Q6 of Assistive Principles has been noticing a troubling trend among his students--they're expecting praise even when they don't achieve. Using praise to raise self-esteem dulls the use of praise as a reward, says Q6, though there are some instances when a little boosting is alright.
Today I was reminded of why we started praising ordinary things in the first place. One of our students has been getting to school hours late on a regular basis, and today not even the principal and the police officer could get her out of bed to come to school; on the other hand, she lives in a one-room motel room with two parents who drink and party until 2 in the morning, so it's little wonder she's not functional until noon. Another of our students was worried about taking one of his finals this morning, and suggested to his father that he didn't want to go to school today; he arrived at school not long after receiving the beating his father gave him.
We motivate some kids to get to college; we motivate others just to get to tomorrow. Some of these kids get praised for little things because it's all they get a chance to do. Not all of them, and certainly not some of them . . . but a few--a very specific few--deserve the pat on the back for trying.