Early in my teaching career, I learned how to manipulate my learners through praise. I would single out one child who was doing what I wanted, announce what I liked, and then slyly watch the rest of the class follow suit. Praise became another way of conditioning my students’ observable behavior, and along with it came a whole host of undesirable effects (see “The Perils of Praise” for more).
Now, I work to create a healthy, intentional balance that doesn’t rely on praise to achieve results. Praise isn’t always bad, but it can become manipulative when it has an ulterior motive to influence student behavior versus expressing genuine heartfelt feelings. Manipulative praise can hinder a learner’s ability to reach their fullest potential. I became familiar with a praise-free approach while working in a Montessori school, where we would guide learners to develop soft skills such as independence, teamwork, time management, and critical thinking. We helped students and staff develop and practice those skills through organic success and failure.