The subtle art of giving praise

I can still remember, as a young NQT, having the school’s celebration book presented to me at 2:00pm on a Friday afternoon, an hour before the weekly celebration assembly was due to begin. I can remember staring at it blankly whilst the direct order to nominate a child was being barked in my ear by a slightly harassed secretary who was running out of time to print the certificates. I remember standing there and thinking, trying to pluck a child’s name out of thin air and then trying to conjure up some reason as to why they had got it. I would frustratingly flick back through the pages to see who I had already picked, as I cursed the boy who I would have nominated had they not flushed someone’s homework down the toilet half an hour earlier. Finally, I would scribble the name of some child, and make up some flaccid justification to explain their nomination – something that would normally result in them looking more surprised than their peers when their name got called out by the Head.

And there I would sit, shifting uncomfortably in my chair, as the celebration assembly played out – the longest of all the assemblies – and curse the school for making us all endure this weekly façade of praise.

Yes, I remember that all too well. Luckily, I also remember that I was a highly inexperienced and disorganised moob of an NQT who didn’t quite get the point of celebration at all.

As a Head, I thoroughly enjoy celebration assemblies, but I know that is because the culture of praise within my school is solid – providing those pesky teachers make sure that they give themselves enough time to consider their nominations seriously. I won’t bore you with my over-rehearsed Ofsted spiel, but if you think giving praise is about:

  • rewarding achievement
  • celebrating hard graft
  • recognising children who have done something that was once, for them, unthinkable
  • taking the time to praise ‘bigger picture’ achievements
  • noticing a child’s personal development

then I recommend that when I advertise for a teacher you apply, because we’d get on just fine.

It is of course imperative that the celebration is meaningful. Yes, be mindful that you consider all children during your nomination process, and be grown up enough to recognise all levels of achievement. Please remember that this assembly is one tiny part of the teaching and learning or behaviour policy – I expect you to be spotting achievements all the time and giving them due recognition. Please don’t feel the need to put the class on a rota so that everyone gets a celebration certificate – use your judgement. Oh, and if there are some children who can’t cope when others get praised, please know that I expect you to deal with that…I don’t tolerate booing or selfish expectations, so some one-to-one conversations or circle times may be appropriate.

Giving praise must not be a blanket experience that each child dutifully receives. It is a nuanced process and only the most Subtle-ist of subtle teachers will get it right. You must give praise effectively so it does what it is intended to do: reward, motivate and teach everyone that perseverance is one of the most key elements to success.

So I no longer view whole school systems of praise as pointless, although, when I’m presented with all the certificates (returned because I hadn’t found time to sign them all), I do roll my eyes and think why am I still so disorganised? Why, at times, do I still come across as an inexperienced moob? And most importantly, when is Ofsted going to give me my certificate?

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