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  • Erin R Trondson

Montessori Teachers Resist Saying: Good Job!

Dear Woodland Community,

Montessorians strive to uncover the child’s true will before the rewiring of rewards and praise takes over the brain. The science shows us how neurons and road maps in our brains are deeply grooved and wired after years of conditioning to seek rewards. Rewards are pervasive in our adult worlds and take many forms such as: a crossed out To Do list, a ping when you receive a new email, praise at a performance review, or chocolate cake to end a challenging day. With technology, I would argue we are now, more than ever, geared toward extrinsic affirmation for our work, our personal lives, and our very existence.

In Montessori, we are hold outs. We notice the joy the children display in simply doing a work, going through the steps, accomplishing something, and even the process of putting it away. We also hope to help children get in touch with their true interests and motivations so they may be able to recognize what that looks and feels like, before it gets confused with their family’s desires and the world’s scripts for them. Dr. Maria Montessori wrote of how a child’s light could be extinguished or become dusty when the educational setting puts forth its gold stars, red checks, and detentions.

In academia, we call this valuing intrinsic motivation. Dr. Montessori called it many things. She knew early on that helping children find it would be a fight against the typical classroom and societal norms, and that the rewards would be a strong foundation for the child. Protecting a child’s right to intrinsic motivation would give the child a compass to guide them in life. I see this compass in our graduates. I see children who know themselves. Children who have healthy boundaries, know what they want, and are motivated internally.

What does this have to do with the phrase: good job? Verbal comments about a child’s work or accomplishments are simply another form of a reward.

How do we rewire our brains as adults to avoid habitually praising our children? Here are some suggestions:

Encouragement instead of Praise.

  • Praise: I'm so proud of you!

  • Encouragement: I appreciate your help.

  • Praise: You are so smart!

  • Encouragement: You figured it out.

  • Praise: That's my girl/boy!

  • Encouragement: You reached your goal.

  • Praise: You're the best player.

  • Encouragement: You really put in a lot of effort.

  • Praise: I'm impressed.

  • Encouragement: You've worked really hard.

Source: Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott.

And this is an example of an interaction I observed recently between a teacher and a child in Classroom 2.

  • Child: Angie, Angie! Look at my picture!! (expecting a "Wow, that is beautiful" or “Good job”)

  • Angie: Thank you for showing me. Ahhh... (kneeling down) ...That was a big work! What was your favorite part in making it?

  • Child expresses excited discussion explaining her process in painting.

I hope you find this information useful.



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