The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Schools Can Be Discouraging

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

really try?”
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




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