by Mike McHugh
Parent educators must never underestimate the importance of their attitude towards their children during the teaching process. The attitude that an instructor displays, either positive or negative, will often determine the extent to which their students will be motivated to perform to their full potential. A teacher who projects a pleasant or cheerful demeanor is far more likely to succeed than one who is consistently harsh or grumpy. Perhaps more home educators should take Proverbs 17:22 to heart as it states: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”
Although a joyful spirit can do wonders for teachers at home, such is only true when the praise and encouragement that they give their children is judiciously and sincerely conveyed. Home school instructors who pass on lofty compliments to their students for little or no reason, will commonly find that they soon become less effective in their efforts to motivate their children. Like honey, praise or encouragement is most effective when it is dispensed in small but frequent doses.
Successful teachers tend to be those who are consistent and somewhat strict in their efforts to discipline their students, without allowing themselves to become stern or hardened in their demeanor. Such educators make their stand on the vital points of law and order, while they strive to avoid the tendency to major on minor issues. Teachers that take this approach are effective in motivating their students, primarily because they administer correction or encouragement at the appropriate time, and refuse to nitpick or flatter.
It is not only important for instructors to know when and to what extent it is proper to praise students, but how to do so without creating unnecessary problems. For example, in cases where students have done something that is praiseworthy, it is commonly best to compliment or encourage them in respect to their specific accomplishment, rather than on their individual talent. In other words, tell the student “your work on that history project was well done”, instead of saying “you are the best history student in the world.” The right type of encouragement will not tend to inflate the ego or pride of the child who receives it, but will focus on acknowledging the specific accomplishments of each student.
It is also important for teachers to avoid the err of comparing one student with another while they pass out compliments or praise. Students need to be encouraged, but it should never be at the expense of another child. It makes no sense to build up one student, only to tear down another child in the process. Be sure to also be somewhat reserved as you hand out praise to students, or you may inadvertently take away some of their incentive to improve. For example, avoid saying “you’re the best!” or “that’s perfect.” Compliments of this kind do not give a student any sense that he can or should continue to improve. Most of the time, it is best to simply focus on recognizing a child’s progress, rather than his superior standing.
Most children need to be reminded of the benefits that are associated with their good conduct or diligent efforts. Teachers can and should reinforce the good decisions that students make by saying things like; “Well, since you stayed on task and finished your math work, we still have time this afternoon to go to the zoo.” Students will benefit as you help them to understand the relationship between diligence and rewards.
Although there is more that could be said regarding how home educators can best utilize the power of praise in the life of their children, it is my hope that this article will be used of God to equip parents to be better encouragers, and in the process, better teachers.
Copyright 2007 Michael J. McHugh
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