An Interview with Chick Moorman: Teachers that Nourish

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Senior Columnist EdNews.org
Eastern New Mexico University

Chick Moorman is a well known educator with more than 35 years of experience in the field of education. He is a former classroom teacher, currently the Director of the Institute for Personal Power which provides skill-based workshops for educators and parents. He has conducted training sessions, in-services and workshops and has led school improvement processes for over 400 school districts. He has authored 7 books including the highly acclaimed Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish a Child's Spirit, Parent Talk: How to Talk to your Children in Language that Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility and his latest, Couple Talk: How to Talk Your Way to a Great Relationship. In this interview, he discusses some of his key concepts and ideas about education, discipline and parenting.

1. We all want to create responsible, caring, confident children- both at home and in the classroom. Why does it seem so hard to do this?

Many parents either over-function or under-function. They either do so much for their children that children do not learn how to do for themselves or they let the television and the peer group raise their children.

Add to this the reality that many people raising children are not responsible themselves. It is not uncommon today to find 30-year-old adolescents raising children. It's hard to help children grow up if the adult is not grown up.

Parents do not possess the skills to do the job they have taken on and often do not know they do not have the skills. They simple do not have enough tools in their tool box. If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to look at everything as if it were a nail.

2) How did you get started in the work that you do?

I began as a classroom teacher. I went form there to a teacher center that served many schools in the county. My job was staff development. As I saw what worked with children I began sharing it with educators and parents. For the past 20 years I have been collecting and teaching the verbal skills necessary to raise responsible, caring, confident children.

3) Good Praise/Bad Praise- Why are these concepts so important?

Bad Praise, praise that is evaluative, the kind parents and teachers most often use, is an effort to fill the child up with self-esteem by using praise. It does not work. Evaluative praise evaluates. When you praise someone with this type of parent talk, you rate them with words like "good," "excellent," "super," 'tremendous," "fantastic," and "superb." In each case, your words represent a judgment of what you think about the other person. Your praise is a judgmental interpretation of their behavior, accomplishments, ideas, appearance, character, effort, or energy.

Examples include:

"You're a terrific speller."

"I think it's wonderful."

"What a beautiful picture."

You might be thinking, "Hey, evaluative praise helps the child feel good. They like it. What's wrong with that?"

Evaluative praise does help the person being praised feel good temporarily. In that sense, it works very much like a drug. It helps the person feel good for the moment—and leaves them longing for more. Children are especially susceptible to the dependency induced by heavy doses of evaluative praise.

A frustrated art teacher once explained how she tried to wean praise-dependent children off evaluative praise by describing and appreciating their work. A child would finish a project, bring it to her, and initiate the following discussion.

Student:"How do you like my picture? Is it good?"

Teacher:"I noticed your design is full of color and grabbed my attention."

Student:"But is it good?"

Teacher:"Your design includes all of the five components plus one additional one."

Student:"But do you think it's good?"

The above conversation is not atypical. It occurs continually in classrooms and in homes, initiated by children hooked on evaluative praise and looking for a quick fix. These children have learned to look to others for their measure of success and have not developed an internal standard. They have come to see others as the major source of approval in their lives and to "need" a regular shot of evaluative praise to maintain their sense of worth. They want others to tell them they are good, excellent, beautiful, or wonderful.

Parents who attempt to fill their children up with evaluative praise raise children who do not learn how to praise themselves. Excessive use of evaluative praise with children reinforces a tendency to look away from themselves for evidence of their competence. They cannot enjoy an accomplishment unless someone is around to approve of it. They rely on others for proof of their importance and ability and do not develop an adequate internal standard of self-worth. Evaluative praise encourages children to take their self-image from others' perceptions and to become dependent on someone else's opinion or approval.

Children can be weaned from evaluative praise, and it takes time, effective verbal skills and perseverance. Parents or educators looking for ways to help their children develop self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-motivation will not find evaluative praise helpful. The alternatives we suggest are descriptive praise and appreciative praise.

Praise consists of two major components:

A.)What you say (or write) to the child.

B.)What the child says to himself about what you said.

If you say, "You did a good job," and the child says to himself, "I didn't think it was so good," whose words are more important?

If your words are, "You're so smart," and the child thinks, "She's just saying that," whose words carry the most weight?

If your parent talk is, "You are a fantastic musician," and the child thinks, "It was luck more than anything else," whose words make the biggest impact on the child?

In each case, the answer is that the child's words are most important.

Evaluative praise such as the examples above is easy to discount. What is needed is a style of praise that allows the child to draw the conclusion, leaving room for him to make the evaluation. Descriptive praise and appreciative praise will enable you to do that.

Descriptive praise describes the situation and focuses on the specifics of the child's accomplishments. Examples follow.

"The floor is clear of toys and clothes. I don't see one thing out of place."

"All the tools are back in their place without a single reminder."

"When I left there were leaves all over the yard. Now I only see a couple of leaves blowing around and five bags all stacked up by the road."

Notice that descriptive praise is free of evaluation. It simply states the situation and speaks to accomplishments. It affirms what has been done rather than evaluates what has been done. It leaves room for the child to draw the conclusion and make the evaluation.

