Affirmation, rather than praise, could be a good way for leaders to encourage and motivate staff
No matter how old we get, most of us will never grow tired of being acknowledged by our bosses, or praised for our efforts. Whether it’s a “well done” in the hallway about the recent school play you’ve put together, or a “thank you” for coaching the football team in a staff briefing. We all like to be acknowledged for all of the hard work and effort that we put in.
But is this enough?
Does a “well done, you did a great job at organising that school trip” adequately recognise the amount of hours you spent writing emails and permission forms, chasing up students for payments, booking travel and accommodation, designing an itinerary, and answering parental concerns? Not to mention the time spent on the trip itself, keeping students safe, happy and engaged in activities for days on end? Probably not.
There are a couple of considerations for schools and leaders when it comes to acknowledging staff “going the extra mile”. After all, it is these efforts that deeply enrich and add to the school, and make it what it is.
“Things that just ‘tick along’ perhaps get taken for granted.”
The first thing is, are all contributions acknowledged equally? It’s often much easier for all of us to notice the one-off events that were a roaring success, such as social events or parent meetings. These are the “moments” that stand out to us, that are distinguishable from the everyday activities of the school. Don’t get me wrong – they require a huge amount of effort and planning, but they are often the events that more people jump to help out with (due to their very short-term nature) and ultimately are more easily acknowledged.
However, some of the things that seem to just “tick along”, that require more of a sustained effort (and that may not culminate in an event) perhaps get taken for granted. Whether it’s the school newspaper, that requires a huge amount of coordination and attention to detail. The school choir that requires ongoing instruction and support. Or the sports teams coached by staff that give up their time in rain, wind or shine to run practices and attend games and tournaments, long after school has closed for the day.
Leadership in any organisation requires the management and mentoring of a huge array of personalities. Some like to be praised publicly, and some may like to just get on with their jobs quietly. Some staff may thrive off praise, and some teachers couldn’t think of anything worse than being spoken about in front of their colleagues.
“Some like to be praised publicly, and some may like to just get on with their jobs quietly.”
Either way, when so much of what “makes” a school often takes place outside of the remit of our jobs, it is imperative to acknowledge the efforts of the staff that give so much of themselves to what they do both inside and outside of the classroom.
The other consideration that comes to mind is “is praise effective?”
Sometimes praise can run the risk of feeling a little empty, and has a tendency to have only a short-lasting motivational affect on those receiving it. Perhaps rather than praising staff for their efforts, giving affirmation would (and could) be better.
The discussion of “praise” versus “affirmation” is an interesting discussion that is pertinent to the Motivational Interviewing counselling technique created by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick. The distinction made between “praise” and ‘affirmation’ is that praise refers to a judgement you pass down (i.e. I think you did this well) whereas affirming refers to shining a light on something positive about that person. Affirmation is an observation you can share about someone’s skills, ability or attitude that they can take ownership or feel proud of.
“For the person on the receiving end of affirmation, it can help you to feel understood and appreciated.”
The benefit of focusing on these positive qualities is a win-win for both management and the staff receiving the affirmation. As a manager, perhaps you will start to see your staff differently – rather focusing only on what they do, you start to see some more about who they are. For the person on the receiving end of affirmation, it can really help you to feel seen, understood and appreciated. Here’s an example:
Praise: “Well done for coaching the volleyball team this season, I think you did a really great job”. Translation = I think you did well.
Affirmation:”You care a lot about students being the best they can be. You make time to really help them to improve.” The “I” (the judgement by you, the manager) is left out, and instead focuses on the “you” (your staff member and their strengths).
Adults need to be seen and feel that they are valued in very much the same way that our students do. Perhaps a shift towards affirmation is the thank you that we need.