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.
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? 🙂