Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Knowing/Encouragement

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How can we be encouraging?
The students who need encouragement the most are often the least likely to receive it.

—Timothy Evans

Encouragement is an essential element inside and outside the classroom. In the classroom encouragement should be practiced everyday. It is important for every child to feel encouraged even when they don't understand something that is taught. Every teacher should be equipped with the knowledge of knowing how to display encouragement towards his/her students to motivate them.

Surveying and Interviewing Students

It is very important to survey and interview students about their thoughts, opinions, and feelings about how the teacher is operating the class. This will help the teacher get a better idea of what is effective and what is not. Feedback from your students will help you understand how they are feeling about your class. In college the dean issues surveys at the end of every semester for each class to fill out. This survey helps the college know how effective the professors are and where they need to improve. In intermediate schools, elementary schools, and high schools this is important as well. Here are five questions that could be asked:

  1. What does encouragement mean to you?
  2. How often do your teachers make you feel encouraged on a scale 1-10 (1 being the lowest and 10 the highest)?
  3. What class are you most encouraged in? Why?
  4. How do you feel when you are encouraged?
  5. Do you think it is important to have your teachers be encouraging to their students?

Focus on Efforts of Students

When teachers focus more on the efforts made by their students rather than the improvements that need to be made, it is more encouraging to both the teacher and student. It is not only the teachers job to deliver information to the students but to encourage them when they are having trouble. Even though a teacher can get frustrated easily with his/her students progress; it is very important that the teacher substitutes that frustration with words of encouragement to keep the student from feeling like a failure. Encouragement in the classroom will build positive energy and thoughts to make the students performance better.

Six Important Points[edit]

There are six important points that should be given to every teacher to help shape their classrooms with encouragement. First, make relationships a priority; conduct respectful dialogue; practice encouragement; make decisions through classroom meetings; resolve conflicts and finally, have fun. There are also several points that should be left out of the classroom such as, setting very high expectations; focusing on mistakes to try to motivate; comparing your students; making pessimistic interpretations, and being too helpful. These five suggestion will help the classroom environment tremendously.

Distinguishing between Encouragement and Praise[edit]

A fine line is drawn between encouragement and praise; teachers should be able to distinguish the differences between the two of them. Praise stimulates rivalry and competition, fosters selfishness at the expense of others, focuses on quality of performance, and fosters failure. However, encouragement fosters acceptance of being imperfect, motivates student to not give up, fosters self-sufficiency and independence, and stimulates cooperation and contribution. An easy way to distinguish between praise and encouragement is to be able to identify praise comments and encouraging comments. An example of a general praise comment would be, "You are the best student I have ever had" or " You had the highest score on this exam in the class"; compared to an encouraging comment, " You are a fine student any teacher would appreciate and enjoy you" or" You did very well on this exam". The danger of giving praise to a student after everything he/she accomplishes puts them at a high risk of feeling like a failure if praise isn't rewarded to them in everything. Also, students who are often praised don't accomplish things for themselves, but for rewards or praise. It is critical to make sure you are using the correct phrases when encouraging your students. Encouragement and praise are easily confused, but it is important to encourage students to let them know that you are proud of their efforts even if they fail.

The Encouragement of Participation to Initiate Learning[edit]

It is important for teachers to use encouragement as a tool to create participation in students. Participation on an intrinsic or extrinsic level is essential to learning. As educators if we learn to use the tool of encouragement, it can become powerful in changing lives. The right encouragement at the right time can empower every student, but it is especially crucial for the “marginal nonparticipant disadvantaged students who are so profoundly at risk of school failure.” (Hickey) Encouragement gives a teacher the unique opportunity to motivate engagement through the development of “identity, standards, and values that motivate engagement squarely within the individual.” (Hickey) Daniel T. Hickey tells us in his article, “Engaged Participation versus Marginal Nonparticipation: A Stridently Sociocultural Approach to Achievement Motivation” that motivation is an essential element in the effectiveness of learning and teaching within the classroom.(Hickey) We need to understand that on an individual level students will be encouraged and motivated differently. We must recognize and accommodate these individual needs. We should be sure to encourage students on all levels, and ensure that our motivators are not geared for those students who are already academically advanced. Students who are intimidated by challenges we set may use the “ego-protecting task of disengagement”. (Hickey) If our reward systems set standards and rewards that seem unattainable to some students then, “Students who value such a reward, but do not think they can succeed are likely to disengage.” (Hickey) If we can manage encouragement properly we can take these students out of their comfort zones to encourage participation and ultimately teach the value of education for the sake of learning.

