Ever wish your students were more motivated? If you’re like most of us, you have tried an array of rewards and punishments to motivate kids. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. At least it doesn't work well enough. People (yes, even students) aren’t motivated from the outside so rewards and punishments only work to a point. We are internally motivated. That’s why it's essential to engage and inspire students to be motivated to succeed in school (and life.)

If you’re ready to move beyond the reward/punishment model and embrace a whole new way to understand motivation, I encourage you to come back regularly. It’s time to challenge the status quo and create schools and classrooms based on what really motivates behavior.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Negative Impact of Praise: Fostering Dependence and a Never-Ending Search for Approval

Those who know me are aware that I sometimes get a bit disheartened by our inability to fundamentally change our schools more quickly. The more I examine the ultimate legacy of the external, reward/punishment model, the more convinced I am of its limitations. As I have said on numerous occasions, the reward/punishment model works in some instances and with some kids. It simply doesn’t work well enough with enough kids. We can do better.

Despite my ongoing frustration, I am heartened by the fact that things are changing. I had a conversation with a friend and colleague last month who told me that businesses increasingly embrace the importance of relationships and other “soft” signs of success. Dan Pink offers many examples of businesses having great success following the principles of internal control psychology. In my consulting, I find more and more educators who are at least somewhat familiar with choice theory/internal control psychology. While they may not be as well versed as they believe they are, they are head and shoulders above educators I met ten or twenty years ago.

And every once in a while I stumble upon a quotation like the following one by Elisa Sobo, a professor of anthropology at San Diego State University, warning of the inherent danger of praising rather than helping kids develop the ability to self-evaluate and internalize important values, beliefs, and behaviors. (The quotation appeared in “School and Self Esteem, or: Thank You for Making Those Socks!”) 

“Children cultivated toward dependence on external praise through constant positive stroking are at risk for growing into poorly-adjusted adults who must always look to others for approval. They never have a chance to develop their own internal resources.”

Like Dr. Sobo, I want kids to develop their own internal resources and grow into responsible, self-directed adults who work to make the world a better place. If that’s what you want as well, I hope you’ll evaluate your use of praise and decide if there is a better way to help your students.

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

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