Steven Charity (Fayette County Schools) and Ellen Greer (Bartow County Schools) join us to explain the power of positive praise in the classroom.

Steven Charity and Ellen Greer in Classroom Conversations

Steven Charity (Fayette County Schools) and Ellen Greer (Bartow County Schools) join us to explain the power of positive praise in the classroom.

Click here to watch this episode on YouTube.

Click here for discussion post!


Ashley Mengwasser: Welcome to Classroom Conversations. I'm Ashley Mengwasser. We're happy you've joined us on the platform for Georgia's teachers. Classroom Conversations is presented by the Georgia Department of Education as a place for educators to share and learn. Produced in partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting. What would happen if you were to raise the praise in your classroom? Is your interest positively peaked? Our topic today is very glass half full, actually it's glass filled to the brim. We're talking about praising positive behavior. As you know firsthand, this tiny nuisance of a thing called misbehavior happens in every classroom, and the research supports instead of reacting to negative behavior, it's best to be proactive by acknowledging when students actually meet our behavior expectations. By handing over an add-away, as they say. Praise mavens unite. Both of our teacher guests today have held the supreme teacher title, Teacher of the Year, in separate school districts. Play that funky music for Steven Charity. Steven teaches six to eighth grade band at Whitewater Middle School in Fayette County. And Steven's cheerful co-captain of positivity this episode has a surname that actually rhymes with cheer, introducing Ellen Greer, ESOL teacher at two schools: Euharlee Elementary and Taylorsville Elementary, both located in Bartow County. I'll have to understand how she has achieved bi-location, but that's for the quantum physics episode. Steven and Ellen each have many positives, as you'll soon learn. Hey, you two.

Steven Charity: Hey, how's it going?

Ellen Greer: Hey, Ashley.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love seeing your positive faces smiling at me.

Ellen Greer: Thank you. Happy to be here.

Ashley Mengwasser: There’s different energy in the studio with you two here today.

Steven Charity: Oh, thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: It’s true.

Ellen Greer: Thank you. Yeah.

Steven Charity: Appreciate it.

Ellen Greer: I feel it, too.

Steven Charity: Yeah, it's awesome.

Ashley Mengwasser: It must be the positivity in your sleeves.

Steven Charity: Got to be.

Ashley Mengwasser: How are you feeling today? Besides positive.

Ellen Greer: I’m feeling so excited to be here.

Ashley Mengwasser: Excited, Ellen. Steven?

Steven Charity: I’m excited as well. I really am.

Ashley Mengwasser: We’re excited to have you. Why don't we start with your why. How about that? Tell us how long you've been teaching and why you became a teacher. You first, Steven.

Steven Charity: Okay. I've been teaching for about 17 years now and I became a teacher because I had positive teachers in my life growing up and I wanted to be that for our kid. So...

Ashley Mengwasser: There you go.

Steven Charity: Yep.

Ashley Mengwasser: In a nutshell. What about you Ellen?

Ellen Greer: I’m actually a fourth-generation teacher.

Ashley Mengwasser: Stop.

Ellen Greer: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Explain.

Ellen Greer: So truly, it's in my blood. I love seeing my students achieve and I love seeing those moments where they just get it. And I love creating lifelong learners.

Ashley Mengwasser: And that's what you're doing.

Ellen Greer: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Fourth generation, so who were the teachers before you?

Ellen Greer: My mom was a teacher, just retired. My grandmother and then my great-grandmother.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh wow.

Ellen Greer: So, a long, strong line of really amazing teachers.

Ashley Mengwasser: Quite the lineage.

Ellen Greer: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: And who would each of you say is your favorite positive figure in the public eye.

Ellen Greer: Well, mine's not really a person, but I love Ted Lasso.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that counts.

Ellen Greer: Okay. Mine's not a real person, but I love Ted Lasso. I love the positivity he brings. I love his spirit of believe.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Ellen Greer: I use that a lot in my classroom.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s lovely. He feels real to us.

Ellen Greer: Yes, he does. Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Steven, have you thought of someone?

Steven Charity: Someone in the public eye? That's a tough one.

Ashley Mengwasser: Can be a character, if not an actor or actress.

Steven Charity: Yeah. You're going to laugh at this.

Ashley Mengwasser: No, I'm not.

Steven Charity: Yes, you are.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay.

