Positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful tools in every classroom. However, any powerful tool can be used poorly. In using positive reinforcement, follow these rules of thumb:
Differentiate acknowledgement and praise – Acknowledge when expectations have been met and praise when the exceptional has been achieved. In the long run, a teacher who continually praises what’s expected risks trivializing both the praise and the things she really wishes to label “great.”
Praise (and acknowledge) loud; fix soft – Whispered or nonverbal criticism assume the best about students: they allow them to self-correct without being called out in public. This is also to the teacher’s benefit even when behavior is clearly defiant; it keeps the student offstage as much as possible. Good news, however, is good news: make it as public as possible.
Praise must be genuine – Early on in school, students listen for and discount insincere praise. Telling a child, “Nice job getting ready,” is fine. But if a teacher is praising the child in order to tell the student next to him to get a move on, the teacher is undercutting the integrity and veracity of her praise. If you give praise to someone make sure you sincerely mean it and it doesn’t have an ulterior motive.