Behaviour Support for Schools
Beacon School Support
Behaviour Support for Schools


November 2015: How to harness the power of praise.

We all know that, in an ideal world, we would all always be happy and positive at school. However, in reality, sometimes we get drawn into a downward spiral with our class. If you find that you are getting sucked into negative behaviour management, such as repeatedly telling pupils off, take a moment to stop and think: is this technique working? If it's happening repeatedly, and behaviour is not improving, then the answer is no.

Time to change to a different tact and reap the benefits for everyone in the class - including yourself!

1. Switch focus

Actively look for examples of behaviours that you DO want in your classroom. Seek out situations where pupils ARE doing what you want and draw attention to them - in a big way (with energy, enthusiasm and attention). Magnify those behaviours.

Here's why:

  • Many negative pupil behaviours are deliberately designed to draw attention. These 'attention seeking behaviours' often start as annoying, small things such as tapping, calling out, making noises, distracting others. When we give attention (by looking, answering, frowning etc.) we are inadvertently feeding those behaviours and causing them to grow.
  • By training ourselves to focus on the behaviours that we do want, we are giving a clear message that this is the way to gain adult attention. Most children who need extra attention will then work out that this is the way to get what they need - by doing the right thing.

2. Be genuine

Children can sniff out false praise in a flash! Spot the behaviours you like and draw attention to them in a positive and warm way. A hurried, 'Well done, Joe,' whilst also marking a book will not be enough for our attention needing pupils. They will likely decide to 'up the ante' to make sure that they get your full attention next time.

Instead, give eye contact, smile and be specific about what you have seen that you like (and want more of). For example, 'Joe, I like the way you are sitting still and looking at me. That shows me that you are ready to listen.'

The added bonus here is that the rest of the class also know what they need to do to get recognition. Many of them will instantly sit still and look at you. Quickly following up with 'Thank you, everybody who is looking at me,' means that they all also feel noticed and don't need to 'play up' to get attention.

The payoff

Telling children off all day is wearing and boring! It's like walking through treacle. Training ourselves into this way of positively managing behaviour takes daily practice. The effort is well worth it though, because pupils and adults feel happier and more productive in a positive working environment.

Staff meeting activity

Here is a fun, ten minute activity to get your staff thinking about all of the ways in which they can give positive feedback to pupils. Staff will then gain a clearer understanding of the importance of positive feedback and its effect on motivation and atmosphere in the classroom. To use this activity, download a PDF version of the newsletter, using the links at the bottom of the page.


You will need the following materials:

  • Large pieces of paper (A3 / A2).
  • Pens.
  • Copies of page 1 of the newsletter (download the PDF version of the newsletter below). At least one between two members of staff.
  • 3 small prizes - these could be the offer of covering a playground duty, or a chocolate bar!
  • A computer with an internet connection and an interactive whiteboard or projector (optional)

The activity

  • Share page 1 of this newsletter (or watch the video for this newsletter on our website), which explains the power of positive feedback. Draw attention to the wording in the praise for Joe (see the green section). Note that using this wording may take longer than usual, but has a powerful impact on whole class behaviour.
  • Ask your staff to get into small teams of approximately two or three people.
  • Ask one person from each team to write 'Positive Feedback' as the heading at the top of the paper. Explain that each team will race to list as many different types of praise or positive feedback they can think of. Remind them there will be a prize for the winning team! Give reminders that feedback can be verbal, non-verbal, individual or group.
  • Set a five minute timer and say 'Go!' Offer prompts to any teams who are finding it difficult, and after 5 minutes, stop everyone and count up the responses.
  • Finally, announce the winners and give prizes. Remember to thank staff and give them positive feedback for their contributions and to reflect on how it feels to be recognised and thanked - and what affect this might have on classroom morale. Leave the lists generated in the staffroom or in classrooms as a reminder to staff in the future.

Now put up copies of the first page of the newsletter on display in the staffroom, so staff members can refer to them at a later date.


Don't print this page! We've produced a much more attractive version for printing and sharing. Use the links below to download a copy of the newsletter in PDF format, and use this for print and distribute the information to your staff.

PDF version of newsletter (colour)

PDF version of newsletter (black and white)

Our YouTube channel