Jesus might have used encouragement with his disciples too. What do you think? 🙂


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