Encouragement Taking a Different Form[edit]

Encouragement takes many different forms. It is important to recognize that each day of teaching will not be sunshine and roses, there will be days in which, you, may be in a bad mood. “Many teachers deal with their moods privately and secretly. Other teachers reveal them openly to their children and hope for the best. Children often do recognize the teacher’s mood and respect it. As with other feelings, when they are admitted openly, children are helped to deal with their own varying moods.” Optimally, dealing with no moods or mood swings whether from you or from your students would lead to a great school year, but it is not realistic. Talking to your class, and letting them know what is going on is a good idea. However, maybe not every last detail is required but just giving them an idea of what is going on makes you more human and more on their level.


Encouragement can be used in all areas of life. At T.R. Simons Elementary School in Alabama, the lunchroom staff issues an award of the week to the class that uses manners during lunch. Frequently, the monitors are encouraging the students to use manners while eating and encourage those who are doing well. Every class eventually receives an award encouraging everybody as a whole. This is an effective way of encouraging students outside the classroom. Students not only feel better about their efforts in accomplishing something, but are more motivated to do it again later.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which one of these thoughts that a student in your class might have are encouraging?
A. I think I can do it.
B. I need to be perfect.
C. Failure isn't an option for me.
D. I'm just not good enough.

A. I think I can do it.

Which of these steps are encouraging ones to do in your classroom?
A. Setting very high expectations.
B. Being to helpful.
C. Focusing on mistakes to motivate.
D. Make decisions through classroom meetings.

D. Make decisions through classroom meetings.

If a student in your class receives constant praise what can it do to their thoughts?
A. Gives confidence.
B. Gives motivation.
C. Allows a competitive spirit to breed.
D. Gives encouragement to the student.

C. Allows a competitive spirit to breed.

Which one of these are more encouraging as a teacher to focus on?
A. Students' past accomplishments.
B. Students' failures.
C. Students' needed improvements.
D. Students' efforts.

D. Students' efforts.

How could a teacher see if he/she was doing a good job encouraging?
A. They couldn't.
B. Ask other teachers.
C. Survey the students to see what they have to say.
D. Look at how many people pass the SOL.

C. Survey the students to see what they have to say.

Which point should be left out of the classroom?
A. Focusing on mistakes to try to motivate.
B. Make decisions through classroom meetings.
C. Have fun.
D. Resolve conflicts.

A. Focusing on mistakes to try to motivate.

How often should encouragement be practiced in the classroom?
A. Every week
B. Every day
C. Never
D. Every other day

B. Every day

Feedback from a student will help a teacher understand what?
A. How they are feeling about their friends.
B. How they are feeling about life.
C. How they are feeling about your class.
D. How they are feeling about the homework assignment.

C. How they are feeling about your class.

Justin is a student who wants to earn a trophy at the end of the year for the highest AR points, but is a poor reader. He thinks to himself, “Why even try?” What does this demonstrate?
A. Apathy
B. A poor attitude
C. Disengagement
D. Forward motion

C. Disengagement

As teachers seeking to encourage participation we should seek to develop which of the following according to Daniel Hickey?
A. Identity, standards, and values
B. Morals, manners, and study skills
C. Happiness, well-being, and yoga
D. A disciplined class environment

A. Identity, standards, and values

What element does Daniel Hickey say is essential in the effectiveness of learning and teaching in the classroom?
A. Encouragement
B. Reward systems
C. Participation
D. Motivation

D. Motivation

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Say a child in your classroom is feeling discouraged because he/she doesn't understand a particular math problem, how would you encourage them to not give up and try it again?

If I had a student that was having a problem with a math problem, I would first assess the student’s ability to be sure that the problem was not too difficult. I would do this because I would not want the student to feel more discouraged because despite my encouragement they still could not achieve success with the problem.

When I was sure that the student had the ability to finish the problem. I would begin encouraging by telling them that I believe that they can do it, and reminding them of past difficult assignments that they had completed. I would encourage the student to think about all the things they know about the problem and break it down so it will make sense to them. Depending on the child, I would either stay the entire time to provide encouragement at every step, or I would give them time to work independently between encouraging comments.

