In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve explores the differences between compliments, praise and approval and looks at how they play a role in coaching.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:15 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For the last 35 years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. In each of the coming episodes, I’ll explore my thoughts and my learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading. Thanks for listening in.
Steve : 00:39 Compliments, praise and approval. I’d like you to take a moment and identify a recent time that you received praise, approval or recognition from someone. Can you bring to mind a picture of the person who provided you that feedback? Notice anything about their facial expression? Can you recall the actual words they used? Notice anything about their tone of voice? What feeling did you get as you received that praise, approval or recognition and can you actually identify a spot in your body where you get that feeling? Let’s take another picture. Can you bring to mind a recent time that you gave someone praise approval or recognition? Did you notice a change in their facial expression or body language as they received your feedback? Can you recall the words that you used and the tone of voice of your delivery? How do you feel when you give someone praise, approval or recognition? And if you were to spot that in your body is it the same or different from the spot where you get that feeling upon receiving it?
Steve: 02:28 In today’s podcast, I’d like to explore the differences between compliments, praise and approval. And I’d like to make some connections to the role of coaching.
Steve: 02:44 If you think back to the two examples that you just identified, one where you received the positiveness and one where you gave it to another person — I’d like you to think through which of those examples were compliments, which ones were praise and which ones were approval. Now, we need a quick definition here in order to sort those out. So compliments, praise and approval, have in common, the fact that they are all forms of positive feedback. Here’s how I see that they differ. A compliment is positive feedback that I receive for a possession or a trait. So I might receive a compliment for my hair, my car, my tie that I’m wearing. Praise is when you get positive feedback for something that you’ve done that the person who’s giving you the praise values. So as an example, if I do something that you value and you provide me positive feedback, I take that as praise.
Steve: 04:16 So, an example is a teacher who is told by an administrator that the administrator greatly appreciates the teacher’s timeliness at being on duty at dismissal time or bus time in the morning. What, you know as a teacher is, that’s probably not real high on your list of things as to why you became a teacher, but you know, that it’s an issue that’s critical to the administrators’ safe running of the school. So when you get that praise, when you get that positive feedback from the principal, you know that the principle values that. Similarly, I suggest that when the teacher says to a young child, “I really liked the way Billy’s sitting tall in his chair”, we’re pretty sure it’s praise. It’s not that Billy values tall chair sitting, it’s the teacher values it. But Billy values those comments from his teacher. So he repeats the behavior to keep the praise coming from the teacher.
Steve: 05:23 When I switched to approval, approval is when I get positive feedback for something I’ve done that I value. So, if you look at the terms compliment, praise and approval, as you move down the list from compliment to praise to approval, it takes what I label as “increased knowing” — that’s k, n, o, w, i, n, g. In order to give a person a compliment, I really don’t need to know anything. So I can be walking onto the airplane and the flight attendant can look at me and say, that’s a great tie. They don’t know whether the tie was a special gift, they don’t know whether I picked it out, they don’t know whether it’s expensive or inexpensive. They can just provide the compliment from the information that’s there in front of them at the moment.
Steve: 06:28 Now when you go a step further, in order to give praise, I need to know that the person has done something. So I either observe the person carrying out the behavior and I give them the praise for it or somehow I receive the information. A mistake can occur when I assume that the action or the work was done by the person and it wasn’t. So, it’s the student who gets a praise from the teacher that it’s obvious her project shows a lot of hard work. And the students says back to the teacher, “I’ll be sure to tell my mom that you, that you like what she’s done”. Or it’s the teacher who was told by an administrator that a lesson that was just observed, was very creative and the teacher says “it’s right here in the curriculum materials”.
Steve: 07:36 So, we almost have this sense of when we receive praise that we didn’t, quote “earn” end quote, it doesn’t feel right. In order to move to approval, I need to know not only what it is the person has done, but I need to know what the person is valuing so that I’m recognizing what they did and that what they did fits into their personal belief and value system as to be something of importance. I believe that one of the rewards of having a coaching program, instructional coaching, pure coaching, the administrator working in a coaching capacity, is that it increases the opportunities for teachers in a school to receive approval. And that’s extremely important. The design of the isolation of teachers in many schools provides a way too few opportunities for teachers to receive that kind of approval. Our students and maybe even parents tend to give us “thank yous”, which are great and we appreciate and value them, but it’s different from the recognition of another educator who understands the thinking and the work that went into the teacher’s accomplishment.
Steve: 09:22 It’s possible for a teacher to go through an evaluation from an administrator and while the evaluation can be extremely positive, most of the feedback that the teacher received could be in the form of praise because the things that are most important to that particular teacher about what it is they work to accomplish in their classroom may not even be listed on the criteria that the district is using for teacher evaluation. At the same time, an administrator stopping in the hall with a one or two sentence comment to a teacher can deliver a ton of approval that is felt deeply by that teacher.
