I’d like to share a little story about a boy we’ll call Mitchell.  Mitchell was a 6 year old student who was in a classroom which was led by a seasoned teacher…..one who was known for being a strong disciplinarian and rather effective with “crowd control”.  I happened to be observing a lesson one day, and noticed that the students appeared a little more fidgety than usual, perhaps a bit more chatty.  This teacher stopped her lesson several times to point out the positive behaviors of some of the students who were doing the right thing (peer praise, a very effective tactic!) and she began every statement with “I like the way…….”   By about the third or fourth disruption, I noticed the antics of one particular child at the back of the group….Mitchell.  As soon as the teacher began the phrase, “I like the way….,” this little cherub would crinkle up his face, half cross his eyes, and bop his head back and forth in mockery of his highly effective teacher.  Clearly, whatever she was going to finish her statement with was going to be lost on this child.  I began to wonder if he wasn’t the only one who was learning to tune her out, since she did have to keep stopping her lesson.

Think about this….we teach during an era when students have access to all kinds of exciting technology, as well as busy schedules which often keep them up later at night. We need to sharpen our tools in order to grab kids’ attention and help them focus on the important lessons we’re trying to teach.  Praise is a powerful tool, and keeping it fresh will really help make it count.

If you find yourself saying the same things over and over again, take a few minutes to think of how you might brighten up your words…..make them sparkle, if you will.  We tell students to do this when they write, certainly we can do this when we praise!  By now, most of you have probably come across “101 Ways to Praise a Child”.  The message is this…..shake it up, vary it, personalize when you tell a child they’re doing something well.  Some ways you can do this:

  • Consider the popular trends for the students in your class, and try to incorporate that into your praise….. “Robbie is working so hard over there that he makes me want to do the Cupid Shuffle, and dancing makes me happy.  Thanks, Robbie.”
  • Consider pulling in a favorite character to make your praise sparkle…..”Harry Potter would say you deserve a chocolate frog for that effort!”
  • Consider pulling in current lesson themes/topics when you deliver that praise…. ”George Washington would cross the Delaware again to give you all a high 5!”
  • Catch that child who is really an example, and be specific about what they’re doing that you really like… “I can see Kelly’s eyes right on me, that’s how I know she’s paying attention.  Mike and Peter are doing the same thing. Super job, guys.”
  • Always remember to “catch them being good”…especially if you have someone who frequently exhibits disruptive behavior in class.  If he only hears from you when he’s doing something wrong, you may be inadvertently rewarding his behavior (remember, sometimes negative attention is a least ATTENTION, and that’s good enough for some kids).  Make sure that your “problem” students hear more from you when they’re doing the right thing than when they’re in the wrong.
  • Reflecting on a previous post….remember to know what kind of attention is most effective for certain students in your class.  If receiving public praise isn’t comfortable for a child, be sure to give a quiet, private pat on the back for a job well done. Consider an individual child’s interests when personally praising them. I had one student who LOVED to be told something he did was “impressive”.  This one word meant more to him than a thousand “nice work” or “good job” utterances.

Although we didn’t get hired as entertainers, in order to maintain attention and pull our students in, we may need to sparkle a little more often.  I’ve caught myself starting praise statements with “I like the way” just a little too often.  When I do that, I see little Mitchell’s screwy face, and I hear him saying, “I like the way she says I like the way”.  Then I think about jazzing it up!