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The Power of Positive Reinforcement: Choosing Praise Over Punishment

We have a new puppy. I did my research on methods of training and was surprised by a phrase I kept seeing over and over, certain breeds are "motivated by praise" and will learn more easily with praise of wanted behaviors. My question is what, animal or person, isn't motivated by praise? I guess it's in comparison to "motivated by punishment" (which no breeds are, by the way)-So I'll ask, what human or animal is motivated by fear or punishment? A cowering puppy who puts his tail between his legs whenever he sees his owner is trained to fear punishment. That's all he's trained to do. I think it's the same with teaching.

Let's take it to the classroom and ask, what motivates students to do what they need to do, should be doing, or must do? There are a lot of factors that come into whether or not a student is connected to a teacher and class and how they will perform or not. I know for sure what doesn't work- punishment, fear, and embarrassment. For example, a teacher who calls on a student they believe is not paying attention to "catch them" hoping that they will pay attention in the future? They'll be so embarrassed by not knowing the answer, they'll be sure to pay attention in the future. The logic is off. They will begin to dread the class and probably stop trying.

To teach kids to pay attention, a teacher can walk around the class with a page of small stickers (the sillier the better especially for the older kids) and quietly put a sticker on everyone's notebook, paper, agenda, (even hand) who is listening. Watch what happens to the rest of the class as they too attempt to earn a little tiny sticker! While they may not say, Oh I see now what to do, they see now what to do because it is being rewarded. Participation will increase, relationships will strengthen and the classroom culture will improve.

My kid has a wonderful teacher this year who periodically hands out little notes created on card stock that point out exactly what students are doing well and acknowledges that she sees you. Last week my almost 11-year-old came off the bus with that little note still in her hand to show me! That's how much it meant. And guess who's class is her favorite? Guess what class she never misses assignments?

Just a little note that said, "I see you paying attention and helping out your peers and I'm proud. Keep doing what you're doing."

We all need those notes in our life, don't we?

For more about my school success coaching business, click here. Listen to The School Whisperer podcast (here)

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