In Praise of Encouragement

There is a fundamental difference between praise and encouragement. This is a distinction to keep in mind as we wrap up the semester and provide students with feedback on their learning. We want our students to reflect on their learning in ways that move them toward their next goal—we need to do that, too.

We live in a “great job” world where students have become accustomed to hearing praise. It is, to some people’s thinking, cheap and easy to handout. Encouragement, on the other hand, takes more time and effort to dole out. The results of praise and those of encouragement differ greatly. Praise can signal that the job is over and we can sit back and admire the results. Encouragement lets us know that we are still working and that the job is not finished.

Think about your student as a runner. If you yell out “Well done” before the end of the race, the runner might get the idea that s/he is done and can rest. But, if you yell “Keep it up—your getting there”, the runner is bolstered by the support and keeps moving.

Encouragement can have the effect of keeping a desired behavior going. That can be attending class, being active in discussions or submitting work on time. It also communicates expectations, standards and models behavior for others.

Here are some resources to get you started:




Facing Mid-semester Doldrums with new Ideas

At the mid-semester point, we can start to see and feel fatigue setting in for both our students and ourselves. Finding that spark of creativity and enthusiasm can bring our classes to life and give us the energy to finish the semester as strong as we began. It can be as simple as new discussion starters, innovative ways to structure assignments or useful encouragement for students.

Working from the experience and practice of other faculty is often helpful. The Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte has compiled an impressive list of Best Practices in College Teaching that looks at the kinds of challenges we all face.

  • The Thoughtful Questions section is full of stimulating one-liners for those times when there is a lag in the discussion. These can also be used for critical thinking about course material and concepts.
  • Use the Rewarding Learner Participation section to help move discussions forward in ways that simple praise doesn’t often do.

This is just a fraction of what this link has to offer!

You are sure to find your own favorite new ideas to try. Our challenge to you is try one new idea during your next class. Write it into your lesson plan for the day. Then chose another and another….

Increasing Motivation: Let’s Go!

It has been a long winter—the cold and dark days affect motivation and commitment to academics. This is true for students and if we are honest, it is true for faculty and staff. At midpoint of the spring semester, there is a certain level of fatigue that needs to be addressed.

First, let’s tackle students:

For a theoretical orientation to motivation and science of motivating learners, look here.

Although this link is to the Geoscience Department at Carlton College, the information here about motivating students is applicable to any department and any population of students.  Take a look at how faculty behaviors can directly impact student motivation. You make a huge difference in your classroom!

Not to be outdone, Vanderbilt University examines the types of motivation students possess and how we can tap into these in ways that encourage success and GRIT when the going gets tough.

Now, let’s address the needs of faculty and staff. If you feel like your “get-up-and go” got up and went, then this link is for you:

Perhaps, there is a 12-step program for motivation, but maybe 7 steps are all you really need. Or maybe 8 steps are better.






Creating a Classroom Community

How we communicate and talk with students helps to establish the tone of our classroom community. This article from the NEA, Seven Ways to Talk with Your Students, can help improve how you talk with students and the messages you send about not only your course, but also the process of learning and being a student.

The flip side is getting students to talk in class and engage with content, each other and you. Get them involved in discussions and class activities using these suggestions from Stamford. David Brooks provides interesting and thoughtful strategies in his piece, Getting Students to Talk, for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Tapping into student motivation can be critical for achieving optimal participation.

And, what happens when something goes wrong? Take a deep breath and look for a solution.