In Praise of Return

Coming back to school can be a relief for many of our students. They come from less than stable home lives, and the predictability of school is a comfort for them. These are often the kids that most often exhibit problematic behavior. Our principal sent us all an email to this effect. It read, in part, “Many of our students have experienced unrest over the break. Without their normal routines, meals, and social interactions found at school, they may need a readjustment period (and your grace) when returning.”

One of the things I’d decided to change in my class was to provide a mechanism for regular praise of students, both individual and group. The individual is easier: it’s just one person praising another. The group praise, though — lots of kids focusing on the good actions of one student. That was a tough one.

In developing the lesson, I thought we should spend some time writing and thinking about praise, so I prepared a Pear Deck for the kids (which allows them to respond to given prompts and see their and others’ responses projected anonymously. It’s a great way to have a real-time anonymous discussion), asking questions about when they were last praised, how it felt, when they last praised someone else, how that felt.

Some of the answers were telling, echoing the ideas in the principal’s email.

I asked students when they last remembered being praised. One student’s response was memorable:

The last time I remember being praise was when I manage to talk to people because I can’t really socialize with people. Another time I was praised was when I was working on something for a story and the person read it, and they said it was an amazing idea!

This young lady is one of the best students I’ve ever had: hard-working, kind, very intelligent, but painfully shy.

When I asked “How does it feel when you’re praised,” some of the answers really stood out:

  • It made me feel special and proud of my work that I have done. I barely get noticed on things so it like amazing to be praised.
  • I felt nothing because I didn’t care.

Finally, I asked students to consider why praise might be important, given all the responses they’d given and read. One showed that at least one student understand how much impact something positive can have: “For example, it could be one compliment that could save someone’s life…… They could be depressed and just needed someone to be nice to them and show them that people care about them.”

Contrast this awareness with how students so often treat each other, with insults and snide comments that are meant to build themselves up by tearing others down. I wonder if anyone else saw the irony. Smart kids — I’m sure they did.

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