This week’s #MTBoSBlogsplosion is about the soft skills of teaching. When I look at the content of my blog, I feel like my posts swing back and forth between talking about content or questioning and the more personal side of teaching. Part of me wonders if this oscillation is a product of being an early career teacher, but I think it’s more related to my experiences teaching at the middle school level. It took me a while to realize that I do not teach mathematics; I teach students who are learning mathematics. I teach human beings who are in the midst of significant mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual development. This reality makes teaching a personal endeavor as much as it is academic.
A soft skill I’m working on this year is positive praise.
When I think about the words I use and how I interact with students on a daily basis, I’ve noticed that all too often I use reactive positive praise. If a class goes well and students worked hard, I end class by saying how well it went. If a student does an excellent job articulating his/her thoughts, I commend that student with brief praise during or after class (depending on the student). If a student demonstrates leadership, I’ll say something to the student individually or call a parent to let them know. In each of these situations, the positive praise is in reaction to behavior that was obvious to everyone in the room. I’m trying to improve the frequency I use this type of praise. Reflecting on this school year, I recognize that I could have praised students and classes more early in the year. In some cases, I think being more liberal with my praise could have prevent some of the less productive days I experienced and encouraged more participation.
In conjunction with reactive positive praise, I’ve been working to include more proactive positive praise into my teaching. For instance, I’ve dropped phrases like, “I’m looking forward to seeing how well you guys work today,” “I know you’ll be able to approach this topic with maturity,” or, “I know everyone in here is going to learn from each other and ask questions during this activity,” into my directions to premptively praise students. On days when I’ve started classes in this way, I’ve noticed more productivity and a more relaxed environment. One of my goals is start more classes with these statements. I’ve also found myself proactiving praising students even when addressing misbehavior. When I was talking with a student about her group’s off-task behavior earlier this week, I said, “I’ve seen you help other students and focus your group in the past. I know I’ll see you do it in the future.” The next day, I saw that student redirect a group member, help out a student who was absent the previous day, and offer to post work on the front board. While I cannot be certain about the causes of this student’s positive choices, I think some of her motivation may have been the expectation I set with my proactive praise. I was communicating confidence in that student’s ability to make good choice. The student was validating my positive praise with her actions. I want to include more proactive praise into my conversations with students this semester.
Overall, I think my ultimate goal is the have a cycle of compliments and praise in my teaching. I want to start classes with proactive praise, drop more compliments and praise throughout a lesson, then end with reactive praise and a proactive comment to encourage future growth. I’m getting better, but I’m far from perfect when it comes to implementing praise in my classroom. Tweeting #onegoodthing has helped me be on the look out for positive elements of my day. Reminding myself about what has been getting better has been helpful, too. If you have any suggestions of ways to incorporate more praise into teaching, please let me know in the comments. I know you have something to offer!