By Melissa Hart (’14)
Writing thank-you notes is more than just a polite thing to do—it can also teach kids behavioral skills and improve relationships. Education professor Paul Caldarella found that by instituting praise notes—or written compliments—in the classroom, at recess, or in the teacher’s lounge, behavioral problems and tardiness decreased, withdrawn students became more social, and coworker relationships improved.
Q: Why praise notes?
A: Praise notes help others understand what behavior is expected and acceptable. They help to humanize interactions and focus on valuing the person. Praise notes can also change the climate of a school, office, or home from one that’s negative to one that’s looking for the good. Just focusing more on the positive can help improve relationships.
Q: Whom should we praise?
A: Praise notes can be helpful in any relationship—with coworkers, family members, significant others, or roommates. We have found that praise is particularly important for elementary and middle-school students who struggle in school for whatever reason. Individuals who struggle need praise just like every one else; in a way, they need it more.
Q: Does praise have to be written?
A: Praising someone verbally is great in the moment, but it might be forgotten over time. We do encourage verbal praise, but the advantage of a note is that individuals can refer back to it.
Q: What are some tips for writing praise notes?
A: • Tell why the behavior is praiseworthy. Telling students specifically why they are being praised helps the feedback go deeper; it makes it more of a teaching interaction than a generic “good job.”
• Make it timely. While delayed praise won’t have a negative effect, it does not have as much of a positive effect as when you give it more immediately after the behavior is displayed.
• Balance praise and criticism. We recommend a praise to criticism ratio of at least four to one. Sometimes correction is needed, so trying to give at least four praise statements for every one critical comment makes correction easier to take when it is needed. But remember, praise should be genuine and specific.
• Use a reminder system. Most of us, even though we mean well, don’t reach the four-to-one ratio. A note taped to your computer, refrigerator, or mirror might help to remember to praise when you are in the rush of the day.