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‘Three Top Tips from Tom’ will be updated weekly with the best advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management.

Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state school in Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour.

I want to thank you: the power of praise

A lot of the time I write about the need for boundaries and consequences, and that is perfectly proper and right, because these are the skeletons that the muscle of learning hangs upon. But boundaries can be defined in many ways; deterrents and enticements. It is a slightly sad truth that people will do more to avoid present discomfort than to gain some nebulous future gain, unless they are unusually motivated and enlightened, which many are not. This makes it far easier to modify behaviour with the naughty stick than the carrot. But cheese there must be for those who have earned it; our job as teacher involves creating an atmosphere of not only safety and learning, but also justice and fairness, because children need these things to develop trust. So if you have any interest in rewarding behaviours you value and want to encourage, then get serious about praise. Here’s how:

  1. Make it genuine: Praise is only praise if it is meant. No matter how small, it must be attached to the truth, and not stapled on to some partial victory that you don’t really value. I’ve seen teachers inexplicably use praise in situations where children have been absolutely foul, rude even to the teacher. Why? To ingratiate. That isn’t a strategy I encourage, as it only teaches children that you are made of plasticine.
  2. Make it proportionate: Small behaviours garner small laurels, and extraordinary efforts deserve extraordinary levels of reward. That said, the praise can still be contextualised (sort of CVA praise); a pupil who struggles with literacy who achieves a whole page of careful text, can and should get more praise for it than their colleague who does the same task with ease. In these cases, try to keep praise to a certain level of discretion, otherwise you flag up fluctuating standards of behaviour for the children to aspire to. If one kid gets vocal praise for being on time, the rest of the biddable class will think, ‘Where’s MY goddamn praise for turning up every day on time?’ And they would be right.
  3. Make it as infrequent as is necessary: This sounds odd. But there is a market value for praise; the more you give away, the less valuable it is. If you’re constantly saying ‘Brilliant!’ then pretty soon ‘Brilliant!’ just means ‘Hello, I am making a noise.’ The teacher who infrequently praises and then does, has far greater impact than the one who gushes. Think Simon Cowell, and rare it is that I use him as a positive example, but there we are, the world is often a strange place. You can make small gestures of praise constantly; ‘Good answer…..well done for justifying your opinion…’ etc all the time. But keep the big guns for special occasions.

Thanks for reading. Have I ever told you you look fabulous today. Did you do something with your hair?

Good luck


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