The Coach in the Classroom: Harnessing the Power of Praise


The Coach in the Classroom: Harnessing the Power of Praise

Think back to the most influential coach you’ve had in your life. What made them stand out? Chances are, they did more than just teach you the rules of the game or the steps of a routine. They inspired you to push your limits, celebrated your victories, and provided insightful feedback when you needed it the most. Likely, they even told you things that were hard to hear but you needed to hear in order to improve and thrive. Great coaches know how to motivate and guide their players towards success. What if we could bring that same mentality into the classroom?

In this article, we’ll explore how educators can adopt the role of a coach by implementing three core strategies: asset-based mindsets, precise praise, and excellence exchange. By understanding and applying these techniques, educators can create a supportive environment in which students feel empowered to learn and grow.

Asset-Based Mindsets

Educators who embrace an asset-based mindset with their students are often the ones who students remember years later. The educator who believed deeply in them, saw each student’s unique strengths and helped them shine through. Embodying an asset-based mindsets (also known as strengths-based mindsets) focuses on a student’s strengths to build them up and then use that newfound confidence to encourage them to try new and difficult things. This approach is a game-changer, especially when working with adolescents who often struggle with self-esteem and insecurity. Instead of focusing on students’ weaknesses or deficits, asset-based teaching emphasizes their unique strengths and differences as valuable resources for learning. This approach shifts the narrative from what students can’t do to what they can do.

Educator Activity

Student Surveys: What better way to gather quick and helpful data about each student than to ask them directly? Create a brief survey and ask what they expect of you as an educator, what they identify as their strengths and weaknesses, and what outside interests they enjoy. This should be fun and informative. Try sharing your findings and takeaways back to the class and offering versions of the survey at different points in the year to make the most of this project.
Rapport Building Roster: Create a roster where you make notes and track student strengths and breakthroughs. Use these notes to affirm future progress and to celebrate with students and share with families.

The impact of educators cultivating this mindset within themselves and embodying it in their learning environment will have dramatic ripple effects across their student population. By creating a supportive and empowering environment, educators can foster a sense of belonging and competence among their students. When students feel valued for their individual talents and contributions, they are more likely to engage in the learning process and achieve success.

Precise Praise

Praise is a powerful tool in education, but not all praise is created equal. Generic compliments like “good job” or “nice work” lack the specificity needed to reinforce positive behaviors effectively. Instead, educators should strive to provide specific feedback that acknowledges the effort, progress, and achievements of their students. Effective praise identifies something specific that the student can do that is replicable and states the positive impact of the action. This specificity helps students see how their actions connect to a positive outcome. 

Non-Examples of Praise

These non-examples lack specificity and fail to highlight specific behaviors or achievements, making them less effective in reinforcing positive behaviors and encouraging growth.

“Good job, everyone!”

“Nice work, class.”

 “You’re all doing great!”

“Keep it up, everyone.”

“Well done, students.”

Examples of Precise Praise

These examples highlight the student action and state the impact of that action.

“Sarah, I noticed how you used evidence from the text to support your answer. That shows you really understood the material.”

“Juan, your use of descriptive language in your writing really brought the scene to life for the reader.”

“Emily, I appreciate how you collaborated with your classmates during the group activity. Your teamwork helped the group achieve its goal.”

“Ahmed, I see that you revised your math problem-solving strategy based on our discussion yesterday. Your persistence paid off!”

“Lila, your presentation was well-organized, and your use of visuals helped clarify complex concepts for your peers.”

Educator Activity

Record yourself teaching and write down what you say when you give a student praise. Then determine if it’s precise enough to help them continue doing something well and also see the purpose in the action. If not, rewrite it as a form of precise praise and script it into your next lesson plan.

By being precise with their praise, educators can reinforce a growth mindset and validate students’ efforts in a meaningful way.

Excellence Exchange

Effective praise strikes a balance between affirmation and accountability. While it’s essential to celebrate students’ successes and achievements, it’s equally important to hold them to high standards and provide constructive feedback. By setting clear expectations and standards, educators can help students understand what’s expected of them, empower them to take ownership of their learning and achieve more for themselves. Incorporating constructive feedback alongside praise reinforces the idea that mistakes are opportunities for growth and improvement. By providing students with specific guidance on how they can improve upon their successes, educators can help them develop the skills and strategies more efficiently.

Many use a tactic known as the compliment sandwich: first you give somebody a compliment, then you give them some critical feedback, and then you close with another compliment. This works well when there is a clear second compliment to offer and the student knows how to move forward in response to the critical feedback offered. 