Steven Charity: But Rose from the Golden Girls. She's a character, but-

Ashley Mengwasser: No, she is.

Ellen Greer: I love Rose Nylund.

Steven Charity: She’s positive.

Ellen Greer: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: She is positive.

Steven Charity: And she doesn't let anything change her path or her life, so...

Ashley Mengwasser: If someone put a million dollars in front of me and I had a hundred guesses, I would not have guessed-

Steven Charity: And that's something-

Ashley Mengwasser: That you would say that. And that's what I love about you Steven-

Steven Charity: Well, thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: You’re full of surprises.

Steven Charity: I sure am.

Ashley Mengwasser: I know there's a lot to choose from, so this should be an easy question. Can you each share three positive traits about yourselves?

Steven Charity: Sure.

Ellen Greer: Yeah.

Steven Charity: I’m enthusiastic.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, you are.

Steven Charity: Caring and diligent.

Ashley Mengwasser: How about a growth point?

Steven Charity: Growth point. Got to do better with time management. It's just like, you know, you give you, you give, you give. Because you want your kids to succeed and you want to give them your all and kind of forget about yourself sometimes. So just balancing a little bit more. Balancing stuff.

Ashley Mengwasser: The balance, yes. Ellen, what are your three positive traits?

Ellen Greer: I am caring, I am collaborative and I'm creative.

Ashley Mengwasser: You chose three Cs?

Ellen Greer: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s very alliterative of you.

Ellen Greer: I’m a big alliteration person. I love it-

Ashley Mengwasser: Me too. Yes.

Ellen Greer: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wordy, wordy. I like that. And what would you say is your growth point Ellen?

Ellen Greer: I’m always trying to find ways to challenge myself as an educator. And recently I got this incredible beautiful board in my room, a new board. So I'm trying to figure out ways to incorporate more of technology in my room and really learn how to use this new incredible-

Ashley Mengwasser: This board.

Ellen Greer: Thing. Yes, it's amazing.

Ashley Mengwasser: B-O-A-R-D?

Ellen Greer: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Never. B-O-R-E-D. That's an important distinction.

Ellen Greer: No, it's like a huge... It's not, I can't think of the name of it. It's not a Promethean board, but it's like a big-

Ashley Mengwasser: A smart board kind of thing?

Ellen Greer: Yeah, like a smart board, yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: I know what you're talking about.

Ellen Greer: It’s a new one. It's amazing.

Ashley Mengwasser: That must be a Haas.

Ellen Greer: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Do each of you have a favorite quote that your students would say, "My teacher says this all the time." That's kind of like your positivity got to? I'm sure you do. There's something you say or a little adage?

Ellen Greer: Yes. I always say that we are family and my kids quote it all the time. And also always say, "It's not just a school skill, it's a life skill."

Steven Charity: Yep.

Ellen Greer: And so, I say that-

Ashley Mengwasser: Do you say it just like that?

Ellen Greer: All the time. Usually they finish it for me because I say it all the time. I'm like, "Remember guys, it's not just a school skill," and they'll all echo, "it's a life skill."

Ashley Mengwasser: “It’s a life skill."

Ellen Greer: So those are two things I definitely say on a daily basis.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love the way you say... It's all in delivery, as I know from this platform.

Steven Charity: That’s right.

Ashley Mengwasser: What about you Steven? How are you quoted?

Steven Charity: Well, so one thing my kids would probably say that I typically say in classes, "10% better than the day before," or "10% more than the day before." You know?

Ashley Mengwasser: Just improve a little bit.

Steven Charity: Yep, that's what it is.

Ashley Mengwasser: Makes all the difference.

Steven Charity: It’s very powerful.

Ashley Mengwasser: We are here today to hear about how you acknowledge your students for their positive and appropriate behaviors in the classroom. So why don't we start with when you first realized the power of pointing out the positive. That was pretty alliterative, wasn't it?

Ellen Greer: I love it, yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: The power of pointing out the positive.

Steven Charity: Power of pointing out the positive. I think the situation that came up recently, we had a fundraiser here recently. And one of my students, he got the top prize for the fundraiser, which happened to be quite a bit of money. It was for $300. And rather than keeping the money to himself, he came back to school the next day and said, "Mr. Charity, I saw your email about the band's needs of a vacuum cleaner for the classroom," because we have our class parties and rather than having the custodian clean up after us-

Ashley Mengwasser: Every time you wanted to have your own.

