Affirmations vs. Compliments

We are about to embark on yet another school year and with that comes a new group of students.  It is wonderful to meet your class on that first day and to see all of their smiling faces.  The first week (the honeymoon phase) most of our students want to show you everything they know and tell you everything about themselves.  They want you to know how smart they are.  However, could we potentially ruin their entire year by saying the “S” word? Could what we say with the most sincerity damage our students view of themselves?  Are we complimenting them or affirming them?  What is the difference?  According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary the definition of a compliment is an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration: an admiring remark.  However according to an article from New Age Teacher called A Lesson on the Power of Positive Affirmations affirmations are words you think or say and believe to be true.  Does anyone see the difference between the two?  Compliments seem to skim the surface and affirmations are deeper and focus on specific traits or action. Affirmations really focus on a student’s individuality and talent. Compliments are just so general.

Why is it important for us to affirm our students rather than compliment them?  According to Carol Dweck, “The wrong kind of praise creates self-defeating behavior. The right kind motivates students to learn.”  Telling a student they are smart all the time gives them this fixed idea that they are always smart.  So what happens when they struggle with something and they all of a sudden they do not feel smart?  If we create a classroom where you are considered “smart’ then what happens to the students who are never told they are smart?  What happens if they make a mistake?  I have been in these situations and have had students who enter the classroom with this idea that they are “smart”.  They are so confident until they finally struggle with something and then we have a melt down.  I am talking tears, resistance, and extremely low self esteem.  It is hard to get a student back after such a catastrophic disappointment.  The student then enters the “I’m dumb” zone.

This is why it is important to create that classroom culture where active struggle is routine, mistakes are embraced, and affirmations are the norm.  According to Carol Dweck, “Classroom affirmations are used to create a positive and supportive environment by teaching students to be supportive of one another. Affirmations develop an atmosphere where it is the norm to acknowledge and affirm positive behaviors, thoughts and actions. Used consistently, affirmations can change students’ attitudes and their actions.”

“The wrong kind of praise creates self-defeating behavior. The right kind motivates students to learn.” Carol Dweck

Students love being affirmed and love to affirm their peers.  It is a contagious act.  So in order to introduce this idea of affirmations vs compliments in my own classroom I implemented an affirmation morning.  Everyday while students ate breakfast I would either show an inspirational video, read them an inspirational quote, or complete a read aloud that focused on affirmations, growth mindset, or team building.  It is so encouraging to hear students affirming each other and you as the teacher.  

As we begin the school year lets try and compliment less and affirm more.  You will be pleasantly surprised how much this one little thing will change the culture of your classroom.


Resources for the Classroom

Let’s Not Forget About Mistake Making

It’s that time of year again!  Kids are organizing their school supplies, anxiously awaiting registration to see which of their friends are in their class, and soaking up every last bit of summer.  Teachers are setting up their classrooms, making sure everything is just right and possibly experiencing first day of school nightmares.  We all have had moments of panic, thinking about losing your entire class, or walking into the class from Black Lagoon. But, even with all of these things going on let’s not lose perspective about what is really important…THE STUDENTS!!  We as educators all want every single student in our classroom to be and feel successful everyday.  However, with success comes active struggle and with active struggle comes mistakes.  I mean, we are all human. We are not by any means perfect and it is unfair of anyone to hold that unrealistic expectation for our students.
Throughout much of my education, I was always under the impression that making mistakes was unacceptable.  If I just followed directions and did what I was told, then I wouldn’t make mistakes.  Mistakes were unacceptable!  So naturally as I became an educator I didn’t want to make mistakes and because of this I didn’t want my students to make mistakes either.  If they did, then I would be considered a “Bad Teacher”.  I obviously wasn’t doing my job if my students were constantly making mistakes. 
However, after a few years of teaching I was enlightened about “mistake making” and how important it is for our own personal growth and development.  I was taught that mistakes were inevitable and even necessary for our own personal growth and development.  After hearing this from my instructional specialist, I was intrigued.  I thought, well if mistakes are necessary then I am doing okay as a human being and more importantly as a teacher.  It helped me to start to change my perspective as an educator.  Of course if didn’t happen overnight. In fact I am still learning about mistakes - as I continuously make mistakes!  Now this doesn’t mean that we allow students to go crazy, disengage, and run wild.  This means, though, that we need to embrace mistakes and take the time to discuss how to find and fix them.  Mistakes are our way of learning and problem solving.  So if students came to an incorrect answer during a Number Talk it was okay, especially if they were able to find their mistake and learn from it.
After doing some research I have found that people relate making mistakes to brain growth.  According to Jo Boaler and recent neurological research on the brain, making mistakes is hugely important as it tells us that making a mistake is a very good thing. Mistakes are not only opportunities for learning, as students consider the mistakes, but also times when our brains grow. Understanding the power of mistakes is critical, as children and adults everywhere often feel terrible when they make a mistake in math. They think it means they are not a math person, because they have been brought up in a performance culture (Boaler, 2014) in which mistakes are not valued—or worse, they are punished. 
Since embracing mistake making and sharing this newly learned information with my students, I have found that my students seem more confident to share their thinking with their peers and are more willing to take risks.  They encourage each other to try new things and embrace their mistakes and the mistakes of their peers by telling them, “Your brain just grew!” 
Let’s keep all of this in mind when entering the classroom for yet another school year keep an open-mind about mistake making.

Great Read-Alouds Classroom

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