Oftentimes, it can be more direct and effective to have what I call an excellence exchange. An excellence exchange begins with recognition for something done well, a celebration of excellence achieved or a strength demonstrated. Even just getting started on the task is enough in some cases. Then the instructor or coach names an area for improvement or way to achieve further excellence. The final piece is to outline a clear path forward to address the area of improvement. 

Here’s where the instructor turns this into an exchange by asking if the student knows what they need to do to implement the guidance. This final step, establishing a pathway to success, increases the likelihood the student will succeed and instills confidence that the student has a clear path to follow. When executed well, this exchange affirms the student, gives them direction and allows them to ask for help if they need it.  

Visual of compliment sandwich

Visual of Excellence Exchange

Educator Activity

Review the examples below and reflect. What is the long-term impact of a classroom in which feedback is offered with this structure?

Partnering Praise and Feedback:

Strength: Your use of descriptive language effectively paints a vivid picture of the setting in the story.

Area for Improvement: To enhance the flow of the narrative, consider varying your sentence structure to create a more dynamic rhythm.

Pathway to Success: Experiment with incorporating shorter, punchier sentences alongside longer, more descriptive ones to maintain reader engagement.
Strength: Your active participation in class discussions demonstrates your enthusiasm for learning and willingness to engage with the material.

Area for Improvement: To ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute, try to balance your participation by allowing others to share their thoughts and perspectives as well.

Pathway to Success: In the next class discussion, make a conscious effort to listen actively to your classmates’ contributions and ask follow-up questions to encourage further discussion. This will create a more inclusive learning environment where everyone feels valued and respected.
Strength: Your organization and time management skills are evident in how you consistently complete your assignments on time.

Area for Improvement: To maximize your productivity and efficiency, consider breaking larger tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks and creating a schedule to allocate time for each task.

Pathway to Success: Next time you have a major assignment or project, try using a planner or calendar to map out specific deadlines and allocate time for planning, research, drafting, and revision. This will help you stay on track and avoid last-minute stress.

Feedback should be authentic, and while it might be obvious, it is worth stating that not all students need to receive the same feedback at the same time. However, all students deserve specific and tailored feedback at some time during their learning. One thoughtful and precise piece of feedback per student per lesson is an ambitious but achievable goal. Consider the impact one would have as a teacher who offers at least one piece of precise praise and feedback to each student daily. Those students would demonstrate a lot of growth in a school year and feel seen by their instructor.


Over time, by implementing precise praise alongside concrete actionable feedback, educators will cultivate a rich growth mindset culture within their learning environment. A growth mindset is essential for student success. Students who believe that their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work are more likely to persevere in the face of challenges and embrace opportunities for growth. 

As educators, our words can accelerate this process of students building a sense of belief in themselves. By adopting the role of a coach and implementing strategies like asset-based mindsets, precise praise, and accountability combined with praise we can create a learning environment in which every student feels valued, supported, and capable of success.

Effective praise is more than just empty words; it’s a catalyst for positive change and growth. By harnessing the power of praise, we can help our students develop the confidence, resilience, and determination they need to thrive in school and beyond. So let’s cheer on our students, celebrate their achievements, and guide them towards a future full of possibilities.

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About Winward Academy – Winward Academy is one of the world’s leading innovators in the online education space, providing web-based academic support that enhances students’ knowledge, confidence, and competitiveness in middle and high school academics and in college applications. We help thousands of students every year by providing personalized, comprehensive ACT and SAT test preparation and extensive math curriculum support. The Winward Academy learning platform honors over 40 years of education and cognitive psychology research, incorporating proven techniques that promote effective learning.

Winward Academy’s unmatched reputation is wholly attributable to our students’ exceptional success and to the trust earned among students, parents, and schools around the world.

Thomas O'Brien

Thomas O’Brien (Vice President of Success & Engagement) – Before joining Winward Academy, Mr. O’Brien was a nationally award-winning high school principal and math teacher. As an educator, he participated in the National Education Policy Fellowship through America Achieves. As a school leader, he participated in the Uncommon Schools Instructional Fellowship, the National Principal Academy Fellowship and Inclusive School Leadership Institute through the Relay Graduate School of Education, the Math For America School Leader Fellowship, and the Compass-in-Leadership Fellowship with Valor Collegiate Schools. Mr. O’Brien supports teachers and school leaders with ongoing data analyses, reports, intervention strategies, and engagement activities.