Recognition, Validation, Criticism and Empowerment

Recognition, Validation, Criticism and Empowerment

Greetings. I couldn’t help but notice you dropped by to actually read my blog. Thanks for coming!

I got it in my head recently to write about four interconnected concepts that I think are a big deal, not only because they’re important but because, paradoxically, they’re so often in short supply. The concepts I’m thinking of are: recognition, validation, constructive criticism and empowerment.

I like all four. I think most people do. And when we receive them our spirits lift, life seems brighter and we get a little better at whatever we’re working on. So it’s odd that institutions – whether they be schools, businesses, prisons, or you name it – often fall short in terms of delivery.

Recognition is the first big deal that’s often missing. Does anybody notice you exist? Do they see you sitting there in the back row, smacking your gum? Or over on the side, waving your hand frantically? What are they, blind? Do they hate you, or are you just invisible? How about you in the corner, slouching below desk level, refusing to make eye contact, exuding depressed vibes? Are they really that oblivious?

At least for me, a teacher who took the time to learn my name, to greet me, to look me in the eye, to ask how I was doing, had an impact. Not always a big one, but enough that I considered trying a little harder, or turning to them for solace or advice. And if they showed up in my extra-curricular world and bothered making contact—at the grocery store, a concert, a restaurant, or even my home–that made a huge impact.
Validation is the next big deal often AWOL. Here’s a weird thing: visit youtube and search for “validation.” Just like in real life, it’s actually pretty hard to find, even when you go looking for it, at least under the definition I’m working with: to let people know you think highly of something they did.

Conscious efforts to validate are unusual enough that they stand out, as in the following examples.

The first is a “validation box” put together at OSU. Step inside and a whirlwind of validating comments surround you. Pick one out and your day brightens just a tad.

Nice, but not quite as heartfelt, up close and personal as I’d like. Here’s another concept of how validation might be delivered:

The third concept in this series I think worthy of addressing is constructive criticism. The key here is largely in the delivery. Start with at least basic recognition and validation – “Thanks Sue, I appreciate you putting some thought into this” – before providing constructive criticism. Make sure the student is ready for criticism. Sometimes they’re feeling so beaten down that they need validation far more than anything else. Getting the homework done was a milestone in itself! In such cases, save the critiquing for a later date. If you’re not sure, ask. “You got this in on time! That’s huge! High five!” You might wait till the next day to offer critiquing: “I do have some thoughts on how you could take this up a notch if you’re interested. What do you think?” With adults, you can put it right out there, “are you coming to me for moral support, or for critiquing?”

If the timing is right, meaning a student is ready to hear your constructive criticism, don’t overwhelm them. Deliver information in a manner that’s useful, safe, responsible and respectful, and break it into digestible chunks. Tackle one aspect at a time – the opening line, or the grammar, or the story structure – rather than hitting them with a barrage. Here’s a beautiful example from an elementary school teacher in Maine, Ron Berber (pictured at beginning of this post) of taking it slow, and making it easy to digest:

Concept #4 is empowerment. I think most computer users have had the frustrating experience of receiving specific, constructive criticism that falls short in the empowerment category. Here’s what that looks like: “You have committed a 403B error.” Or “Zap the pram, reboot, and see if that helps.” Sorry, that just leaves me feeling more frustrated than ever. But we do this to students all the time, not grasping that we left out critical details. We tell kids to read, but we forget to see if they need glasses. Or we ask them to take responsibility, but give them no power to do so. Here’s a simple example of how one teacher transformed his challenging classroom by merely putting students in charge of calling on each other:

None of this is rocket science; it just takes a little thought. Try recognizing students with a handshake as they walk in the door, expressing appreciation for their efforts or accomplishments, taking care to deliver useful criticism and making sure they’ve got the tools and the know-how to move forward.

I believe it’ll make a difference.

Tod Schneider
Written by Tod Schneider

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