The Power of Proactive Praise

It was faculty orientation, and my rapt attention was wrapped around the new-to-me concepts being taught on the screen by Lee Canter, known for his “Assertive Discipline” approach to smooth-running, enjoyable classroom environments. I was the music teacher in the church’s Christian School, and I had a need to know this stuff!

My first year had me convinced I needed an advantage, particularly where upper-elementary and jr-high boyz challenged and frequently won the classroom stand-offs. My desire to improve made it possible for me to pay attention even through fatigue and the overpowering desire to get up and move around.

Particularly intriguing were Canter’s “positive repetition” and “proximity praise” techniques. They work like this: Upon giving the class instructions, the teacher looks for and reinforces the first two or three students to follow those instructions. Then in varying ways praises and reinforces the desired behavior. It’s akin to Kounin’s Ripple Effect, I know, though I’ve not taken the time to research it in depth. I just wanted to know how it would work for me. Happily, it and the rest of the system, worked better than I expected.

Years (OK, a couple decades) later, I wonder now and then …

…what if we praised committee members right-away when they took ownership or showed initiative in ministry?

…what if we made it a point to thank our music and worship personnel every single time they ushered us into an awareness of God’s presence — and got out of the way?

…what if we actually praised the person bold enough to gently ask “Should we pray about this, maybe?” (I mean every time – no resentment WHATsoever that we should have thought of it first.)

…what if we noticed those who serve with no intention of ever being noticed? Not to embarrass them or spotlight them, just to let them know we appreciate the quiet way they give and serve.

I’m wondering.

  • Would the climate in our congregations change over time?
  • Would detractors and defectors eventually figure out what gets a person noticed and decide to give it a try? (Now THERE’s a thought!)
  • Would we find ourselves able to talk about the things we actually have on the agenda in board and committee meetings?
  • Would we be able to minister more and referee less?

I don’t know — I’m just wonderin. The concept worked a couple decades ago with early adolescents in my classroom, maybe it would help diminish adolescent-like behavior at church.

Who knows? It might even work in Washington! (We’d need the help of the press, though – that might be a challenge).

2 Replies to “The Power of Proactive Praise”

  1. Dave

    Hmmm… I think you’ve got something here. I’ve seen this work with some individuals on volunteer groups, but then again they were already motivated towards the goal.
    I’ve also seen in the workplace where switching from a heavy hand to an encouraging ear has turned things around (positively).
    Thanks for the thoughts.

  2. Phil

    Thanks for the good words, Dave.

    Your life exemplifies this kind of thing and I’ve learned from you. In fact, I bet you’ve used this very device on me a few times! 😀

    Thanks for being a great friend. Iron *does* sharpen iron!

    Phil –

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