Published On: Monday, December 18, 2017|Categories: Education Info, Learning Environment, Parents, Student Health, Teachers, Tenney Subscribers|

For every teacher and administrator in our school, the goal is to build an environment where every student is able to achieve their maximum potential. That goal isn’t as simple as it sounds! Some kids are able to get A’s without putting in any effort at all. Other kids struggle to get B’s and C’s on a regular basis. Learning to embrace each student for their potential and offer them the tools for success is an ongoing process, but there’s one thing that has worked against many schools in the past: labeling kids as “smart.”

Why Not Offer Praise for Smarts?

Being smart–or not–isn’t something that a child perceives as being within their ability to change. They are either born with that innate intelligence or not, and while tools can be added to their arsenal to help improve their success, they know full well that they’re not going to be able to create significant change in their intelligence level.

Praising kids for being smart also offers a number of detrimental effects, including:

  • Trouble handling setbacks or dealing with situations in which they don’t know the answer
  • Struggles with motivation, since kids believe that if they’re “smart,” they should automatically know the answers or how to handle specific challenges
  • Increased instances of cheating due to the fact that they believe they should inherently know the answers
  • Difficulty from students who aren’t labeled as smart, since they believe that their failure is out of their control.

Focusing on whether or not a child is smart takes their academic potential out of their hands and gives the impression that it is set in stone. A child can’t change whether or not they’re innately “smart.” There are, however, several factors that control educational success that a child can change–and by providing them with the right tools and attitudes, parents and teachers alike can help catapult those children to future success. By encouraging this “growth mindset,” the partners in a child’s education can strongly influence the child’s concept of self and how they go about their daily tasks.

What to Praise Instead

Children absorb many of the things they’re told by the adults around them. Their parents, teachers, and other influential adults have the potential to shape the way they think of themselves. Students who are told that they “are” something–trustworthy, honest, hard workers–are more likely to behave in the way they’ve been told that others perceive them. As a result, it’s important that you carefully consider how you’re praising the students in your life. These attributes, all significant influences on academic success, are within a student’s control.

Hard work:

Is a student willing to work hard in order to complete projects, get good grades (as perceived by the individual, rather than shooting for that A), and learn more about what’s going on around them? Do they put in the effort, even when they don’t necessarily understand the content that’s being presented?


Everyone eventually finds that stumbling block where they will struggle to understand a particular subject or concept–or perhaps that project that is more challenging to complete than they initially thought. Does the student dig in and persevere, rather than giving up?


What attitude does the student bring to the table? Do they approach the school day with a great attitude, ready to learn? Are they on time, with their materials together? In many cases, attitude can have more to do with learning than inherent intelligence.


“Wow, you’ve really improved in this area!” That’s one sentence that every student needs to hear. Every student doesn’t come from the same starting place, and seeing progress is the goal of every teacher. When your student improves substantially, offer them the praise they need to start seeing what they’ve accomplished.

Individual accomplishments: 

“Wow, you did that really well!” “You’ve accomplished something amazing.” Removing the “smart” label doesn’t mean failing to praise students for the things they do well. Rather, it means praising them for the things they’ve been able to accomplish: taking note of the effort they’ve put in and using the awareness of that effort to help move them on to their next project.

Learning to remove the “smart” label takes time. It’s easy to look at a child and label their initial intelligence. That indicator, however, is not a measure of how far the child will go or what their success in school will look like. By avoiding telling children that they’re smart, it’s possible to substantially impact their overall academic performance in the future–and it’s a change that is well worth the effort. If you want a school where every child is encouraged to succeed, regardless of perceived intelligence, contact us today to learn more about what we can offer your student.

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