The Praise Generation

At my school, we recently had a very successful graduate come and spend the day with our students. He is the president of a large division of a major food retailer, and he was asked about the work ethic and habits of the current generation. He commented that they have had to make major changes in the way they do business as a result of a shift in employee’s perception of themselves and their career expectations. As a service industry business, he felt that they have little choice but to comply with the changing attitudes towards work if they are to find and keep good workers.

When I read Jeffery Zaslow’s Wall Street Journal article “The Most Praised Generation,” I was struck that business and employers are buying into the culture of praise. Something didn’t feel right but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So I emailed the article to my ever favorite font of wisdom, the Love and Logic Institute hoping for a L&L perspective on the issue.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a reply from Love and Logic founder Jim Fay, who wrote, “This is what I have been preaching for years, and why I encourage teachers and parents to apply Love and Logic’s Attribution Theory instead of praise. There is no reason for businesses to start using it as a substitute for falling into being part of the problem.

Jim recommended the Love and Logic “Hope for Underachieving Kids” DVD which I plan to ask our school library to purchase for the teacher resource section.

Though I have not seen the video he references, I have read enough and heard enough from Love and Logic over the years that I believe I know what he is referring to with “Attribution Theory.” It simply means to get kids to think about cause and affect. What causes me to succeed or fail? Is it outside factors or is it my own actions and attitudes?

Everyone who has achieved success in life knows that while outside factors can determine short term results, what is inside of me will ultimately determine if I succeed or fail. As motivational speaker Les Brown puts it, “It’s not over until I win!“

What we need in the current generation is a return to dogged tenacity; an unwillingness to give up in the face of adversity. Too many of of my students seem ever too willing to simply give up when the going gets rough, and I’m afraid that praise has been one misguided tool in my arsenal to try to keep them motivated and encouraged. I’ll admit that I’m not yet a master of Love and Logic techniques, but I’m learning.

Usually, I do use the right kind of praise, praising the effort, not the person. For example, one of my computer programming students really struggled to keep up and understand everything we were working on. “This is sad, what do you think you will do?” I asked, putting the burden on the owner of the problem. “I don’t know. I don’t want to be a programmer.” he said. “It’s sad not to know, but I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” I said. When he finally started doing better and things began to click, I used the old Love and Logic one-liner, “is it because you are getting smarter, or are you working harder?”

That was last semester in Java class. This semester, he is taking C++ from another and early on, he complained to me that he didn’t understand this new language. I was sad for him again, but told him I thought he could do better. Last week, I overheard him tell his teacher that things were starting to make sense because he is starting to connect what he learned in Java to C++. “You worked really hard to understand that class,” I said. “I’ll bet it feels good to start making sense of this new class.”

Some days, I really love my job.

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