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How to Teach Without Mind Control

In my previous article "Are we praising too much?" I discussed the modern teaching method of mind control teaching: Praising. With constantly praising children, we are taking advantage of the human need for approval, and creating a generation who can’t do anything unless they get approval.

How do you change your teaching style?

First you need to ask yourself what the student needs: The student needs unconditional love. No strings attached, just love. The student also needs support and encouragement. If you understand the difference: Praise is conditional. Praise manipulates with reward rather than helping kids develop the skills they need and the values we want to instil.

So how do you do it?

You need genuine affection and love for the child. If you have that, "Good Job!" is not necessary. If you don't have it, "Good Job!" won't help. It will seem fake to the child. If we are praising just to discourage bad behaviour, it won't be effective for long, as children see right through that.

If the child behaves badly, you need to work with the child to figure out the reasons he behaves this way. First ask what you expect of the child is reasonable. Then together, figure out a way with the child for him to be able to do it. This takes courage, care, talent and time. This may explain why the praise route is popular with teachers.

So what do you say when kids do something impressive?

Some people insist that this need to be "reinforced" because then the child would learn that it is a good thing to do, and repeat his performance. There it is again, control. So do you believe that all children are inherently evil? Do you believe they won't like the feeling of accomplishment after doing something impressive? Do you think that saying nothing will encourage him to become evil?

So, you can say nothing. Or you can say exactly what you saw. This provides unbiased feedback. Even if you only acknowledge: "You did it, how does that make you feel?" This puts the emphasis on the child instead of your feelings.

If the child does something good for another child, you can comment on how the other child may feel because of this kind act for example: "Johnny seems happy that you shared your crayons with him."

Questions are even better than descriptions: Rather than "Great work!" for a piece of writing or a drawing ask the student how he/she felt about it. What does he like best about his work? Which part did he struggle with? How did he figure out how to do that particular part over there? Does he feel he accomplished something? How does he feel about his work?

Now don't get me wrong: All compliments, thank yous and "good jobs" aren't wrong. It is our motives that are wrong when we're saying them. Is what we're saying going to help the child? Or are our words teaching the child to always look for approval? Are we helping the child get excited about what they are doing, or are we just teaching them to get through something in order to get a pat on the back?

You don't need to make evaluations to encourage children. Show a genuine interest in the student. Show you care. That is all children need in order to shine.