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The Power Of Praise

Say it a million and one, a million and two, a million and three…

My mentor walked into my classroom in the middle of the school year and asked, “What happened?” She was referring to the classroom climate that had clearly eroded. I was frustrated and angry about student behavior. She pointed out that my class was not the upbeat, positive place she witnessed in September.

She asked, “What did you do in the beginning of the year to create a positive atmosphere?” When I thought about it I realized that I used lots of praise and group points to frame my expectations. Students were responsive. And while I explained what I did at the beginning of the year, I added “But I’ve said it a million times!”

Finally, she looked at me and said “Say it a million and one, a million and two, a million and three…”

I was stunned. I thought she would listen to me complain and agree that teaching is hard. Instead, she gave me some of the best advice I ever received as a new teacher. It took me awhile for her words to sink in, but when they did, I realized she was right. My students needed to hear what they were doing well. They needed to be encouraged.

If you are frustrated by student behavior, your students are probably frustrated too. When we are frustrated, it is very easy to focus on negative student behavior. I realized that most students were doing what I asked them to do.

What can you do?

Challenge yourself to articulate the kind and respectful things that students are doing. Say it out loud. Use praise and make it clear that you are always looking for the best in your students.

Point out when students come in quietly, wait patiently, work hard on an assignment, use inside voices, help others, clean up quickly and quietly, raise their hands, walk instead of run in the halls, win graciously, lose respectfully, pick up that extra piece of paper, help someone read, work out a math problem, finish an assignment and find something else to do, solve conflicts peacefully… let’em know.

Increase Your Praise To Redirect Ratio (4:1)

Some classroom management experts suggest using praise 4 times for every one redirect (sit down please, raise your hand, use an inside voice, stay in your seat, do not interrupt while others are speaking, now is not an appropriate time to sharpen your pencil, keep the legs of your chair on the floor). Remember, you get more bees with honey than vinegar.

Non-verbal redirection: Redirecting students doesn’t always have to be verbal. Use gestures to communicate a desired behavior.

  • Place a finger over your lips for quiet
  • Slowly move your hand from a high position to a low position for sitting down
  • Stop talking when being interrupted, then finish your thought
  • Show a thumbs up when students are doing the right thing

Try this:

  1. Divide your students into groups and make a request (please take out your book, pencil, paper, etc.)
  2. Observe students doing what you asked them to do
  3. Provide a point to each group of students that followed your instructions (say for example, “A point to groups 1, 2, and 5 for taking out their material quickly.”)
  4. Place tally marks on the whiteboard next to their group number.
  5. Add up tally marks and different intervals of the day (morning to recess, recess to lunch, after lunch to the end of the day)

Strengthen Transitions

When we use specific, concrete language with students we make our expectations clear. Accomplishing those expectations are opportunities to provide praise and feedback. Challenge Statements to make your expectations clear to students:

Example: Let’s see which groups can ___, ____, and ___ in ____ seconds/minutes.

Award points when students meet your expectations within the given timeframe.  Class Dojo is a powerful technology tool that allows you to record group and individual points and communicate student progress with families.


Using praise strengthens relationships quickly. Recognizing what students do well when you make requests of them helps communicate your behavioral expectations. Students will do what we ask them to do but need us to be clear, need encouragement, and need to know we care.

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