Lessons from School 2 – Approval

Children haven’t learned to cover up their humanity yet. It’s really quite refreshing. If they’re upset with you, you know it. If a wave of love comes over them, they reach out and hug you. Their faces reflect disappointment and sadness and anger and pleasure and pride and hate. You don’t need to guess what they’re thinking. They haven’t learned the rules of society yet. The ones we learn later that keep us protected and then conversely keep us isolated from each other.

About a six weeks ago our class dynamics had devolved into a series of power struggles between teacher(s) and students that were very draining and that no one in particular ever won. At this very timely juncture, a colleague of ours did a workshop on the power of positive reinforcement. We were inspired. Well, at least, we were so tired of what we were doing that we were willing to try anything. The theory, in a nutshell, went like this; ignore bad behaviour and acknowledge/reward good behaviour.

We started right away the next day. Instead of saying (ad nauseum) “sit down”, “be quiet”, “too much noise”, “sit down”, “sit down”, “SIT DOWN!!”….we began to say “thank you Mohammed for sitting quietly”, “thank you Jassim for sitting quietly”, “Raghd, you are also sitting quietly, thank you”.  I was astonished at the results. Literally, mouth-open-stunned-in-disbelief astonishment. They got it immediately. The talkers looked up, saw what was happening and quickly sat down, cross legged on the floor with their hands in their laps (the prescribed kindergarten method of ‘sitting properly’) and stared quietly at the teacher waiting for their theoretical  pat on the head.

I will admit, this was hard work at first. It also wasn’t magic every single time BUT it was way more effective (which made the occasional raised voice ‘QUIET’ way more effective) and it was way more pleasant.

Focusing on the positive is better for every one. The energy is better, not just for the receiver but also for the giver. I watch them as a group sometimes when the teacher is doling out praises. I watch as their eager eyes wait and hope that the affirmation fairy will visit them. When it does, it’s bliss. They’re not old enough to know to hide that yet. When it doesn’t the disappointment is palpable.

Aside from the fact that they show all of their emotions on their face – like living breathing nerve endings – are they any different than any of us?

In your family, in your company, among the teachers at school, the grocery clerk or the bank teller, are we any different? Don’t we all just want to be acknowledged for the effort we’re putting in? Doesn’t a little “you’re doing a really good job” go a lot further than “you’re not hitting the mark, you need to do better”?  Even if the message needs to be that the mark is not being met, isn’t it more productive to say “I know you can do it!” “Keep trying! I think with a little more time, or effort, or xyz…you’ll get there” ?

Good companies and good management know this. If you want to attract good people and keep them, there’s one sure fire way to make it happen…give credit where credit is due (and make sure it’s verbal), keep the energy flow positive, give people a reason to do good work (and money isn’t usually enough to cut it in the long term) and make sure you notice them and their strengths.

We’ve gotten good at hiding the fact that we need encouragement and to be noticed. It’s not very dignified. It’s kind of childish. If you want to know the truth about yourself and your fellow mammals, just visit a kindergarten class. They wear their humanity on their faces – and they are you, and they are me.


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7 responses to “Lessons from School 2 – Approval

  1. fibrefoxx

    Once again you have made me look at places within myself that were long forgotten. Thank you. Not only did I need that, I enjoyed the trip =)

  2. Tracie! So true. So human. So beautifully written!
    In preparation for my first intensive clinical practicum we “drew lots” to see what placement we would get. We had heard only one thing from the students above us…you’ll be fine…it’s a great experience…unless you get “The Monster”. They referred to a clinical supervisor who taught using negative reinforcement and shame and felt she hadn’t done her job until she made you cry. This monster struck fear in all of the aspiring Speech Language Pathologists souls, students had dropped out after placements with her and very little was learned under her tutelage due to fear and shame…and we were adults!
    Guess which placement I drew?
    After a nightmare experience, many tears and finally the courage to report to the school’s clinical placement committee exactly what was going on (no one else had felt safe too lest it effect their marks….boo!)…
    Karma kicked in.
    For my next placement they intentionally gave me a placement with a dream supervisor. Why was she such a dream?…Positive reinforcement, radiant positive energy and approval…and I learned, thrived and performed way beyond my or her expectations. I so longed for someone to notice my potential and see my strengths. Her impact on my career and my life has had long lasting wonderful effects! Thanks for stirring this memory. In fact, I think I’ll write her an email right now and thank her again!

  3. Michele

    It”s funny how, on a daily basis, I am greeted at 9:10 by 20 eager, smiling faces and, at 3:30 (home time), most, if not all, are still smiling and “high-fiving” me as they leave. Does that mean we’ve had an absolutely splendid, stress-free, all praise all the time type of day? No. I do, however, recognize the power of praise and affirmation of goodness and try really hard to reward with positive reinforcement – it’s amazing how much fun you can have in a day when there is positivity flying around! Good for you and your colleagues – keep it up and the end of June will come too soon! Hugs and high-fives to all those little cuties from me and my Grade 3’s here in Canada!

  4. Well said Tracie! I often remind people that us teachers learn as much from the kids as they from us. It is a rich 2-way street. In my early days of teaching I spent too much energy telling kids what “not” to do and things soon turned much nicer when I started telling them what “to” do. Instead of “Stop talking” they got quiet when I simply said, “Look here at the front board” or “Get out sheet of lined paper.” Instead of being told to stop doing something we all want to know what TO do, just re-direct our energy and we’re good to go. 🙂

    • Joan B

      I was lucky to work in a school where both of our kindergarten teachers practiced positive reinforcement every day. It was a joy to see the smiling kids bring their attendance to my office every morning & stand there eager for the stickers I gave out.
      And the stories I heard and the confidences that were shared!
      I envy you your job. I know the little ones can be challenging at times (you should have seen me trying to handle them when a teacher had a very important phone call) but the rewards are endless. Enjoy your time with little uns.

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