Steven Charity: Right, when we have our own and get the kids to learn responsibility and clean up. He said, "Rather than going out and buy one, I'm going to buy one with my prize money to help the band program out."

Ashley Mengwasser: Stop.

Steven Charitie, and when I tell you I cried, and I cried more, and I cried some more. Because you just never know how you impact a kid until something like that happens.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. And it's because of your positive classroom climate?

Steven Charity: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: And who doesn't love vacuuming?

Steven Charity: Exactly.

Ashley Mengwasser: That is my favorite household chore, honestly. So it's not as simple as, "Good job," for you?

Steven Charity: No.

Ashley Mengwasser: It’s more involved?

Steven Charity: Right, it's actions. And kids will do little things, whether or not they come in the morning and say, "Oh Jill, do you want me to help you on your assignment? I know you have the plane test coming up in two days. Can I help you on it?" Just little things like that. “That's come up in two days. Can I help you on it?” Just little things like that mean the world to me because I know that whether or not I can see it every day, they're understanding the lessons that I'm trying to give them.

Ashley Mengwasser: They get it. Ellen, when did you first realize the power of pointing out the positive?

Ellen Greer: I realized it a lot, but I have a very specific example actually to share. So in my classroom, a lot of times I will just walk around with a sticky note and a lot of times I'll write a little nice little comment and put on a student's desk. Or if I praise them verbally, but I'll also put a little sticky note on their desk and it might be waiting on them the next day, or it might be even during the lesson. So, one day I had a student approach me and say, Miss Gru, can I ask some of your sticky notes? And I said, Absolutely. They started doing that. So I was modeling that behavior and then they started writing sticky notes to each other.

Ashley Mengwasser: Like what?

Ellen Greer: Just good job. I like the way you used fluency today. I like the way you used expression when you read, great job speaking. I mean just very neat little things and not just have a good day. I mean, they were really specific to behaviors or something academic that the other student need to work on. So they saw me model it and then they did it.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love it.

Ellen Greer: So, I really saw that, wow, my actions really do make a huge impact.

Ashley Mengwasser: With them. I always say that apologies should be specific. It's sounding like praise should be too, but we'll get to that next. How do you think that pointing out positive behaviors impacts students' academic engagement?

Ellen Greer: I think that positive behaviors really make a huge difference academically because we're all in it together. We're all a team. And also if you create that safe and warm and welcoming classroom environment, then students are going to feel free to make mistakes and that's when we learn the most.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. That's really good. Yeah. How do you think it impacts their academic engagement?

Steven Charity: Well, I mean, classroom conducive learning is a very focused classroom. So if you limit the amount of disruptions and you teach kids the right way to do it through example and through modeling, they're going to learn more. They're going to retain more information, they're going to treat each other better. It's just going to be a much more positive atmosphere for them to learn and to grow.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s a really good point. What advice do you guys have for the teacher who maybe spends more time correcting students instead of pointing out the positive? What would you say?

Steven Charity: I think there's just so much value in finding those kids who are doing the right thing and using them as an example for the kids...

Ashley Mengwasser: For the other kids.

Steven Charity: Right, who maybe need to be redirected. Because a lot of time our teachers will, they'll spend all of their time on the kid doing something poorly, doing something incorrectly. And then the poor kids who are doing the right thing every single day, nobody's giving them any love or any attention. So use Jill or use Sally or use Jim to kind of show the right way. I love how Jim was setting up today in class and band. I love how he was taking notes while other people were on their playing tests. I love these things, to be very specific. And then the other kids that are watching this, they're learning from that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. What do you have to add to that, Ellen?

Ellen Greer: So, I think that behavior that's reinforced tends to increase. So if you're praising students for good behavior, it stands to reason that behavioral will increase and therefore the learning is going to improve.

Ashley Mengwasser: Where if you're spending more time on corrections, there's going to be more things to correct?

Ellen Greer: Absolutely, yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. And you guys, it's not Pollyanna, right? You're not just saying be fake positive or... No, it's just genuine moments of positivity, choosing to focus on those

Ellen Greer: Relationships matter. And even as adults, that if we're acknowledged and we feel appreciated, we're going to do more. Yeah, we're going to feel comfortable, we're going to do a lot more. So it just really stands the reason that if you're praised and recognized, then you're going to be nurturing that self-esteem and that confidence in children. It's amazing.

Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly. And I just want you both to know how much I appreciate you being here today. You're doing such a great job.

Steven Charity: Definitely.

Ashley Mengwasser: It’s important to be specific. We were just kind of talking about that, Ellen. When you're providing positive praise to students, behavior-specific praise is a strategy that teachers are taught where the teacher names the behavior ties it to a classroom expectation that's been taught to students. How exactly do you guys use behavior-specific praise when you're positively acknowledging a specific student?

Ellen Greer: Well, instead of just saying good job, I will definitely be more explicit in what they're doing well. Because students that I work with on the elementary level, they don't really know what a good job necessarily means. So I will definitely model it, but also I will state the specific praise, state the specific behavior, excuse me, and then praise them for that. And I always try to use their name cause I think that makes it more powerful.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that's good. You're talking directly to them.

Ellen Greer: I do. I always try to use their name. So I'll say, thank you for being responsible. So I'm stating the expectation, and then also I follow it up with what does that look like? So it could be by sitting in your seat, by attempting to task, by listening while I'm talking.

Ashley Mengwasser: All specific behaviors.

Ellen Greer: Yes. So I do the expectation, but then I also do the procedure of what that looks like. Because children need to see it, they need it modeled, they need to hear it as well.

Ashley Mengwasser: So effective. How do you use behavior-specific praise, Steven.

Steven Charity: Pretty much the same. So I'll set very clear expectations at the beginning of the year and we'll talk about those things. But then I'll have the kids recognizing each other, what's going on. I'll say, How was Sally successful today? What did she do? That was right. Oh, Sally sat up in her seat properly today. Or Sally played her exercise correctly. Sally was fingering along while the other students were playing. So the kids are very engaged and involved in looking around the classroom and kind of noticing these behaviors and modeling what they see as well.

Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly. Sally's my mom's name. I'm imagining her sitting up straight in her seat.

Steven Charity: Isn’t that something.

Ashley Mengwasser: I’m going to praise her. Exactly.

Steven Charity: Well, good job, Sally.

Ashley Mengwasser: Is it harder for you because you're a band? Is that talent-specific ever? You don't want me in your band cross? I'll tell you that. I can't really play an instrument, but I did have a glow in the dark tambourine one time.

Steven Charity: No. Did you?

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, my dad gave it to me. It was kind of like, you could play this.

Steven Charity: I wish I had to go in the dark tambourine in my band room.

Ashley Mengwasser: I’ll find one. We'll get you one, Steve.

Steven Charity: Please, do.

Ashley Mengwasser: You need a glow in the dark... You just got to turn the lights off.

Steven Charity: I do. We could have fun.

Ashley Mengwasser: But is it talent based ever? Or they're in band because they want to learn band.

Steven Charity: They’re in band because they want to learn band. But at the end of the day, when I get a student that's new to band in sixth grade, more about teaching a student how to be a better person. If they become a great musician after they leave high school, great. If they don't, oh well, I'm getting a student in my classroom that I want to impact in a positive way and that's end be all right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Doesn’t matter that Sally's terrible on the oboe.

Steven Charity: As long as Sally comes to class every day and she's trying, that's what it is.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s worth some positive praise. Yeah, definitely. Let's talk about classroom climate next. I would think that this positivity probably carries over to the other kids and their behavior with each other. How does acknowledging positive behaviors influence the feeling in the room?

Steven Charity: Sure. So we have a student of the month bulletin board. And on the bulletin board there are traits that describe a student of the month. So they're respectful, they're responsible, they're kind, they're empathetic. And we talk about what all those words mean. Because a lot of times those kids will see those words, I have no clue what it means. So a lot of times showing through example and giving examples of what those words are is very beneficial. And then when a student gets the award, I tell the other kids why Johnny got this award because he was respectful. And this is an example of when I noticed that he was respectful. And then the other kids, they take it to heart. And then the next month they say, Oh man, I'm going to get on the bulletin award. I'm going to have my picture up there as well. So it just creates a lot of love in the room too, because they look at that...

Steven Charity: It creates a lot of love in the room too, because they look at that kid, that example, and they want to be like that kid.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, and they're probably proud of each other.

Steven Charity: They are very proud of each other, and that does my heart proud.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s community right there.

Steven Charity: Definitely.

Ashley Mengwasser: How about you Ellen? How is positive praise affecting the students in the room?