I believe that encouragement has to be given constantly. I also believe that encouragement does not go very far without a student having their own motivation. Despite the barrier of internal motivation that teacher’s may face, they need to continue encouraging. The more a student hears positive thoughts, the better the student’s outlook can become.

If a student of mine was having a particular time learning what we were doing in math. I would thing of an alternative way of teaching it. I would first try the alternative way with the whole class, that way he doesn’t feel left out. That is always the first thing don’t make the child feel uncomfortable or on the spot. No one wants to be the one who needs extra help. If that didn’t work I would work with him one on one during a different part of the day, maybe when the students are doing math centers, one on the centers can be they all rotate around to me and we talk about math. Another good idea to help that student is to find out what he or she is interested in whether it be candy or a certain toy bring that into the lesson. I believe you want to work around the student, not what you know. Put yourself out there and explore new ways to teach to that child. —Eliza Neff

To encourage a child who was struggling, I would first make sure that they felt I was interested in their well being and that they had my attention. I want them to know that I care enough about them to take time with them. I would remind the child that if I did not think they could do it I would not ask them to. That child will know that I believe in them and the power of their efforts. I would make sure that the child understood the problem in its simplest components or let a peer review the process with the child to make absolutely sure that the child had the tools for success in the problem. I would give the child simpler related and similar problems that I know that they are able to do in order to build their confidence. I would encourage them after every simpler problem with supporting words and actions. “I knew you could do it.” Then slowly I would work the child up to putting the components of the original problem together. After they achieve what they had previously declared to be “too difficult”, then they are more likely to view future road blocks as challenges versus inhibitions. By teaching them how to overcome small obstacles in this way we are setting them up for success in the future. It is a small thing requiring simply time and encouragement, but think of the trickle down effect it may have on a child- to know that he is capable, supported, believed in, and encouraged. You are not simply encouraging an action for the right answer or a grade, you are handing that child self esteem just as surely as if you had wrapped it. As teachers we will face this opportunity to support or fail our students daily. While it is a daunting task to accomplish for so many students of varying ability levels, it is up to us not to let them slip through the cracks. Teaching encouragement will teach them to encourage others and the cycle will repeat. We must also be sure to encourage the successful student because if they learn that their hard effort yields no recognition and is not appreciated, then they will be discouraged. No one ever said teaching would be easy, but the rewards through the lives of the children we touch are infinite. —Merry Carter

Recently I observed a tenth grade English class. The teacher seemed very engaging; she was humorous, had a well modulated voice, and used demonstrations that included her students to pique student interest, but I did notice one instance in which she seemed to fall down on the job in encouraging a particular student. It was obvious he was struggling with the assignment, and needed help. He tried to get help, though he was disruptive in the attempt. The teacher pretty much quashed his fledgling interest by telling him to get back to work, essentially, to work for the sake of work. It was not a successful technique. I watched him disengage, push himself back in his desk, and not lift the pen again. Perhaps this teacher's lack of interest in this student, her obvious assumption that he would not complete the assignment because he so rarely made an attempt, her desire to keep him from disrupting her class, may have impacted his self perception. Even to my novice eyes, he seemed to actually shrink in his seat.

Motivation and encouragement are so important for a teacher to cultivate in her classroom because they foster a sense of hope in a student, a desire to achieve. The egos of children, even teen-aged children are so fragile, that the smallest hint of negativity or disparagement from any adult in a child's life- teacher, parent, friend, or mentor, can trigger protective walls to go up in a child that will shut the rest of the world out. Children yearn for acceptance, and discouragement in the classroom will lead to them seeking encouragement from the wrong sources, particularly from gangs of low achieving students who have given up on themselves, because they feel society has given up on them.

Positive encouragement and fostering intrinsic motivation in children is the key to keeping them engaged, interested, and on the path to success. Encouragement isn't hard- one must merely remember to celebrate a child's success without curbing the desire to improve, and give constructive criticism using words that instruct and not wound. Most important is to remember to give your time to each student and show that you believe in him, even if his belief in himself is at a low ebb. Nothing can change the outcome of a child's life as time and positivity. —Rebecca Schwerdtfeger