How Often Do You Praise Your Students?

January 9, 2020

Dear Families,

“Do I have to keep these?”

“I’m sorry, Hunter, these is an indefinite pronoun. To what are you referring?”

“Can you please not give me a grammar lesson every five minutes? These, the trophies I got when I was little? They don’t mean anything.”

Five years ago, I redid Hunter’s room into a miniature AT&T Park.  Baseball. Fanatics. As we completed the final touches, he narrowed down what he wanted in the room, what he wanted for storage, and what he wanted to toss. The unearned trophies found their way into the rejection pile. As we sorted through 13 years of memories, I saw an entirely new side to my son.

When we were done, I asked my husband to observe the rejection pile. Hunter determined that anything he didn’t earn, he didn’t want. His sensitive side made him, at one point, recant. He didn’t want to hurt our feelings. After assuring him several times it was his decision, they were kicked to the curb, literally and figuratively.

In my early years of teaching, my students hated me. Actually, they loathed me. One day in discussions with my mentor, she asked me a peculiar question. “How often do you praise your students?” The question baffled me.

“What do you mean?”

“Praise them. How often do you praise them for their efforts?”

My response almost makes me laugh out loud as I reflect on it. “Why would I praise them? That’s what their grades are for.”

Somewhere between getting trophies for putting on a uniform and expecting grades to be enough reinforcement and motivation, I believe we lost sight of the middle ground.  When everything is celebrated, nothing is special. When nothing is celebrated, motivation is lost. I’m reminded of Syndrome’s line in the Incredibles when he says, “When everyone is special, then no one is.” Giving our students the opportunity to achieve excellence with praise along the way pushes them to achieve. Rewarding them for everything, no matter how small, diminishes the value of their accomplishments.

We desire success and accomplishment for our children. But what do we define as success and accomplishment? Is it based on dusty trophies that represent team affiliation? Or, trophies that represent a season of blood, sweat, and tears? Is it based on projects that we planned, outlined, and executed for our children? Or, on projects that have words written uphill and misspelled, but that were planned, outlined, and executed solely by the hands of our children?

I realized during Maddy’s season of struggle that I had to continuously ask myself the following reflective question: How will my “help” impact her future independence? There were times the end result of her work made my hair stand on end. It was far from perfect. But, I now know I did what was best for her because someone in our house lost their ever loving mind and let her go to school in another state. Sometimes, I shake my head in disbelief at my husband’s ideas.

Honored to Serve You All,

Janet Worley

More Opportunities for Family Fun: 21 Places to Take Kids in Colorado Before They Grow Up

Food For Thought: Building Strong Adolescents: Fostering Independence