Ellen Greer: Definitely through... I use those praise statements, and I think it just makes the classroom management more effective. My classroom, we don't call it a classroom, we call it a "classroom home". So, my classroom home is very welcoming, and I do provide that frequent behavior-specific praise. I think that definitely eliminates a lot of problematic behaviors because I'm addressing them before they even occur. Then also, that engagement increases. We have learning outcomes that are improved. I think it just creates a funner, better environment. That's what I would want to be in as a student.

Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly.

Ellen Greer: I try to think about what I needed growing up, and I try to be that for my students.

Ashley Mengwasser: Lovely. That protects your energy too.

Steven Charity: Definitely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Because you've got a day to get through-

Ellen Greer: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: -of learning and instruction. What do you say to the notion, why praise them for doing what they're supposed to be doing?

Steven Charity: Well, for me, we can't assume that when we get a brand-new kid into our classroom, that they're all going to have the same life lessons at home growing up. Every kid comes from a different environment.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s true.

Steven Charity: So, we just want to make sure that when they come into our classrooms that we are doing what we can to fill in the holes and fill in the gaps, and just make sure that we're educating good people. We're teaching them how to be good responsible people when they leave our classes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Ellen?

Ellen Greer: Relationships matter. Relationships matter in every area of your life. The classroom is another place between students and between my staff, staff that I work with, between other students and students. So I feel like that when you're recognized and praised, you're going to do more than what's expected of you. If you just acknowledge it, I think a little recognition and praise goes a long way.

Ashley Mengwasser: It does, yeah. To that point, what about the teacher/student dynamic between the two of you? What happens to your relationship with students as a result of this process?

Steven Charity: It’s awesome. This is why I can come into work every day and smile, because I love my kids. Then they show me little ways that tell me that they love me too. That relationship is awesome. It makes work feel like it's not work. I come to work every day and it's not work. I have a ball. I find ways to engage my kids. They love TikTok. They love Beyonce. They love-

Ashley Mengwasser: Who doesn't love Beyonce?

Steven Charity: Who doesn't?

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Steven Charity: So, you find little ways to incorporate things that they really enjoy into your lesson, and it just makes it much more engaging for them. We were doing our warmups the other day and I surprised them. I had Beyonce's new track playing in the background while we did our warmups.

Ashley Mengwasser: What’d they think of that?

Steven Charity: Oh my God.

Ashley Mengwasser: Lights them up.

Steven Charity: They were like, "How do you know who Beyonce is? You're like, old."

Ashley Mengwasser: They think you're out of touch.

Steven Charity: “You’re old. How do you know Beyonce?" But I said, "Man, I'm hip too." They said, "Don't use that word again." I said, "Okay. My apologies. "

Ashley Mengwasser: Don’t use the word "hip".

Steven Charity: My apologies. Yeah, don't do it.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s funny, Steven. What are some of the little things you say that they show you love, little ways you can tell? What are some of the little ways you can tell they love you back?

Steven Charity: It’s just the playful banter. I'll be talking to them and we'll get to a point where we can laugh during the lesson, and we'll go back and forth just like with the word. I'll try to use little words that they use like "bussin’" and "it's on fleek", and all this new stuff that they're using. We just have times in class where we can just be silly and laugh, and just have a good time. I would hate to be in a class where the teacher is up there a statue, just throwing stuff out, throwing stuff out. But there's no time for the kids to be kids and really come back and engage with you. It just makes the job so much more fun.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. Ellen, what about for you, the teacher/student dynamic? How is that affected by positive praise?

Ellen Greer: Well, I'm so blessed because since I teach ESOL, I get to have a lot of my students year after year after year.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s true.

Ellen Greer: So, I really develop really close relationships with not only them but their families. I stay in touch with them through the summer. We stayed in touch, obviously during our quarantine. That's the part I just love. I love getting to know their families. I love getting know their lives. I get invited to a lot of birthday parties, a lot of soccer games.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow.

Ellen Greer: Matches, excuse me. I just really try to be not only a part of their life in school, but a part of their life outside of school. And even, it was funny, this summer I had lunch with two students I taught my very first year of teaching. It just shows I've kept up with them through Facebook and through other things. Some of my students say, "Hey, can I come back and mentor your students?"

Ashley Mengwasser: Look at that.

