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The Question I Ask All School Teachers...

You just got done with back to school night, you met Ms. Donakey, and she seems very nice. You are excited your child is in good hands, but little do you know this teacher's niceness could be detrimental for your's why. 

It is this; the way a teacher praises is absolutely essential for your child's success, and unfortunately for your child's struggle. I wrote a post similar to this a while back, but I feel it good to readdress it. 

Carol Dweck, an amazing scholar and professor from Stanford University, has conducted tons of research and gathered loads of data (pronounced dayta, not dahta, and for the record datum is the singular form of data) concerning this very topic. In her experiments she would have children do simple puzzles. She would gather them in small groups and let them begin. As they put the puzzles together, she and her trained staff would praise the children as they put it together. The puzzles were not challenging in the first stage.


Here's the kicker. In one group, children were praised directly with labels or abilities..."good job, you are so smart for putting that together," "you are so fast," "you are an amazing puzzler," "you must be good at math too," etc. In the other group, children were praised directly towards their effort..."good job, I watched how seriously you focused," "you strategizedusing the corners and edges," "you didn't give up when you got confused," "I noticed you worked with the other child, good job," "I saw you look carefully at the box and then find the pieces you needed," etc. After utilizing the two methods with the two groups, they would ask them all the same question. Do you want to try another harder puzzle? 

Which group do you think wanted the harder puzzle? Interestingly enough, most parents with whom I rehearse this scenario, tell me the students praised with ability/labels would be the ones to take on the harder puzzle. However, in her research she finds the opposite. Those consistently praised towards effort were most likely to desire and accept the harder puzzle.  

Think about it this way. When adults, children, teens, and anyone for this matter are praised for abilities, it creates an expectation. I often refer to it as "trophies on the mantle." We are given these trophies by so many people (mom, dad, teachers, coaches, bosses, classmates, coworkers, etc) and then feel this anxious need to make sure the trophy is never taken down. Examples of common trophies I hear my clients saying are these: smart, outgoing, blunt, outspoken, good-looking, obedient, perfect, best parent/mom/dad, leader, etc. It's like the praise itself, if we are not humble, captures us and forces us to maintain what others think we are. Here's the problem with this. Just because someone tells us who they think we are or what we are good at, doesn't mean that's exactly what we have to fulfill. This is a principle everyone in this world has experienced...matching labels. 

What I see with children, is by the time they are in 2nd grade, most children are socially capable to observe that a social/intellectual hierarchy exists at school. They begin to think in a vertical, totem pole, sort of way. Every "A" they get, only gets them higher on the pole. They are then praised for being smart and feel great. AND THEN...they get a "B-" and what do they think and feel. Their trophy is now taken down, they must come down from where they climbed, and settle as less than others. They are now stupid. 

Here's the other part, when labels are based on abilities, giving effort towards something only can mean one thing...I must not have that ability, else I wouldn't need to give so much effort. Effort becomes's scary. This is why kids stop trying on their spelling tests. Easier to have an excuse that I didn't really try and got a B-, then really trying hard and getting only a B or A-. It's why we as adults procrastinate and avoid putting our heart into something, else we fail after really trying. 

That all changes when children are praised for efforts. No more "you are so smart" comments, rather confirmed praises for what that child knows exactly how to replicate; which is effort. All kids can give effort, as can we. Life is to be lived horizontally, nor vertically. When lived vertically, we only end up comparing ourselves to those above us, which is inevitably a losing battle. 

So, the question I ask all teachers is this. "If I were your student and I did well on an assignment, what would you say to praise me?" Depending on how they answer, determines whether they are gifted Carol Dweck's book, Mindset. 

I would be elated if those of you reading this would send this to teachers you know. It's vital children's minds are developed in an effort/work mentality, rather than an ability/easy mentality. 

Have a great day ya'll

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