Being encouraged makes us feel good and when we feel good
about ourselves we function better. We need to find ways to help
our students feel good about themselves also. Many of our
students are discouraged and discouraged students have difficulty
learning. Discouraged students are often the ones who misbehave.
We do not have to accept students’s misbehavior but we should
never say anything negative about them as people. The first
thing to do is to believe in them and accept them as they are.
Stop discouraging them by eliminating negative comments. We must
learn to focus on their strengths.
Schools can be very discouraging places for students. Many
teachers tend to point out what the student has done wrong rather
than what he or she has done right. Mistakes are checked in red,
while correct answers go unmarked. Report cards often report
not what the child knows but what his or her deficiencies are.
Students are usually evaluated by comparisons with the
achievement of others rather than by their own achievements.
An anecdote from my own experience may clarify these points.
It involves my son’s first attempts at writing in kindergarten.
He was learning to make the small letter “a”. The first paper he
brought home was a paper of “a”‘s and there was a note on the top
written by the teacher in cursive writing which said, “Be
Neater”. Since my son could not read, I was not sure who the
message was meant for. In a conference with the teacher, I
mentioned that he seemed confused about what he had done wrong.
She agreed that this was so because he never again took a paper
home. She found them all in the wastebasket at the end of the
It is much more useful to tell children what they have done
right than to point out what they did wrong. In the case of my
son’s “a”‘s, the teacher could have pointed to the ones that were
done correctly and asked him to make some more like those.
Students should be permitted to make mistakes while they are
learning. Mistakes are not failures, but are necessary for true
learning to take place.
Encouragement is the prime motivator. We can encourage
students to feel good about themselves by focusing on their
strengths and the effort they are making. This is never
accomplished by telling them they can do better since that is a
negative statement on what they have already done. Some teachers
even manage to turn encouraging statements into discouraging
ones: “It looks like you really worked hard on that–so why not
do that all of the time?” or “See what you can do when you
Words of encouragement allow teachers to respond to a wide
range of behavior because you can focus on the students’
strengths and assets and on the effort. You show trust in
students to take responsibility for their own behavior. The
words of encouragement are: “I have confidence in your
judgment.” “It looks as is you worked hard on that.” “I like
the way you handled that.” “How do you feel about that?”.
Many teachers say “but I do that in my class.” “I always
encourage my students.” What many teachers do is not encourage
students but praise them for a job well done and praise can be
discouraging. The students who get praised in the classroom are
usually those who do everything right. They get the “A” and the
gold stars. The teacher is giving the message that students are
worthwhile only when they do things well. The basic difference
between praise and encouragement is that praise places a value
judgment while encouragement focuses on the effort. Praise is a
reward and is based on competition. It is given for winning and
being the best and not all students can be that. Encouragement
can be given to all students and they all deserve it and function
better with it.
Some students begin to rely on praise and only perform if
they receive it. They may also feel worthwhile only if they are
on top which usually means at the expense of others. These
students may eventually set unrealistic standards for themselves
and learn to fear failure and refuse to take risks.
It takes practice to learn to be encouraging mainly because
we have high standards for ourselves and the students in our
care, but once learned, it becomes automatic. Mainly it is
having faith in our students so that they can come to believe in
themselves. To become an encouraging person, you must start with