Ellen Greer: I love that. It's just one more thing in my tool belt that I can bring into my class to increase that positivity. They come in and they'll say, "This really helped me that you did this or that." It was the funniest thing this summer, because I said, "You don't have to call me Miss Green. You can call me Ellen." That just-

Ashley Mengwasser: Blew their minds.

Ellen Greer: Yes, totally blew their minds. That was the talk of lunch the whole time, because they were like, "Oh my gosh." Just like that. They're in their mid-twenties now.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, wow.

Ellen Greer: I taught them my first year. So just those relationships, like I said, I just love that. That's the part of my job I just absolutely love.

Ashley Mengwasser: The takeaway from what you just said, I think, is that those relationships are then lasting.

Ellen Greer: Absolutely.

Steven Charity: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Those are lasting relationships. They don't have a finite end date that leaves when they leave the classroom. That's a beautiful thing. Can you each give an example of a time that you positively praised a student for doing the right thing, that then had a really big impact on the other students in the room?

Steven Charity: For me, there was a little girl, and I have these kids sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, so I can see them progress and grow. When she was in sixth grade, she struggled a little bit with behavior and everything is not roses.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right, exactly.

Steven Charity: You get these kids, and you have to build this in them. She struggled with behavior. She struggled with just putting her all into things, I guess you could say. Seeing the finish line, I guess. I took time and I worked with her. I pulled her to the side one on one. When a kid misbehaves in the class, it's not like it's a secret. Everybody else that was in the class, they see it too. So, I worked with this kid and this was my project. I said, "By the time she gets to eighth grade, she's going to be like section leaders. She's going to be a huge example of just positive behavior in class."

Ashley Mengwasser: You could see it.

Steven Charity: I could see it. I knew she had it in her, and I worked with her. By eighth grade, she was amazing. I never had to speak to her in a manner that... As far as redirecting, I didn't have to do any of that. She came to class, she was prepared every day. Other kids in her section may have been struggling. She was the first one to go to the other students to help them out. So, just seeing the growth in that student from year to year, it was awesome. The other kids could see it because this was not a kid that could have gotten Student of the Month when she was in sixth grade, but I worked with her. By the time in eighth grade, she was the first one on the board. The other kids, they noticed that, and they were like, "Just because you're one way doesn't mean that you know, can't be redirected and you can't change." Everybody has the opportunity to grow and get better.

Ellen Greer: She became someone to look up to.

Steven Charity: She really did. She really did.

Ashley Mengwasser: What’s your positive story?

Ellen Greer: I have a very similar story.

Ashley Mengwasser: Weird.

Ellen Reread. Well, just about. I love the way you used the word "project". I had a student who was a newcomer that came in who spoke no English. I mean none. Zero. He came in and he really struggled obviously academically, and he had some behavior issues. I just poured love into this kid. I praised him and I just poured love into this kid. I praised him specifically for academics. I praised him for behavior. And this was just two years ago. Now he literally is the biggest advocate for our program, and he will even meet with other students that come in and he will share his story and he'll say, "Look where I was just a few years ago." And so it's just amazing. It's another thing for me that the process works. He is the perfect example. And like I said, not just academics but behavior as well. And like I said, I was just very specific in my praise to him and it just built. I might start with one statement because he might have a more difficult time understanding. And now, like I said, he's the biggest advocate for our program. It's amazing.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, as you've both clearly stated, it is a process.

Steven Charity: It is.

Ashley Mengwasser: And positive praise can lead to positive growth over time if you keep giving that input. What about some teaching tips for positive praise that teachers can implement immediately to really reach students this way? What do you have?

Ellen Greer: Well, one of the things I've found most successful, and I've tried everything, I've been teaching a long time, is that, to me, you need a combo platter of intrinsic and extrinsic things. So, for example, with intrinsic, I definitely show my students a lot of love and attention and I recognize them for being in praise. I'll let them hear it. But the extrinsic, it can be anything, just even a sticker. It's amazing what a sticker will do at the elementary level. And it doesn't even have to be anything that costs. It can be a little thing. A lot of times if my students are doing what they're supposed to be doing, I'll let them pick out a song to like to at the end of class.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that's cool. DJ, that would be my favorite part.

Ellen Greer: So, we do that. We do that a lot. I've heard a lot of songs from Encanto and in Disney. But yeah, I think you need definitely both. I think you need those intrinsic, but I think you also need those concrete rewards as well. So, to me, that's the best takeaway. I use both in my class and I think it's been really successful.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s great. What are your teaching tips, Steven?

