To praise or not to praise




Phrases such as ‘spoilt by choice’ and ‘punished by rewards’ suggest that we can have too much of a good thing. As educators and parents we are keen to ensure that our girls are self-directed, intrinsically motivated learners. Yet we equally recognise the importance of external positive reinforcement, experiencing consequences, rewards and praise. Getting the balance right is a challenge that requires skill and practice.

Recent professional learning undertaken by Junior School staff looked at the research and model of positive teaching promoted by Macquarie University. We know that student wellbeing is fundamental to successful learning, and girls who are happy, confident and able to establish meaningful relationships with their peers and educators are better placed to achieve positive learning outcomes.

The positive teaching model is not about sickly sweet adoration that sees praise heaped for no real effort. Rather, it is specific, targeted praise that is focused on levels of effort, not solely on outcome. Comments such as ‘I really liked the way you persisted with that, even though I know you found it tricky’ are much more likely to embed persistent behaviours than comments such as, ‘Well done, you got that right because you are really smart.’

Positive teaching is also about catching children attempting the right thing, something new or challenging and praising such initiative. It is also about tactically ignoring inappropriate behaviour so as not to give attention to that which we don’t want repeated. Of course such an approach has to be taken when a child’s safety is not in any way at stake.

We continually work to build a strong learning culture at Abbotsleigh that promotes social, emotional as well as academic learning. Pastoral programs such as You Can Do It! and our School Values bookmarks demonstrate visibly to our girls that we praise effort, engagement and determination. Ultimately, we want our girls to know that success is achieved through effort of which they are in control.

I commend to you the research work of Prof Carol Dwek who explains why effort is such a predetermination to success and gives practical guidance on how to encourage this in our children. Read The Secret to Raising Smart Kids here. Prof Dwek's book Mindset is available in the Parent Section of the Palmer Library.

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