1. The Perils and Promises of Praise . . . 2. Invite — Don’t disinvite!

1. The Perils and Promises of Praise . . .
2. Invite — Don’t disinvite!

I remember the first time I heard about William Purkey’s, ideas of invitational learning and lights went on. I remember cringing, when a guidance counsellor cautioned a student by saying “You will never make it too university. You have to think about a trade school or job”. Now a professor at Western University, I know how vivid that memory is for him, of how he was crushed like a bug that day. I can not believe how often I have heard teachers make similar remarks to students. They are “killer” comments. When I ask my classes if anyone can recall a comment by a teacher that squashed them like a bug, most students put up their hand. They also remember vividly the comment by a teacher that filled them with pride and self confidence. Sometimes it changed their lives! Sometimes they are in Teacher’s College because of a casual comment by a teacher. You never know how a positive affirming comment will light up a child’s life, or ” squash them like a bug”.

I remember Richard Cowan, a student who was on the verge of dropping out of high school mid year. He sat in my office, hang dog, as we talked about options. I casually asked him, almost unconsciously, if I could look at the photo-store package of his snapshots he had in his hand. I rifled through the candid shots as we talked, and on a second pass through them, I dealt out three of them to him, with a passing comment. “I really like the composition of these pictures. You have a really good eye”. A few days later, he dropped out and I never heard of him again.

Ten years later, on a dark and stormy night in a torrential downpour, I was awakened around midnight, from a deep sleep, by the doorbell ringing. When I opened the door, (in my bunny rabbit jammies), there stood Richard, drenched and sodden. He handed me a paper-wrapped parcel . “I just wanted to give you this before I returned to England tonight, as a thank you for changing my life.” And he disappeared into the night. Inside I opened the parcel to discover a beautiful framed 16×20 black and white print of a local historic site. There was a touching thank you letter inside a glossy British art magazine with his photo on the cover, and a feature story about this remarkable young photographer Richard Cowan from Canada. You just never know what impact a comment you make to a student will ultimately have on them.

Is there a secret to praising a student? According to Carol Dweck there sure is . Here is one brief blog post out of her article in Educational Leadership, and book “Mindset”

Carol Dweck Ways to Praise

“Carol Dweck’s article, “The Perils and Promise of Praise” in Educational Leadership is about the “right ways” and the “wrong ways” to praise students. Dweck discusses what she considers the potentially vast difference between praising a student for “being smart” (“you’re good at that,” “you are so talented”) vs. praising a student for effort put in (“you took immense care with that project”, “you kept going when things were really hard”, “you are such an active learner”). Dweck’s recent book Mindset provides a more in-depth look at what’s summarized in the article.

From “The Perils and Promise of Praise”:

“Praise is intricately connected to how students view their intelligence. Some students believe that their intellectual ability is a fixed trait. They have a certain amount of intelligence, and that’s that. Students with this fixed mind-set become excessively concerned with how smart they are, seeking tasks that will prove their intelligence and avoiding ones that might not (Dweck, 1999, 2006). The desire to learn takes a backseat.”

“The fixed and growth mind-sets create two different psychological worlds. In the fixed mind-set, students care first and foremost about how they’ll be judged: smart or not smart. Repeatedly, students with this mind-set reject opportunities to learn if they might make mistakes (Hong, Chiu, Dweck, Lin, & Wan, 1999; Mueller & Dweck, 1998). When they do make mistakes or reveal deficiencies, rather than correct them, they try to hide them (Nussbaum & Dweck, 2007).”

“They are also afraid of effort because effort makes them feel dumb. They believe that if you have the ability, you shouldn’t need effort (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007), that ability should bring success all by itself. This is one of the worst beliefs that students can hold. It can cause many bright students to stop working in school when the curriculum becomes challenging.”

Dweck provides a lot of research to back up her claims. At the end of the article she discusses an intervention performed at first one and then 20 New York City schools.

“If students learned a growth mind-set, we reasoned, they might be able to meet this challenge with increased, rather than decreased, effort. We therefore developed an eight-session workshop in which both the control group and the growth-mind-set group learned study skills, time management techniques, and memory strategies (Blackwell et al., 2007). However, in the growth-mind-set intervention, students also learned about their brains and what they could do to make their intelligence grow.”

“They learned that the brain is like a muscle—the more they exercise it, the stronger it becomes. They learned that every time they try hard and learn something new, their brain forms new connections that, over time, make them smarter. They learned that intellectual development is not the natural unfolding of intelligence, but rather the formation of new connections brought about through effort and learning.”

“Students were riveted by this information. The idea that their intellectual growth was largely in their hands fascinated them. In fact, even the most disruptive students suddenly sat still and took notice, with the most unruly boy of the lot looking up at us and saying, ‘You mean I don’t have to be dumb?'”

“Indeed, the growth-mind-set message appeared to unleash students’ motivation. Although both groups had experienced a steep decline in their math grades during their first months of junior high, those receiving the growth-mind-set intervention showed a significant rebound. Their math grades improved. Those in the control group, despite their excellent study skills intervention, continued their decline.”
From: This excerpt is from the following blog Classroom 2.0

For the full version of the article in Educational Leadership, go to:


Invitational Learning is a remarkably direct but evocative model of schooling developed by William W. Purkey. The aim, as Purkey says, is to make school “the most inviting place in town” by emphasizing mutual respect and human potential in every aspect of schooling–people, places, policies, and programs. The invitational approach to education is predicated on four fundamental assumptions: – that people are able, valuable, and responsible, and should be treated accordingly; – that education should be a collaborative, cooperative activity, involving all participants–teachers, students, and parents–in all decisions which affect them; – that people possess untapped potential in all aspects of human endeavor; and – that human potential can best be realized by places, policies, and processes that are specifically designed to invite development, and by people who are intentionally inviting with themselves and others, personally and professionally.


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2 responses to “1. The Perils and Promises of Praise . . . 2. Invite — Don’t disinvite!

  1. Jerry, you hired me as a teacher at Thornlea in 1980. I was full of doubt and insecurity – the first person in my family to graduate from high school much less go to university.

    This week I was granted tenure as a professor of education at Eastern Michigan University.

    Sometimes a little faith in another person goes a long, long way. Thanks, Jerry.

    • I remember you well, Michael . A dynamic passionate teacher who really connected with kids. I have followed your career ever, since to Arizona to Michigan. Congratulations on your tenure appointment.

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