No budget? No problem. This strategy costs nothing and means everything.

Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to listen to Dr. Douglas Reeves speak at a conference that I was attending in Phoenix.  I have always admired Dr. Reeves, and I find him to be one of the most compelling and well-researched speakers that I have ever listened to.  I have read most of his books and dozens of his articles.  Needless to say, when he speaks, I feel it’s pretty important for me to listen.

He took the group of 600 or so people that were in the large theatre at the conference through an activity that I encourage you to try.  He instructed each of us to take a piece of paper and fold it “hot dog” (if you don’t know what this means, likely you are not a nerdy educator like I am).  In the left hand column, he then asked us to list each of the initiatives that we have started doing at our schools in the last 10 years.  I eagerly wrote down as many of these things as I possibly could, ranging from Professional Learning Communities, to Assessment for Learning, to Literacy Initiatives, to PBS/EBS, to Roots of Empathy, and many others.  One of my colleagues did the same thing beside me, as did a number of people sitting around us.  Needless to say, we were filled with a sense of self-importance: we were quite proud of the length of our lists.

He then asked us to write another list in the right hand column:  he asked us to write all of the initiatives that we had stopped doing.  Well, you can imagine, there was a growing roar of laughter.  Of course, very few of us stopped anything.  Many (if not most) initiatives just faded to oblivion, and became another one of those large, coiled binders that sit on our shelves in our offices like so many badges of courage that we tend to bear.

Dr. Reeves moved on to another topic, but I sat there and looked at my lengthy list:  I thought about all of the time and money that we had spent on these initiatives.  Clearly, this was not money well spent because there were only a couple of initiatives that we are still doing today.  If the initiative was worth it, we would still have been doing it.  I was suitably depressed.

In my last post, I cracked the book Visual Learning, by John Hattie, to help me avoid repeating history and chasing after educational rainbows.  But with my endless spare time between finishing “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy, I have also found the opportunity to read another excellent book called Bringing out the Best in Teachers by Blase and Kirby.   This book has a strong research base, and has a number of very reasonable and do-able strategies that can help students to be successful.  And within this book I found one of the cheapest and easiest methods for improving achievement ever.  PRAISE.
Did you know that giving teachers praise increases student achievement?  In Chapter Two, which is entitled “The Power of Praise”, the authors cite dozens of studies that underscore the impact that sincere praise from the Principal can have on teachers.  Not surprisingly, personal praise (ie. “That’s a nice sweater”) is far less impactful than praise that is job-specific.  The authors suggest seven tips for Principals in praising their teachers (Blase and Kirby, 2009):

1. Praise sincerely
2. Maximize the use of nonverbal communication (smiles, nods and touches)
3. Schedule time for teacher recognition
4. Write brief personal notes or emails to compliment individuals
5. Show pride in teachers by boasting to others about them
6. Praise briefly
7. Target praise to teachers work

I think about all of the initiatives and all of the time and all of the resources and all of the money, and here is something that costs absolutely nothing but really makes a difference.  Praising our teachers is something that all of us can and should do.  I need to do more of it. And not just because it’s good for student achievement. 
It’s the right thing to do, and it feels good.
Do you praise your teachers enough?
Blase, J. and Kirby, P. (2009) Bringing out the best in teachers: what effective Principals Do.  Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks CA.

3 Comments

  1. What an in-depth discussion on something so pertinent and relevant! Purposeful praise is certainly something we all need to use and work on. Thanks for sharing. I will be passing on this blog to admin and tchrs everywhere!

    January 15, 2011
  2. Bernie Soong said:

    Great post! I wish I was able to attend the conference too. It seems to be such an easy and effective thing to do but unfortunately praise seems to have fallen by the wayside. As a district level union representative, maybe I only hear the things that are filtered my way, but it seems quite clear that teachers do not feel praised. That even goes for my colleagues in my school. Rather, it seems to be a dark time as many teachers would say that #3,4,7 have never happened to them in the past few years. Maybe not all administrators (who teachers would hope praise comes from) are built the same but I am hopeful that your post will be a catalyst to get some praise out there! In any workplace, I am sure praise will be much appreciated and can boost morale… and yes, boost student achievement too! On a particular note, there is sometime blanket praise but that is easy to do. I like how your post makes praise more directed and personal, and actually points towards the recognition of praise for professional efforts.

    January 16, 2011

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