The Power of Personalized Praise and Encouragement

Is there a word for being both very pleased and angry at the same time?
Because that's what I am.

I'm so pleased that one of my initiatives has proven valuable to my peers. The use of a midcourse update in which we let course participants know how they're doing and, if relevant, what they need to work on or complete, has received very positive feedback. These (roughly) personalized updates are designed to enhance motivation and touch base on a personal level. Most of our course emails are coursewide, but this one goes out to each person separately.

The responses have been overwhelmingly positive. However, I find myself in this strange happy/angry state. For example, one participant wrote:

        Thank you for your encouragement!  It is not often I get to hear things like that! Made my day! 

This response brought a tear to my eye. First, I was really glad I made this person's day! But, then I thought, I didn't do anything big or huge, here.

And then I thought, "Why HASN'T this teacher been offered this sort of encouragement more often?  Really, this effort took only a moment. Why is this such a surprise?"

School administrators have a daunting task, granted. Further, they're limited on time, and much of their "attaboys/attagirls" come via generic school-wide emails or on evaluations.

However,the generic email is just that...positive, but lukewarm. A recipient may or may not connect with it. Further, the school-wide or coursewide email goes out to those who may not really deserve to hear the praise, so it's incumbent upon the recipient to self-evaluate with those memos. This approach works for special occasions (We did a great job with Open House!), but not for the kind of morale-boosts that teachers really need.

And hearing praise on an evaluation is also somewhat...meh. It's sort of required, so it doesn't offer the same motivational jolt that a personalized message would.

People need to hear what they're doing RIGHT. That way, we can subtly (or not-so-subtly) reinforce that behavior. Do we bother to do that?

Teachers need to hear more of what they're doing well and effectively. They also need to hear WHY what they're doing works well or reflects best practices.  

Students need to hear more of what they're doing well and effectively. They also need to hear WHY and HOW what they're doing works well.

For that matter, school administrators need to hear more of what they're doing well and effectively. They also need to hear WHY what they're doing works well with staff and faculty or reflects best leadership practices. 

Our children need to hear what they're doing well and effectively. They also need to hear WHY what they're doing works well, helps others, or contributes to the family. 

Our spouses, significant others...The list goes on...

And don't give me that "There's not enough time in the day."

There is time enough in the day to prioritize those things that will make everyone and everything run more smoothly.

There is time enough in the day to send out an "attaboy/attagirl" email, which could, if sincerely offered, offset the later need for a full one-on-one conference to discuss an issue.

There's time enough in the day to write a quick positive on a sticky note and put it in a briefcase, purse, backpack, or lunchbox.

And not just "I like your artwork" or "You are the best!" This positive criticism needs to express both WHAT works well and WHY or HOW. Otherwise, the recipient may perceive you as inauthentic, which is counter-intuitive.

Pre-emptive positives such as these quick emails may take a bit more time, initially, but they ultimately save time and serve to create a powerful foundation of communication and rapport.

How long has it been since you've heard or provided a personal attaboy or attagirl? Tell us about your experiences in the comments, below!

Buy our book! In it, Mindy and some of her former students outline best practices for developing a positive learning environment. 

Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Creating the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers


Curating Content with Students: Four Steps

Content Curation is a relatively new term for educators to consider as they flex their Web muscles. After all, many of us are used to content being synonymous with "what's in the textbook." Or from a student perspective, we've hopefully moved past the bibliography cards (shudder) as a way of gathering content. We may not have started out with the idea that information or strategies or tools are available with a search, but now we need to know that the act of gathering them is also a skill. It's time to figure out the best way to get students on board with this crucial 21st century skill.

Mullan (2011) defines content curation as "the act of discovering, gathering, and presenting digital content that surrounds specific subject matter." Thus, our role as a facilitator of learning is to figure out the general why and how, so we can help students better understand their specific why and how.

1. Start with the end in mind.

Our planning of the use of content curation will be somewhat backwards from our presentation to students because we first need to figure out why we want them to curate content before we jump into having them do it.

                    If you don't have a good reason for kids to curate, then...don't.
Without a clear alignment of this task and the learning, you'll soon find them off-task and/or whining and complaining, no matter the tool. So, we need to first consider:

     What is the end goal of the assignment or project? 
     What do we want students to be able to "do" with it?

These questions come before the "curation" question:

     Why is curating content the BEST thing to help students reach those goals or demonstrate their   

For example, let's say I have a project idea that I want students to complete a research project on one aspect of education for sustainable development. The topic is certainly significant, and I want them to decide on one problem they want to tackle under the umbrella of this topic, and research solutions and ideas for overcoming it. Finally, I want them to present their findings in a comprehensive way for others to learn from. They are expected to choose their intended audience for this compilation of information. My reason for curation is then germane to the learning. They need to find the sources, so having a spot to put them all is a logical, practical exercise.

2. Scaffold the skills.

Then, I'll want to brainstorm some thoughts on what the kids will need to know about content curation before they tackle this project.

What immediately stands out for content curation as a skill is the credibility and/or reliability of what is discovered or gathered, etc. Evaluating sources can be tricky, so students may need some help understanding what is/is not a viable source. Providing them with examples in discussion prior to sending them out on their own would allow them more solid footing. They should be asking questions such as:

     Who is the author of this source, and why is he/she credible?
     Does the source provide references or at least links to information that supports the discussion?
     How will this source help me reach my goal?

3. Distinguish the tools.

Another thing kids will need to know is what kind of tool will work best. There are so many options! Paperli, Pinterest, Symbaloo. Since the use of the tools is probably not going to be too much of an issue (they are very user-friendly and easy to figure out), then, we'll need to do a bit of background on a few. What is it that curation tools can actually DO?

From Webby Thoughts http://www.webbythoughts.com/content-curation-tools-resource/

For example, some curation tools, such as scoopit and paperli lend themselves to actually being the final project whereas Symbaloo, Diigo, and Pinterest are more like warehouses that store information for something else.  Thus before you open up Pandora's box of tools, make sure you know what you want it to do. http://www.webbythoughts.com/content-curation-tools-resource/

A quick comparison of a few--you can find some listed in Moss (2014) "Content Curation Tools"--can aid you in guiding students to the choice that will work best for them. This is actually good spot in the unit/lesson to offer students some choice because you want them to hone the skill. The tool is up to them!

4. Set clear expectations.

Of course, you'll want to make sure your expectations for the final product are clear! Using rubrics and checklists that help students understand how you'll be assessing their skills of curation for the purpose of the final project will offer them a solid foundation for moving forward in the magic of content curation.

Working with the backwards design approach really offers us a powerful way to approach this valuable skill! Students who can curate have a definitive advantage over those who don't know what it is or how to use it.

And they need all the advantages that we can give them.


Moss, J. (2014, March 3). Content curation tools. Retrieved April 14, 2014 http://iteachu.uaf.edu/grow-skills/filelink-management/content-curation-tools/

Mullan, E. (2011, November 30). What is content curation? Retrieved April 14, 2014 from http://www.econtentmag.com/Articles/Resources/Defining-EContent/What-is-Content-Curation-79167.htm