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Making praise meaningful – PP11


applauseIn a change to the usual format, Paul presents an exclusive audio seminar on the topic of making praise meaningful. He begins by explaining the importance of smiles. They help up build the relationship between students and teachers. Countdowns are a great way to reinforce positive routines when handled in a specific way – combine the numbers with comments on how well certain groups are doing and quick reminders to others. All ages can benefit from countdowns, the teacher simply needs to change the language used. Verbal praise is an extremely powerful way of connecting with your students and letting them know they are appreciated. However, you need to be mindful of how different people react to praise – not everyone wants public praise, for example. So, personal verbal praise is the key.

Deliver deserved praise: discretely privately fairly

1. Get down to the pupil’s eye level, perhaps crouching down by their work table – this is non-threatening and students appreciate it.

2. Tell the student what you are praising and why – even if you don’t remember the interaction, the pupil definitely will. If there are pupils who deserve praise but you haven’t managed to get round to them in the lesson, make sure you catch them as they leave the classroom.

Touch can be an important tool in making praise meaningful. It can also, of course be controversial. However, a touch on the arm of a pupil in a class you know well can be a legitimate and useful part of a professional relationship with your students.

Rewards – material rewards are not the ones which children value the most. Paul gives an example of 15 year old boys who wanted nothing more than a letter home to their parents as a reward – not a CD, not anything physical. Rewards that most students value the most are relational – warmth, positive reinforcement and most of all positive feedback to parents. So the best rewards are delivered quickly, easily and with little investment in time or money. Overall, the best way to provide positive feedback to parents is via the positive note.

This has the added benefit of creating a positive link with parents. Other positive rewards can be sending a pupil with work to another teacher who they respect or positive phone calls home. Once you have a positive relationship with parents via phoning them with good news, it’s much easier to gain their support if you need to discuss less positive behaviour in the future.

Verbal praise – teachers often worry about how to use verbal praise appropriately so that they don’t end up using too much and normal behaviour is praised inappropriately. Some teachers are cautious about the over-use of praise making them appear weak but children view it as assertive, not weak. Paul points out that he has never heard a pupil complain that a teacher praises too much but conversely, he hears plenty of concerns that teachers ignore good effort and achievement. The use of praise and positive reinforcement with pupils who are particularly challenging – be prepared for praise to be rejected or ignored. They are used to receiving attention for doing the wrong thing. These learned behaviours will take time to unravel. You need to be dogged, persistent and consistent in your use of praise. They will eventually believe and trust what you are saying. Written recording of positive behaviour is a powerful tool.


  • 1. Praise is hard work – especially at first. Be careful to pace yourself.
  • 2. Be careful about taking away praise and rewards – if sanctions are needed even shortly after praise, give the appropriate sanction rather than taking away the reward
  • 3. Don’t use praise and reward as a bribe – use it after positive behaviour, not to persuade pupils into positive behaviour
  • 4. Take care about slipping back into negatives is praise and rewards don’t seem to be working immediately – strategies will take time to embed
  • 5. Watch out for those students who routinely exhibit positive behaviour – and acknowledge this every lesson


The benefits of praise for teachers include:

  • 1. less time taken confronting students
  • 2. building better relationships
  • 3. the children’s expectations of your lessons change – in a positive way
  • 4. patterns of negative behaviour can be broken down unlike when using sanctions
  • 5. spending more time on teaching and learning than on managing behaviour and therefore, the job becomes what you dreamed it would be when you decided to become a teacher.

What would you like to hear covered in forthcoming episodes? Let us know by emailing or by leaving a comment below this post.

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Appear on the podcast yourself by sending in a comment or question via either of the two answerphone hotlines:

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Creative Commons image by   garryknight

1 thought on “Making praise meaningful – PP11

  1. Very informative podcast. I learnt a different version of the countdown and a simple positive reinforcement – a letter home

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