I think that most of the time it is not the highly positive praise that drives you to be better, it is the highly negative criticism that drives that growth, especially if it is criticism regarding something you really care about.
For me this moment came as a pre-service teacher in one of my teaching practicums. In my final report for the teaching prac one of my supervising teachers described me as "dispassionate about teaching". To be honest at the time I was devastated with this comment, however I also thought the comment was unfair as given the teacher I was working with I know the comment was one somewhat based on me having a very different teaching style to them. I have always loved to teach, I taught my brothers from a young age and have known I want to be maths/science teacher since year 8. My passion for this profession started at a young age which is why the comment was so soul destroying to me.
However, in some ways, even though I still hold a great deal of anger towards this teacher, I have to also thank her. It is a comment I think about regularly and in many ways it always keeps me honest, and it keeps me improving. With everything I do in my classroom and in my job, I think about whether it is showing enough passion, is it my best work, is it working for my students, how can I make it better next time, what went well and what didn't.
The thing about praise is that it gives no incentive for change if you go about your job day to day and get praised for what you are doing, then it gives the impression that what you are doing is enough, or even more than enough. So if what you are doing is enough, why would you try harder, there is no indication that there is anything that needs to change. Criticism on the other hand has the opposite effect, by definition it suggests that there is something that needs to happen, some change that needs to be made. Criticism demands you to grow as a person or grow as an employee if you do not want to continue to be seen in that light.
If I was currently thought of as a dispassionate teacher by students or colleagues I would be quite horrified as I don't believe it was me all the way back then, and I do not believe that is me now. However if I am to be sure that I am thought of as a person with a passion for teaching I need to set myself on a path of continuous improvement. Central to do that is to constantly seek feedback from my students and colleagues and to focus predominantly on the negative feedback. But it also requires me to be very self-reflective in my practice. By working to continuously fill the gaps in my own practice it will ensure that i will not become complacent in what is a very important job.
Senior Leader of Pedagogical Innovation and Mathematics Coordinator in Regional South Australia.
Opinions in this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.