Maybe There Is Value In “Good Job!”

About an hour ago, I finished and published today’s Daily Shoot Blog Post. Then I went to have dinner. It was when I got back to my computer after dinner that I saw this tweet from Jonathan So. 2014-12-08_19-23-32I have to admit, this tweet made me really happy. Why? Jonathan is one of the amazing math thinkers and educators that I aspire to be. Often in education, even with tools like Twitter, blogs, and in-school sharing, we tend to teach in a bubble. We do our work in our classroom each day, and we may share our learning with others, but do we really know how others feel? How do we know that we’ve done a “good job?”

  • We can see our student work and hear our student thinking, but even in these cases, I wonder: should they be doing more? Should they be thinking differently?
  • We can look for improvements over time, but even when we see these improvements, are they enough? Are there things that we could do to push learning forward even more?
  • Even when students seem engaged, good conversations are happening, and we feel success, I still think, what could make these conversations better? Are these discussions as good as I think they are, or should I be approaching this topic differently?

And so, even on my many great days in the classroom, I can’t help but have some self-doubt. This is where Jonathan’s 140 characters made such a difference. It was the reassurance from a colleague that I was doing something right. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that I can do better. This doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to rethink my questioning skills, increase my wait time, and avoid the need to repeat what students say. I will. But sometimes — even though we’re supposed to avoid the words “good job” — I think that adults and students alike need to hear these words. For me, when I feel good about myself, I want to tackle my many “next steps.” A few positive words always make me feel good. Whether online or at school, it can be scary to open up our classroom to others. It can be scary to ask for feedback. And it can be scary to hear what others really think. But I think it’s worth being brave, for as we hear this feedback, and make changes to our practices, we also hear words of encouragement that help validate what we’re doing in the classroom. What impact do positive words have on your teaching practices? Do you seek feedback from others? Why or why not? How do you use this feedback? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Aviva

8 thoughts on “Maybe There Is Value In “Good Job!”

  1. Oh Aviva, you have to know that you are one of the most brilliant teachers in the world. In fact I look up to you. As for your questions, good job goes a long way. It’s a small word but has a big impact. We shouldn’t always look for it but it’s nice to validate the learning that has happened.

    Take today, one of my students helped our brand new student out. She took her under her wing and made sure she new what to do. Now this in itself may not be any thing special but when you know that this particular student also moved I to the classroom three months ago, it is. This particular student was the shyest, least confident student I had. She wouldn’t even look up at me to talk. To see her interact and be an amazing leader was truly brilliant but the real special moment was when I said to her, “I was proud of her for being a leader” you should have seen her face light up. She took those small words and allowed them to lift her up.

    Praise is a beautiful thing when given in the right moment. We shouldn’t over do it but kids and adults need to know they have done a good job. To be honest I was beaming when I heard your kids talk and explore. I remember I first conversations last year and to see your class talk was absolutely brilliant. Not to say that you have never been doing a great job but I know your journey and today was a great example of your progression in inquiry and math exploration. Keep it up and thank you for being an amazing educator, any child and parent is lucky to have you as there teacher.

    • Wow! Thank you, Jonathan, for such kind words and for sharing such a terrific story from your day. I think about how you’ve helped inspire my growth over the year. You pushed back. You made me reconsider things and contemplate why I was doing what I was doing. You helped me think about math differently. You were always encouraging, but it was your feedback that really pushed my learning forward. You weren’t evaluative, but helpful, and for this, I thank you!

      Positive words are wonderful, but feedback results in growth. How do we use both? How do we help people — adults and children — see the benefits in the praise as well as the next steps?

      When we teach alone in our classrooms, don’t always have others observing what we do, and don’t always hear feedback from others, I think it can be easy to question if we’re doing a “good job.” Are we doing enough for students? Are there things we should change? How can we better meet student needs? Opening up our classrooms to others gives us the chance to dialogue about these questions while also receiving the praise, that when genuine (as yours was), can definitely help lift our spirits. Yesterday made me think about the benefits in having this “open classroom.” Thanks for being part of this thinking, Jonathan!


      • I feel the same about you. To be honest I have also grown from our discussions. I love the fact that even though we are separated by distance it feels like I have a colleague right next door. I love your questions and your responses to mine. I guess the question now is how can we get others to do the same? How do we build relationships with others that are not next door?

        You’re right about feedback. If our good job means nothing without that but I also think feedback is nothing without carefully planted good job comments. It’s a very fine balance. Thanks again for the blog reflection.

        • Thanks for the reply, Jonathan! I’m so glad that we can learn a lot from each other, and feel comfortable enough to ask those tough questions, have those good discussions, and push each other forward with the ideas that we share. I think there’s always this concern that if we open ourselves up to feedback then we’re opening ourselves up to evaluation, but do feedback and evaluation need to be the same thing? For me, learning with people like you is just the push I need to continue to improve my practice. I think it’s really about our own desire for professional growth.

          I also like your comment about “good job.” It really is a fine balance. I think we all need to hear these words of encouragement, but knowing that they don’t mean that the learning has stopped, but just help us with the drive to make changes, try, reflect, and try again. Maybe if we continue to nurture that “growth mindset” in ourselves and in our students, these words of praise won’t change the desire to learn, as we’ll internally know that there’s always more that we can do.

          Thanks for always getting me thinking!

  2. It is human nature to crave acknowledgment, affirmation and belonging….it is engraved into our DNA.

    It is for this reason that children squeal in delight at the words ‘great’ or ‘fantastic’ when articulated by the teacher.

    Adults are no different. It is all part of the human condition.

    Anyone who says otherwise is either telling an untruth or living as a cyborg 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment! I understand and agree with what you’re saying here, but then I think about what I’ve read on “descriptive feedback,” and how using words like “great job” can actually discourage students from furthering their learning, as they only hear the “great” and nothing else (I’m paraphrasing here — and I totally forget the source, so if somebody knows, please let me know). I wonder if the same can sometimes be true for adults. Do we hear the compliment, think all is well, and then not focus on what we need to do next? These words of encouragement are terrific, and I wouldn’t want Jonathan to take back his words from last night, but how do we ensure that positive words don’t inhibit growth? Would this actually happen? What do you think?


  3. Yeah, I totally agree. Like anything we can’t overdo it in either direction. Getting rid of, “good job,” is like saying it for everything. In the end, it is totally okay to tell others that they did a good job. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Alfonso! How much is too much though? If we say, “good job,” are we having people — students and adults — just focus on the positives and not consider their next steps? How do we ensure that these kinds of compliments (which I wouldn’t want to eliminate) don’t deter future growth? Do you think they might? I’m trying to think about how Jonathan’s words made me feel, while also thinking about what I’ve read on descriptive feedback and why to reconsider words like “good job.” I still have lots to think about …


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