In praise of praise

Last week I was at a school. I’ve not been there for a long time – but long enough to start to get to know most of the kids I see. I’ve sussed out most of the ones who would play up in the classroom, the ones who would rather goof around than admit they are finding something hard, the quiet ones, the ones who struggle. One of the most important parts of my job (as I see it) is to engage those kids and praise them. The kids who sail through school aren’t my first concern (although I like them a lot) – they are easy to teach. That’s not really why I’m there.

I djembe drum with year 6 at this school. Most of them love it, and most lessons are easy. I don’t have many discipline problems. But one lesson, just at the end of term was different. Everyone was tired. They had a not-so-competent casual teacher with them. And most of the boys were challenging. One of them wasn’t, interestingly. He’s a kid who isn’t very bright. Who often chooses to be a bit of a doofus. And who I know does it tough at home. I praised him in the moment, and he loved it. He’s decided drumming is ‘his thing’. He takes it seriously, and himself seriously when he’s in music.

Last week, I had them all again. (I’ve been away on holidays, so I missed the first two weeks of term.) My conversation with their normal teacher went like this….”Mrs A, I just need to tell you about the last class I had with your crew. Some of the boys were, well, a bit not-so-great. They drummed when they shouldn’t, and mucked around a bit.”

Some of the girls agreed and had a whinge. I knew they would. Thanks, girlies! The teacher played along.”Oh really? Oh, I’m really sorry to hear that.” Boys look a bit sorry for themselves.

“But Mrs A, there was one boy who didn’t. He had all this silliness going on around him, and he ignored it. He drummed he concentrated, he listened – he was actually the most perfect person in the class.”

“Oh, I’m so pleased to hear that!” says their teacher. Its obvious by her face she has no idea where I’m going with this. But I make her guess. It takes her five goes. When she says my little chappie’s name, not only is she surprised, but he’s surprised I remember. She is delighted.

He isn’t normally on the receiving end of this sort of praise. He bursts into tears. Although I don’t normally like making kids cry, this time I did. You deserved this praise, my friend. You were fabulous. And I wanted everyone to know.