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Value people, praise effort, reward performance

For generations, educators in the United States have been seeking ways to increase student test scores.  One popular theory suggests that the best way to improve children’s ability is to puff up their self-esteem.  It seems logical, after all, because high achievers tend to have high self-esteem.

Researchers, however, have found that simply building children’s egos can breed many negative traits.  These include an indifference to excellence, an inability to overcome adversity, and aggressiveness toward people who criticize them. Simply put, if everyone gets a trophy, it incentivizes mediocrity.

At the same time, it is important not to allow one’s self-worth to be diminished because of a comparison to others.  Neglecting to recognize and reinforce the effort put forth can often result in an indifferent attitude by children.  Indeed, the balance between building self-esteem and only rewarding success can often be a difficult and slippery slope to navigate.

Obviously, society tends to place a high value on praising people – especially children.  But it’s equally important that the praise be based on truth.  Disingenuous praise communicates to the person that you do not value them enough to see their praise-worthy qualities.  If you truly value someone, however, you will not have difficulty finding legitimate characteristics or efforts that are worthy of praise.

Here is a simple and effective strategy to use in distributing praise:  Value people, praise effort, reward performance.   This strategy allows for the rewarding of excellence and incentivizing success.  It allows for praise to be liberally applied where appropriate.  Furthermore, it emphasizes that no matter where we fail or how many mistakes we make, it should never devalue our worth as a person.  For as the saying goes, “God uses people who fail – cause there aren’t any other kinds around.”

About Kenneth Varner

Dr. Varner currently serves as Superintendent of Brewton City Schools.

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