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Sunday, February 21, 2016

The power of genuine praise...

can still surprise me.  This is another Arthur story.  A few weeks or maybe months after Arthur stole my pig, he made another memory for me.

My students had been asked to make a poster showing the similarities and differences between two stories the previous week.  I went through the posters and chose several examples to post on my board.

One of those examples belonged to Arthur.  It was, to be honest, a mess.  It was sloppy.  It said "dose" instead of "does" and "dose'nt" instead of "doesn't" across the top.  And it was brilliant.  Arthur had captured the ideas with stunning clarity.  He had clearly mastered the objectives and worked hard to show his learning.

A couple of days after I hung the posters, Arthur called me over to his desk during group work time and said "Ms. Hirsch, why did you hang my poster?  They are making fun of me."

I looked him in the eye and told him the absolute truth "Because Arthur, your poster, while not perfect, is brilliant.  You were the ONLY one in any of my classes who was smart enough to make a T chart and I think that is a brilliant way to organize a comparison."

I have literally never seen a child turn that red in my entire life.  Every inch of visible skin from the tips of his ears to his fingertips flushed fire engine red.  The kids around him stopped their smug snickering and stared at me.

That was the end of it.  But it changed our relationship.  Arthur never doubted that I believed in him again.  He never questioned my assessment of his intelligence or fought my insistence that he keep trying.

Last semester, almost a year later, I was talking to a veteran Biology teacher in the copy room.  She mentioned Arthur as a student who was struggling and did not ask for help.  A few days later, I caught him in the hall and asked him about Biology.

He spluttered something about his teacher not being willing to help him.  I said "You know what Arthur?  You are too smart for that crap.  I get that Mrs. B is tough, but it is because she loves you.  If you try and ask for help and show her you want to learn, she will do anything to help you."

We ended our conversation and went our separate ways.

A couple weeks later, I ran into Mrs. B again and asked her how Arthur was doing.

She beamed at me, "I don't know what you said to that kid, but he is like a whole different person.  Thank you.  He is doing a great job!  He asks for help, and asks questions, and tries every day.  His grade is already up to a high C."

I was so proud of Arthur in that moment.  The next time I saw him in the hall, I asked him if Biology was going better.  It was his turn to beam.  He said "yes" and I said "that's what I heard" and winked at him.  He gave me a truly adolescent look that quite clearly indicated his mixed feelings about the fact that his teachers were talking about him: equal parts pride and terror.  I think pride won.

I don't know if I can really take credit for his improvement, and I told Mrs. B that.  I'd like to think that our talk was the nudge he needed to be the kid I already knew he was.

Here is what I do believe: any influence I have on Arthur stems from the power of genuine praise. Nothing else can convince a child of your confidence in him or build his confidence in himself quite so effectively.

Even more compelling: the impression Arthur made on Mrs. B.  Weeks after this, at the start of second semester, Mrs B. told me she was really bummed because she didn't have Arthur anymore.  His schedule had changed and he had been placed with another science teacher.  I asked her who his teacher was now, and she said "I don't know, but I'm gonna find out."

It was a profoundly good thing to see Arthur thrive--it was pretty darn good to see Mrs. B thrive with him too.


What do you think? Does this good thing remind you of a story of your own? Have a question or comment? Please leave a comment!