“praise, correct, praise” lessons from Randy Pausch

Written by on July 30, 2009

Last week i talked about leadership and about making corrections.   let’s remember, the phrase from the instructor’s manual is ‘praise, correct, praise.’ i sometimes wonder if we have forgotten the WORD IN THE MIDDLE.   as i said last week, if we really are going to make the world a better place ONE BLACK BELT AT A TIME, we need to make corrections, whether those are corrections of BEHAVIOR or TECHNIQUE.   there’s a couple of more tips from the instructor manual that we need to remember:

show sincere interest

give realistic praise

give thoughtful feedback

Again, these are NOT NEW points.  We’ve been talking about them for at least TWENTY YEARS.  The danger that we face is that as we started talking about praising and building self esteem, the “correction” part of the equation has been pushed aside.  there is a whole lot of “rah, rah” teaching going on. . . .  a whole lot of “cheerleading.”     there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it is balanced with real corrections of student behavior and technique.

To help understand this teaching dynamic, i recommend THE LAST LECTURE by Randy Pausch.    Read the book and view the brief video at  YOUTUBE  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9ya9BXClRw).   Randy has some really good things to say about teaching and building self-esteem.  For example, he talks about his childhood football coach, JIM GRAHAM:

Coach Graham used to ride me hard.  I remember one practice in particular.  ‘You’re doing it all wrong, Pausch.  Go back!  Do it again!”  I tried to do what he wanted.  It wasn’t enough.  ‘You owe me, Pausch!  You’re doing push-ups after practice.”

Randy goes on to quote an assistant coach who witnessed this treatment:

Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?  That’s a good thing.  When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”

WOW!!!  Has that ever happened to you as teacher of Taekwondo?   Have you ever felt like giving up on a student?   Have you ever felt that it is much easier to just say, “Good job!”  rather than get into the details of making an 8-year old really learn a front stance or a side kick?

The answer is obviously yes.  I know I have.   Our goal is not to be perfect teachers.  We are going to make mistakes because we are human.  We’re going to have weak days when we do overlook corrections.   That’s OK, but we can still pursue perfection by striving to be the best we can be; and that’s not easy! You have to do some difficult things.  You have to tell people what they are doing wrong!  You have to tell them what they don’t want to hear.  You have to get them to understand how to improve.  And you have to motivate them to keep trying.  That’s a whole lot more than just saying, “Good job.  Here’s your star!”

Let’s get back to Randy Pausch.  He has some golden words about self-esteem:

“There’s a lot of talk these days about giving children self esteem.  It’s not something you can give!   It’s something they have to build.  Coach Graham worked in a no-coddling zone.  Self-esteem?  He knew there was really only one way to teach kids how to develop it:  You give them something they can’t do, they work hard until they find they can do it, and you just keep repeating the process.”

That’s a perfect description of Songahm Taekwondo!!!!!   I’m still trying to figure out if i can make a sign that reads “NO CODDLING ZONE” and mount it over the entrance to my dojang!!

Randy goes on to say: “I’ve heard so many people talk of a downward spiral in our educational system, and i think one key factor is that there is too much stroking and too little real feedback.”

Think about this:  over twenty years ago, someone in the ATA wrote the TEN CLASS MANAGEMENT SKILLS and included in that list this phrase: give realistic feedback.

So just think about it.   Will you join me in “curtailing the coddling?”   Will you  make a commitment this week to “give realistic feedback?”

  1. Chris Whamond   On   July 30, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    I’m a huge fan of the Last Lecture. So many amazing points in there. And I do love the idea of helping people BUILD self-esteeem, not “handing” it to them. It’s a process.

  2. Rex Veeder   On   August 11, 2009 at 11:18 am

    This is central to what teaching is all about. The teacher has to find a way to build a relationship with a student while maintaining command presence. How a teacher does that defines the culture for everyone. It is the teacher’s opportunity to learn with the student. As we find out how to be a teacher and a leader, we do that be adding something else to the mix. That something depends on each student and who that student is and what he or she came to us to get in the first place. They can seldom tell us what that something really is. We have to get to know them well enough to discover it along with the method and attitude to offer them the gift. Yes, the world is better because teachers take the time to do this.

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