Why should we reward effort, and how

September 23, 2021

Let’s ponder...

Winners get a shiny trophy for their hard work, but does that mean those who didn’t win, didn’t work just as hard?

As we go through our journey through life, there will be times we achieve our goals and succeed, but there are also times we fail. As this is the reality, does that mean we should not acknowledge the fact that we tried our best? Does that also mean failing indicates we were not enough? Due to this common mindset, we tend to over celebrate our successes and beat ourselves up when we fail. This also dismisses the effort we put in as we try to reach our goals, and does not reflect the reason why we failed when we tried.

So, what happens if we reward our efforts instead and reflect on our failures?

Image from childbird

Effort is oftentimes underrated as it is not tangible compared to achievements where there are clear measurements for what is being achieved. Does that mean effort is not as important as the end result? Think of it this way, we treat our children to a special dinner because they were first in class, but what if they went the extra mile to stay after class and ask their teacher more about the lesson? The effort may not result in them being the top, but it's still worth celebrating! Similarly to failure, it does not mean it is the end of the world. Instead of penalising our children for failing, why not support them by identifying what went wrong instead? Instead of saying, “You are not good enough for this, that’s why you failed”, how about we say, “Is there anything we can do to help you with this?” The change of how we treat effort and how we reflect on failures could improve how our children journey through life in a more meaningful way.

How can we start rewarding effort at home?

Based on an article from The Mind and Soul Foundation on supporting teens and young people in unpredictable (exam) times, one of the toughest things that parents face is not being able to be in control of their children’s situations. When it then comes to children having to go through assessments or new experiences in life, parents play a role in managing expectations and being the support system when the going gets tough and cheer them as they try. As parents recognise and reward children’s effort and help them reflect on their failures, children have every chance of coming through the other side happy, healthy, and even having learnt something from it regardless of the result. This will increase their ability to deal with challenges in the future by building resilience and growing their capacity to greater heights.

How can schools start instilling a growth mindset?

According to an article by The Mind and Soul Foundation, on School's out for... Lockdown?! They explain that school is about so much more than learning, just as growing into an adult is about so much more than academic success. School teaches children valuable lessons - including how to focus and pay attention, motivation, creativity, problem-solving, resilience, persistence, and managing emotions like frustration and anxiety. In reference to that, students are more likely to respond positively to a reward if they believe they have some influence over whether or not they receive it. Let’s say, if a student is unmotivated to take an English test and you want to inspire them, relate the incentive to the amount of time spent studying for the test rather than the result they get.

In regards to failure, students may not always recognise the full learning potential of their failures and it is common for them to feel ashamed or to believe that success is out of reach. However, if schools take the step to support students in redefining what a mistake is, this teaches them an important lesson about improvement and learning.

How do we do this and what does this look like?

According to an article by Engaging Minds, in reference to Dan Pink, there are three areas in which parents, teachers, and schools can tap into when they focus on rewarding efforts over achievements. These areas include autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Here’s how:

1. Autonomy - “Wow! You’ve really worked hard on that task.”

Usually, children will come up to us and show us the end result of what they were working on, whether it was a drawing of a unicorn (or was it a dog?), a cool trick they learned, or a sport. Instead of waiting to be presented with an end result, praise them and encourage them WHILE they were working on it. Even if it isn't done or perfect, your child is likely to choose to try similar tasks in the future independently and without expecting a reward at the end.

2. Mastery - “You’re doing great! I bet it’s going to be even better the next time.”

If we keep rewarding children’s achievement, they will only want to continue doing a task or pursuing something because of the expectation they will get a prize when they succeed or stop because the task is done or it got harder to do. Change this by rewarding efforts. It motivates them to keep going and get better without the intrinsic expectation at the end.

3. Purpose - “What you’re doing right now is going to be worth it.”

Rewarding children for their efforts promotes a sense of purpose for them and tells them that by having the courage to try, it is going to be worth it. This also invites them to be a part of something bigger and to plan their own goals, which they will strive to achieve.

Always remember...

Giving our children the space they need to express their emotions is about balance - they need to feel heard and release what they are feeling without becoming drawn into wallowing, despair, or narratives of helplessness. Around us, there will always be negativity and pressure that invalidate the efforts and penalise failures. As educators, parents, and guardians of the leaders of tomorrow, there are better stories to tell. And remember - life is not all black or all white - encouraging through the journey and reflecting when things go wrong, is a step towards a meaningful journey for our children to venture in life.

Join us in conversation as we explore these ideas deeper in The HEART Course: Session R!

Pursuing perfection is less about achieving it, and more about having a spirit of excellence in all we do, to be the best version of ourselves as lifelong learners and inspire others to do the same. How do we help students strive for excellence in today’s world? Let’s explore this further in The HEART Course: Session R - Reach For Perfection.

The HEART Course is a free online course which creates a space where educators are excited to connect over ideas in education and start conversations that bring change to their classroom, school, and community.

In five sessions: H-E-A-R and T, you can WATCH discussions and best practices from global thought-leaders following five themes in education. There also conversation prompts to help your group of educators DISCUSS ideas after each video, and toolkits to APPLY what you have learned. Each session also has a growing curation of resources from over 30 education partners in Malaysia and beyond. Educators like yourself can CONNECT with these partners to bring students’ learning beyond the classroom!

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Leaps of Knowledge: The HEART Series