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The power of praise works! I am built on criticism and not praise. My expertise, if it is so lofty, is critiquing an event or person’s actions. Coaching sports, I was able to point out what a player was doing wrong and provide corrections. Most of us are critiquers, too. (I should say critics, but…) The polar to criticism, praise, can be very effective and maybe better.

As an aging graduate, my confidence entering graduate school wasn’t the highest. My attitude was, if I do poorly then I know and nothing lost other than tuition. If I do okay or better, I’ll play along until I fail. Get the idea of my confidence? My age and experience also allowed me to be pessimistic, since a graduate degree isn’t likely going to improve my station in life. The lackadaisical approach works well with my situation. As my classes became more numerous, a change happened with me. What was more interesting are the professors I encountered.

I have had seven or eight professors. Most I would say are knowledgeable. Okay, they all should be but that is another post – why you don’t have to be smart to have a PhD. My confidence and grades fluctuated with the professor I had. One would assume that the worse I did the harder and the undergraduate idea of meaner the professor was. That was not the case. Harder didn’t mean worse and easier/not as brilliant didn’t give a better grade. (NOTE: what I mean by brilliant is how the professor is able to catch short-cuts and such. Yes, you can get one past professors.) What I discovered was their response to me directly affected my grade and confidence.

My most difficult professor was my favorite. She inspired me and was critical of my work. I did get the worst score with her and the highest with her. In the subject where she was an expert, I received high praise for my work. What did she do? Well, she did point out my errors which were embarrassing for me, but the biggest thing was her praise of my work and the positive criticism she provided. When I was at my lowest, she took a moment to send me an email and give me the moral support I needed. What I did was try to excel to not only meet her expectations but to please her. I went the full mile to learn and achieve. Yes, she provided criticism, but it was not the primary interaction. I honestly try to emulate her methods of criticism and praise.

One professor was my worst. He isn’t a bad guy. He wasn’t positive with me and was rather insulting in an unintentional way. Indeed, the class he taught was one I was most knowledgeable in, and I was looking forward to this class. I ended up dreading and hating the topic. What happened? For starters, he was quite negative about my work. He would state that he quit recording certain errors because there were too many and went on to criticize something else. He was right. I made my typical errors, but he offered nothing else; no constructive criticism. It was coming to the point where I would think, why try? I easily predicted which fellow classmates would drop out. I never received praise and felt any positive image about myself from him. He drained the enthusiasm from me.

Other professors are somewhere in between. My current professor provides a positive impact with me by complimenting and pointing out the positives. Now there are the negative criticisms, but these are not emphasized and do not bring me down. He is succeeding with his students by his method of criticism through praise. He is inspiring us to look at our mistakes as well as the good parts of our work. This method makes you want to excel and succeed.

When we instruct our youth, we need to be mindful of how we criticize. Everyone makes mistakes. They know when the screw up. What they don’t know is how close they are to succeeding. A few kind, supportive, and helpful words may be enough for the youth to get up and succeed. Everybody will fail and everybody can succeed. Why don’t we place a positive spin on failure and help them along. Don’t worry, they’ll do the work to succeed.

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