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Kids Don’t Need Gold Stars

In my opinion, the look that children give when they receive a gold star is misleading. Sure, they look excited, but that excitement is sometimes relative. In truth, kids don’t need gold stars and essentially, that is not what they are after when they produce good work.

What they really want is something – anything. They want a compliment, a smile, a gesture that will make them feel better about themselves. School can be such an overwhelming place. Teachers are so good at being critical. Critical of the way students dress, sit, answer back, talk, the speed in which they work, the neatness of their handwriting etc. The gold star doesn’t just signify an achievement of sorts, it breaks the cycle of criticism and balances the ledger somewhat.

As teachers, we need to be aware that our students crave our acceptance and approval. They may superficially be doing this by trying to earn a gold star, but essentially, all they really want is a confidence boost.

I enjoyed the tips for showing recognition to students by bestselling author and confessed ‘gold star junkie’, Gretchen Rubin:

1. Be specific. Vague praise doesn’t make much of an impression.

2. Find a way to praise sincerely. It’s a rare situation where you can’t identify something that you honestly find praiseworthy. “Striking” is one of my favorite fudge adjectives.

3. Never offer praise and ask for a favor in the same conversation. It makes the praise seem like a set-up.

4. Praise process, not outcome.This particularly relevant with children. It’s more helpful to praise effort, diligence, persistence, and imagination than a grade or milestone.

5. Look for something less obvious to praise – a more obscure accomplishment or quality that a person hasn’t heard praised many times before; help people identify strengths they didn’t realize they had. Or praise a person for something that he or she does day after day, without recognition. Show that you appreciate the fact that the coffee’s always made, that the report is never late. It’s a sad fact of human nature: those who are the most reliable are the most easily taken for granted.

6. Don’t hesitate to praise people who get a lot of praise already. Perhaps counter-intuitively, even people who get constant praise – or perhaps especially people who get constant praise – crave praise. Is this because praiseworthy people are often insecure? Does getting praise lead to an addiction to more praise? Or – and this is my current hypothesis – does constant praise indicate constant evaluation, and constant evaluation leads to a craving for praise?

7. Praise people behind their backs. The praised person usually hears about the praise, and behind-the-back praise seems more sincere than face-to-face praise. Also, always pass along the behind-the-back praise that you hear. This is one of my favorite things to do!

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