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Motivation: Effective Praise

In his study of leadership characteristics, researcher William Greenfield noted that teachers identified praise not only as the most influential factor in shaping student behavior, but also the most influential factor to enhance their own performance. I had always made the assumption that teachers and school leaders knew how to praise effectively and that they did it routinely. Greenfield's research indicates that this is a shaky assumption. Hence, it is not only important that mentors stress with their mentees the importance and power of praise, it is also important that mentors praise their mentees meaningfully.

The difference between ineffective praise and meaningful praise struck me directly in my own efforts working with students. I fell into the routine of standing at the door as students left my classroom. As they poured out, I would scatter generalized praise to almost any student who caught my eye. Although this approach might have done some good, it was hardly the most effective means of positive reinforcement. This became evident one day when I happened to say to Emma, an 11th grader, "I loved your comment today supporting the notion that Lennie and George (in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men) are really two sides of the same character. Will you think about it some more and let us know what you come up with tomorrow?" Although Emma had participated in class discussions off and on, she became a regular contributor from that point forward. Greenfield supports what I learned with Emma, that the best praise is specific and individualized.

Below is a praise checklist for mentors, teachers, and school leaders (supported by the studies of Joseph Blase and Peggy Kirby in Bringing Out the Best in Teachers):
  1. Praise does not have to be lengthy.

  2. Praise does not have to be formal.

  3. Praise sincerely.

  4. Praise in accordance with your personality--don't offer "paste on" praise.

  5. Praise regularly and consistently.

  6. Use nonverbal praise: nods, smiles, pats on the back, etc.

  7. Use written praise. A little note (hand written) can work wonders.

  8. Praise the work of one to others. Praise has a way of lifting all the boats in the water.

  9. Praise in a variety of forums.

  10. Balance group praise with individual praise.

  11. Don't use praise as a "strategy," use it as an extension of yourself.

  12. Think of praise as just one aspect of an overall goal to improve interpersonal relations.

  13. Remember that praise is just the outward manifestation of your genuine appreciation of others.

  14. Praise is an ongoing process of nurturing.

  15. After offering praise, don't expect or demand a response. Praise must not have strings attached.


  • Blase, Joseph & Kirby, Peggy, Bringing Out The Best in Teachers. Newbury Park, California: Corwin Press, Inc., 1992.
  • Chemotti, J.T. (1992, June). From nuclear arms to Hershey's kisses: Strategies for motivating students. "School Library Media Activities Monthly," 8(10), 34-36.
  • Keller, J.M. (1987a, Oct.). Strategies for stimulating the motivation to learn. "Performance and Instruction," 26(8), 1-7.
  • Small, R.V. (1992, Apr.). "Taking AIM: Approaches to instructional motivation." School Library Media Activities Monthly,"8(8), 32-34.
  • Keller, J.M. & Keller, B.H. (1989). "Motivational delivery checklist." Florida State University.
  • Porter, L.W. & Lawler, E.E. (1968). "Managerial attitudes and performance." Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.

Related Entries at Prep Talk:
Motivation: Motivation and School Culture Survey
Motivation: Discussion Questions
Teacher Motivation Research

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