When you say, "You made six trips up the stairs with those boxes of books," the child can say to himself, "I am strong," or "I sure am a good helper." The child makes the evaluation. The evaluation comes from the inside out rather than trying to create self-esteem by evaluating from the outside in. When the evaluation is internal, it is being given by the person the child most believes: himself. When praise is believed rather than discounted, self-esteem goes up.

When children develop an internal standard of excellence, they can then judge their own efforts against the standard. Knowing internally what excellence is at home and at school, they are more likely to achieve it. They become more self-directed.

If you want to help your child develop an internal standard of excellence, praise descriptively, leaving the evaluation to the child. When you hear yourself saying (or see yourself writing), "Good job," ask yourself: "Just what is good about it? Are things in place? Is it accurate? What is it, specifically, about this effort that I think is good?" Then use parent talk to communicate your observations descriptively.

Resist saying, "Excellent," when you look at the dinner table your son arranged. Say instead, "Every utensil is in the correct place. You got it exactly." Drop, "Very good," from your parent talk when commenting on how your daughter cleaned the car. Use descriptive praise such as, "I don't see one spot of dirt. My car sparkles." Refrain from telling your five-year-old, "Great penmanship," when you look at his page full of M's. Tell him, "All your letters are right between the lines."

Appreciative praise expresses your thanks for a specific behavior and describes the positive effect it had on your life or that of the family. It tells what behaviors are helpful, explains any positive effects, and shares appreciation. Examples follow.

"Thank you for offering to help rake the leaves. That takes a load off my back."

"I was happy to see the sink cleaned. Now I don't have to do it before I relax. Thanks."

"I appreciate you playing quietly. It's helping me get over my headache."

With appreciative praise, the parent makes a statement and the child draws the conclusion. For example, the parent says, "Thanks for sweeping the garage. That saved me ten minutes." The youngster concludes, "I really helped out." Perhaps your parent talk is, "Your help with the computer helped me complete my budget. Thanks!" The child's self-talk is, "I can make a difference. I'm worthwhile." In each case, the parent's words leave room for the child to make the evaluation.

When using appreciative praise, it's important to comment on specific acts. If you tell the child that you appreciate her honesty, dependability, or promptness, go on to describe specifically the ways in which she acted dependably, honestly, or promptly. A comment like, "I appreciate you being here exactly when you said you would," allows the youngster to say to herself, "I am dependable."

4) Is praise different from reinforcement? And can you give an example of bad praise?

Check info above.

5) I believe that Carol Dweck of Stanford and formerly of Columbia University also wrote on some of the problems of parents and teachers using words, terms, and phrases, that while well intentioned, can cause some problems. What difficulties has " bad praise " caused?

It creates praise junkies, kids who need to chase praise so they can continually get proof of their worth. The need the outside approval and do not develop it on the inside. It is exceedingly manipulative and causes children to become people pleasers.

6) Our Classroom: We Can Learn Together- What is this book all about? What were you trying to accomplish?

Our Classroom is an effort to help teachers create the "Our Classroom" feeling, to build a sense of belonging and connectedness in classrooms. It is based on the fact that children behave not because of rules, fear, rewards, or punishment. They behave because they are in relationship with someone they respect and look up to. It helps teachers see that relationship, and creating caring is a skill that can and needs to be promoted in classrooms, even in this day and age of high-stakes testing.

Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish A Child's Spirit, my newest book for educators, is an inspirational and practical guide for teaching from the heart. It celebrate the human side of teaching and encourages those educators who are beaten down by the current achievement/testing craze, the tail that wags the dog in most schools today.

7) Please tell us about "The Ten Commitments". Where did you get this idea from?

My partner, Thomas Haller, and I were disturbed by the lack of commitment parents make to children today. So we put down on paper our best ideas of what it takes to be a committed parent to children in today's world. It gives practical ideas and challenges parents to recommit to the sacred and important role of parenting.

8) The Language of Personal Power- What kinds of mistakes in language do people make?

I could write a book on this! In fact I did. The biggest mistake parents make is using unsel- responsible language. Actually this is one of the 10 commitments.

I commit to speaking self-responsible language.

My language patterns will reflect my belief in autonomy, personal responsibility and ownership of one's actions and feelings.I learn and use language that helps my children see themselves as cause. I speak self-responsible language.

Language is more than a medium of perception of communication. It is also a medium of perception. The words you use can effect how you perceive the world, help create your beliefs, and ultimately influence you actions. The main mistake people make with language is not to take their language patterns seriously enough and structure them purposefully to create what they want in their lives.

9) How can people get your free email newsletters? What kinds of information do they contain?

We have two free newsletters, one for parents and another for teachers. Each one is sent out once a month. People can sign up for one or both at my website, www.chickmoorman.com.

They contain practical strategies people can put to use immediately, a quote, bumper sticker, Spirit Whisperer contemplation, humor, a feature article, and my monthly schedule.

Published March 14, 2007

Wednesday

March 14th, 2007

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Senior Columnist EducationNews.org

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