Forget ‘even better if’ - sometimes praise is enough

The relentless drive to find improvement in everything can be exhausting - sometimes, let’s just say ‘well done’ and leave it at that, says Megan Dixon

Megan Dixon

National Thank a Teacher Day: The best thank-you messages

I have spent the majority of my career working with the younger children in primary schools. 

One thing you quickly learn when faced with a class of 30 six-year-olds is the power of praise. Loudly and obviously notice one child sitting calmly and immediately you have 30 faces looking at you, arms folded and ready to start. 

Furthermore, the most read book in my classroom was often the “fantastic work” book. This was a class collection of annotated photocopies of children’s work that drew attention to the positive aspects of the work that I wanted the children to understand and be able to recall – all creating positive reinforcement. 

A good job well done

As a school leader, I have continued to apply this principle. 

During lesson observations, I prefer to draw attention to what has worked, and then consider how these strategies can be strengthened and applied in other situations.

I would rather build on what people can do, identifying and amplifying their strengths, and helping them recognise how they can use these to tackle the challenges that arise. 

I call this “praise and teach”. I want teachers to leave the powerful learning opportunity presented by sharing teaching and learning feeling 10ft taller, and able to take on the world, psychologically safe to take the tentative steps of development. 

Relentless improvement metrics 

I sometimes feel, though, that I am swimming against the tide. 

The dominant leadership narrative appears to favour an approach of the unrelenting identification of failure and areas for improvement – the dreaded “even better if”.

According to this position, we need to face our deficits, inadequacies and failings and tackle them head-on. Any reluctance is met with accusations of being difficult or lacking a growth mindset.

I am tired of this approach. If nothing else, the past 18 months have highlighted the commitment, collaboration, personal drive, resilience, awareness, integrity and respect towards others across the sector.

Let’s celebrate each other 

So, in this spirit of positive reinforcement, I want to notice the phenomenal achievements of the education sector over the past 18 months. I am drawing attention to the amazing knowledge, skills and strategies shown by teachers and leaders in schools in the most challenging of circumstances.

Over the past 18 months, you have shown the commitment and resilience to carry on in the dark, terrifying days at the start of pandemic. 

You have drawn on your values of empathy, kindness and creativity as you supported your local communities in ways never dreamt of before. 

Your personal and collective drive to put the children and young people first has resulted in the development of an entirely new pedagogy of teaching and learning, in addition to new examination systems (twice). 

The integrity and respect for others that you have shown through your commitment to the community, to purposeful collaboration and support of one another, and the awareness of the difficult paths we have followed, has been exceptional. 

You have managed risk and resources, increasing the capacity of those around you to respond to the ongoing situation with the highest levels of expertise.

As we move forward into the next stages of the pandemic, and post-pandemic responses, we will further rely on your ever-growing expertise. Undoubtedly you will have the opportunity to continue to excel.

So, from one teacher to all the others out there, thank you.

Megan Dixon is director of research at Holy Catholic Family Multi-Academy Trust

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Megan Dixon

Megan Dixon is director of research at Holy Catholic Family Multi-Academy Trust

Find me on Twitter @DamsonEd

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