When I became a Montessori teacher, I kept hearing from other teachers about not praising the children's work. What? Could I actually be hearing them correctly? Montessori teachers don't praise work? How then did a child know if she'd done the work correctly? My colleagues suggested I use encouragement instead of praise. They suggested phrases like "Well, how do you think you did? What do you think of your work? What would you do differently if you had a chance to do the work again?" It sounded like a bad counseling session to me, so I sat and listened and observed my colleagues in action.
Montessori Philosophy: Learning to use Encouragement Over Praise in the Montessori Classroom
Let's face it, who doesn't enjoy praise? It feels good to know someone likes us or likes what we've done. Praise motivates good behavior – temporarily. Do I only act this way as long as I'm receiving praise? What happens when it's taken away? What are the conditions or parameters to ensure I continue to receive praise?
- "You're such a good girl"
- "You did it just like I told you to."
- "All A's? You deserve a reward."
- "I'm glad you listened to me."
- "You really know what makes me proud."
- "I'm proud of you."
Encouragement is empowering. There are no conditions and it isn't judgmental. The receiver is encouraged to make judgments of their own behavior, work, and ultimately, worth.
- "I really appreciate your help."
- "I knew you could do it."
- "You did your best and you didn't give up."
- "You must be proud of yourself."
- "I have faith in you."
- "I trust your decision."
- "I love you no matter what."
I've seen a vast improvement in his attitude toward himself and his ability because I've chosen to encourage him. Words like, "It was tough, but you really stuck to it" and "You must be proud of yourself for accomplishing so much" has really made him start to take pride in his work.
That's not to say that you should never use praise, either. But think of praise like a big, thick piece of chocolate cake. It tastes great and is good every once in a while. But we couldn't survive just eating cake. Encouragement is the nourishment our emotional body needs to sustain itself. In the long run, you will be building strong, healthy individuals who are able to look to themselves to make decisions and know the answers.
NAMC’s Montessori 3-6 Classroom Guide has a section on The Role of the Teacher, which discusses Acknowledging Positive Behavior and Over-praise.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, March 11, 2008.