Steve: 10:19 I’d like to take a look at three items to keep in mind when looking at giving approval of feedback. The first is that your feedback needs to be “h.i.p.” — h-i-p and that stands for “honest in the process”. I can only give approval for things that I also value. So if a teacher were to bring you a lesson plan that she was planning to work on with students and you looked down and saw mostly lower level questions that the teacher was going to use, you really can’t come back and give approval for the questions. You might be able to give approval for the teacher’s preparation, for the teacher’s time that was invested in preparing the lesson. And then any feedback you need, you want to give about the questions, needs to be factual information, not approval.
Steve: 11:36 I sometimes help coaches to separate this out. If you take a statement that you think is going to be approval and you deliver it with enthusiasm and excitement and it sounds funny, that’s a good indication to you that your statement wasn’t approval. Please hear me — it doesn’t mean it was a bad statement, it could have just been a positive statement. But for example, if you tried to say to this teacher what a great list of low level questions, the fact that you break into almost a laugh as you try and get the sentence out tells you that, that no matter how you make that statement, it’s not going to be approval because it doesn’t match with your value system. So first step is, whatever I’m giving approval for has to match my value system as well as the value system of the person who’s on the receiving end.
Steve: 12:36 Secondly, the approval needs to be personalized. That means I need to identify the area that the person I’m responding to values. For me, this is a big part of my pre-conference. One of the things I’m doing in my pre-conference is listening for the things that are important to the teacher, the value system that the teacher is taking in to this particular learning activity that I’m going to observe. That way I’m very purposeful in my observation to be looking for the opportunity to identify that trait that the teachers value. And that walks me right to the next one, the third item is that approval needs to be specific. And so knowing that the teacher values being creative, it’s insufficient to come back and label the lesson as creative. What’s critical is that you can come back and identify what you saw about the teacher’s approach, what you saw about the strategy that caused you to place that label of creative upon it.
Steve: 13:55 And that’s where the value is greatly increased. I had a great example of this years ago. I did some work for a teacher’s organization and they gave me a plaque that thanked me for the work that I had done. But along with the plaque came a letter that specifically talked about work I had done and changes that had happened because of that work. The letter of much greater value than the plaque. If I were to, if I were to hang the plaque on my wall, I’d want to frame the letter and put the letter next to it because that’s where the solid approval came through. Here’s a story to illustrate. Imagine a school principal attending a workshop where they’re talking about the need to give approval to staff and leaving the session, the principal says to herself, “you know, I really should be giving more positive feedback to the staff”.
Steve: 15:03 So she stops at the teacher store on the way back to school and picks up a packet of note cards. That day on your way out of school, you pull open your mailbox and there’s a little note from the principal that you pick up in your hand and read the note and it says, “thanks for being so caring”. And even though the note lacks a specific indication of what was observed, you personally value caring. And so the note has meaning to you. But in the next moment you see the person next to you open their mailbox and pull out a note that says, thanks for being so caring. And now you’re realizing this is lacking the personalization. And then, you observe the most uncaring person you know on staff pulling a note from their mailbox and at this point, you’re crumpling yours up to drop it in the trash on your way out the door because now it’s lost the honesty embedded within the process.
Steve: 16:17 Many years ago, I read an example by Jack Canfield that helped me really lock onto the need for people in leadership roles. And make sure you hear that what I mean by leadership role is everyone who’s willing to see an importance of impacting the lives of people around them. The need for us in those positions to look for and consciously provide approval to the people that we’re working with. Jack Canfield shared the story of comparing students receiving approval to poker chips. And he describes that if you think about getting into a poker game, some people get into the poker game and they have very few chips. And so, playing poker they have to fold hand after hand after hand, and finally they get dealt a great hand and they bet. And as soon as they bet everybody drops out of the game.
Steve: 17:39 You see, when people are low on their chips, there’s a tendency, one, to put their chip up on their shoulder and then our approach tends to be we want to knock that chip off, which is extremely difficult and nonproductive. And when they’re down on their chips, they can’t even get in the game in order to win more chips back. So when that poker player’s down on their chips, they need someone who will back them with a loan so they can get into the game and win chips back. There are students who walk into our classrooms who are down to their last few chips. So they can’t take part in the risk of learning and they need a teacher who will reach out and find the opportunities to drop some chips into that student’s pocket — some approval. Because the student, him or herself has to reach back up and take that chip off their shoulder and put it into their pocket.
Steve: 18:46 Teachers who are highly skilled are able to find ways to give approval and recognition to those students who need it most and who don’t give us lots of opportunities to recognize them. So we have to dig deep and go looking. And I’d suggest to you that the same is frequently true on some teaching staffs. There’s some teachers who are low on their chips and they might even be walking around with that chip up on their shoulder. And we need to be able to look for and find out how we can drop a chip back into that teacher’s pocket. And again, I find coaching as the great opportunity to do that. Getting the teacher to describe things that are of value to him or her, and then being able to look for those things in the classroom, look for those things in the teachers’ interactions with students, recognize them, drop that chip and be willing to walk away at that point and not look for something more, but to repeat that behavior frequently enough until you’ve built up the opportunity for the teacher to be a full participant in the coaching, teaching and learning process.
Steve: 20:14 Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 20:17 Thanks for listening folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.