If we want to build students’ internal self-worth and help them get into the habit of evaluating their own choices, we might want to rethink the way in which we provide feedback.

Just as I don’t want students making good choices out of fear of punishment, I also don’t want them doing the right thing out of an expectation of being praised. Though well intentioned, I believe we are too focused on providing external praise as a means of improving behavior. I’m a stark advocate for attending to more positive behaviors than negative, but when it comes to praise, I believe “less is more”.

When we put a heavy emphasis on continual praise, we run the risk of raising individuals who expect that praise. Teachers who regularly receive “exceeds expectations” on their evaluation can fall into this trap. They come to expect this standard and when rated “meets expectations” on one indicator, they question their administrator requesting a justification for not being marked “exceeds”. Unfortunately, we forget the point of the evaluation, which is to provide qualitative feedback designed to help improve overall performance. The arbitrary rating should be the last thing on which we should focus.

I try, rather, to provide more encouragement and feedback prompting a student to self-reflect. “What do you think? How do you think you did? Are you proud of the work you did?” When I do praise, I provide targeted feedback that is individual and genuine. I believe one heart-felt specific comment or note of praise carries more weight than a never-ending stream of “good jobs” and “nice work”.