Praise Is Simply the Best Motivator

Circle of Success

How many teachers would like to know the secret to motivating students?  Certainly many teachers are gifted in this area; however it seems difficult to reach every kid.  Most teachers can catch students when they are not meeting expectations and work with students to let them know that they need to work harder, but is that truly motivational?  What would you give for all students to be intrinsically motivated to learn YOUR SUBJECT to the best of their ability?

 I once read a book titled Whale Done! by Ken Blanchard, which shares the training techniques for killer whales.  The book advocates that there are only four responses to any behavior.  One can simply ignore a behavior, they can respond negatively, they can re-direct the subject, or they can praise the behavior.  Realizing that the first three work very poorly for killer whales, trainers implement the “praise plan” when helping to teach the huge animals.  It is also easy to see that the negative response simply won’t work for an animal that can eat you.  I don’t know if the trainers at Sea World ever say “Bad killer whale!” while shaking their finger and scowling.

 Now understand, they don’t praise every behavior of the whale; they only praise the behaviors that they are trying to teach.  Not only that, they set the whale up for success initially.  In order to teach the whale to jump over a rope, they simply lay a rope across the bottom of the tank and praise it every time it swims over it.  Incrementally raising the rope and ALWAYS praising the whale eventually motivates the whale to jump very high out of the water and over the rope when it is presented to them.

 O.K., they praise the whale with fish….  I’m not sure that a whale can learn pride in a job well done so a simple verbal praise won’t work very well for them.  I think we can take a lot from that story and apply it to what we do with students every day.  I certainly don’t mind jump-starting some students with an extrinsic motivational technique (a.k.a. candy), but how will that fair for them when they are in the work place someday and their boss doesn’t give candy?  Eventually, we must work to help students become intrinsically motivated. 

 I believe in “the circle of success.”  You must initially set some students up for success.  Once they achieve success, PRAISE THEM.  When they are praised consistently (and fairly) they will be motivated to work just a little bit harder.  Working harder will foster more success, which we will PRAISE THEM for.  With constant and proper praise, students will be motivated to work harder.  We can only teach students to be responsible if we can teach them the power of hard work.  Students mostly want to please the caring adults in their lives.  You’ve already got the caring thing down.  Let’s all work on catching students doing the right thing.

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I am a proud public school teacher who serves as a district administrator supporting all aspects of leadership and learning.

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