Steven Charity: I would definitely say find opportunities to give students agency in your classroom and give them times to have a say. For example, for band class, I let the kids pick out their own warmups at times. I let them pick out the theme for the concerts.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, cool.

Steven Charity: Yeah. So just giving them a chance to have a say in their program or a say in the classroom at times is huge.

Ashley Mengwasser: Giving them agency. What was the theme of your last show?

Steven Charity: The last theme, I think it was medieval. All of them sound like Game of Thrones.

Ashley Mengwasser: Game Thrones?

Steven Charity: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s cool. I love the ownership. That's awesome.

Steven Charity: Definitely.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that.

Steven Charity: And I also would say you should be relatable with your kids and be authentic because, I mean, you can praise kids and they will know instantly if you're being genuine.

Ashley Mengwasser: Absolutely.

Steven Charity: Kids can read that. So just be authentic. If you're not going into teaching to change a kid's life, then you probably need to find another profession.

Ashley Mengwasser: There it is.

Steven Charity: It’s just what it is. You have to be there for those kids and you have to love on them and you have to be authentic. You've got to be true to yourself.

Ashley Mengwasser: Because it can take a toll on teachers to show up for others so consistently in this way.

Steven Charity: Yes, definitely, Karen.

Ashley Mengwasser: What is your positive message for teachers who are doing this work before we go?

Steven Charity: I would say just always know where your finish line is. Always know where that end goal is and keep pushing, keep fighting. It is draining, but you do it because you love the kids and you love the profession and you just want see kids succeed. So just keep pushing.

Ashley Mengwasser: Keep pushing. Persevere.

Steven Charity: Keep pushing.

Ashley Mengwasser: What about you, Ellen?

Ellen Greer: I think a lot of times a lot about that when you plant a seed, you don't see the flower right away. You don't see the fruit right away. It's definitely a process. Just keep at it. But what's really cool is I think coming back years later, months later, weeks later, and you see that little sprout. And so I love to see that growth and I think consistency is key. As hard as it is and as much as people struggle with it, I think inconsistency really breeds negative behavior.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh yeah.

Ellen Greer: So, I think if you're consistent, I think that's a huge part of it as well. But I think you'll definitely see the sprout and the blooming happen.

Ashley Mengwasser: If you just consistently water the seed.

Ellen Greer: Love that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Bringing it all together.

Ellen Greer: Yes. Absolutely, yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thank you so much, Even-Handed Steven and Ellen Greer Full-of-Cheer, you guys.

Ellen Greer: Full of cheer, yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: You guys are awesome. Did you have a good time?

Ellen Greer: I had an amazing time. Thank you.

Steven Charity: Yeah, this was awesome.

Ashley Mengwasser: What are you going to take away from this experience to your students? Are you going to tell them that you were on a podcast?

Ellen Greer: Absolutely.

Steven Charity: Definitely.

Ashley Mengwasser: They’re going to think that that's totally pos.

Ellen Greer: Yes, absolutely. They'll love it.

Steven Charitie.

Ashley Mengwasser: What do you think they'll say? They'll think you’re celebrities now.

Ellen Greer: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Now you can definitely do no wrong.

Ellen Greer: Yeah.

Steven Charity: Yeah. I don't know. They're going to say Mr. Charity, you're telling a fib. I'm going to have to play it for them before.

Ashley Mengwasser: We’ll send the pictures with you, Steven. Don't worry.

Ellen Greer: I get a lot of hugs and we have a little standing ovation thing we do in my room, we have a group hug, so I have a feeling I'll be getting a big great hug for this one.

Ashley Mengwasser: There you go.

Ellen Greer: Because we are a family, as you say.

Steven Charity: Right.

Ellen Greer: We are a family, yes.

Steven Charity: That’s right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thank you both so much for a very spirited, upbeat half hour. Now, if only the rest of our day will go this way. But the point is that we teachers can raise the praise all of our days. To paraphrase Einstein, you can't solve problems with the same thinking that created them. So when you combat negativity in the classroom with positive praise, prepare to be amazed. And endless praise to our educators listening. You're a great teacher. Stick around. Another elevating episode drops next week. Dial in then. Bye-bye. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the school Climate Transformation Grant.