By Scott Lutostanski
Most people want the same thing for young people. We want them to be kind, honest, fair, independent, and resilient. Giving feedback is a huge contributor to this outcome. All human beings need reinforcement, guidance, and rewards in order to learn the ways of life and to develop their character. In an academic sense, resilience, often referred to as grit in educational research, is a crucial quality towards determining success. The feedback and praise that kids receive can play a vital role in their journey.
There are a lot of philosophies around how to praise. There are also a lot of social critiques about the way the world has evolved. For each person saying, “Give all the kids participation trophies,” there is another saying, “There needs to be a winner and a loser.” Overall, the goal is to praise the completing of the task as opposed to giving specific feedback on only the outcome. The goal is to give feedback on the effort as much as the end result.
Example: It’s Sunday afternoon and Dave has just finished his Abraham Lincoln project. It is nothing short of amazing, and he is going to present it to the class the next day. Our gut instinct is to look at the finished product and say, “This is amazing” or “Wow, this is terrific” or even “Great job.”
These are, of course, nice things to say, but if we unpack them, we can see that they are a bit limiting. They only praise the achievement of the student. They also can create a bar that amazing is what needs to happen, and anything less is unsatisfactory. Tiny interactions and phrases can lay the groundwork for a student’s perception of school and life as they grow older, especially when these interactions happen over and over.
As the “complimenters,” we can build resilience in kids by giving them specific and authentic feedback to the process they used to complete the task. Some possible examples for Dave are, “I like how you researched 4 or 5 books before you got started. You made sure you really knew the topic,” or “You did a nice job breaking down Lincoln’s personality and including it in the presentation. I can tell you really put the work into to understand him.” Not only can this build confidence, but it will also show that you have taken the time to look at all the work they have done and given very targeted feedback.
It can be a challenge to incorporate these small changes into daily life, but it can make the biggest difference. If we want students to build resiliency, then we need to praise and build up the part of their character that involves hard work and seeing things through. Every day, we can challenge ourselves to identify and verbalize the hard work we see from students. It is tough to quantify the difference this makes, but over time, it will have an impact on their resiliency and determination.