“Great Job” and Other Phrases Crippling Our Kids

I realize I have a horrendous habit of giving empty feedback to others. You might say I’m the big bright “Great Job!” sticker on the top of the test. I’ll give you a brief pick-me-up but am useless in terms of growth.
I often play riveting games of chance with my son. Games like Candyland and Trouble. He’ll roll a six and I’m always there with an “Awesome job buddy!” At least I used to be. No longer am I offering praise based on acts of luck, even when his needy eyes fall on me, seeking approval. I’ve taken the same stance as a teacher. I do my best to avoid an isolated “Great job” or “You’re awesome!”


People successful in relationship also succeed as encouragers. But it seems today we have a misconception of encouragement. We often compliment, thinking we’re offering encouragement. For example, the symbol of today’s society is the participation trophy.


We’re taught to “encourage one another and build each other up,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Some translations of this same verse use the word edify which means to instruct or benefit. How did our acts of encouragement and building get confused with complimenting? Now we’ve opened up the runway for Entitlement to make its landing. Unfortunately Entitlement’s luggage, filled with perseverance and grit, has been lost somewhere on the other side of the world.  


“Great Job!”
The worst thing you could can say to a growing mind.
“Great Job!”
Two words said repeatedly as everyone receives a trophy for participation.
Giving someone undeserved recognition is a damaging act.


The receiver of this message is left to draw their own conclusions.
    “Man I’m awesome!”
    “Wow, people like me.”
    “Life’s all about luck, and boy do I have it today.”
    “I’ve arrived!”
Ephesians 4:29 says, ”Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
The phrase “Great job” does not benefit the receiver of these words unless it is followed by an affirmation, specific to the task. Like: Great job trying repeatedly until you figured it out. Great job using your resources to help you problem solve.
Said in isolation, any compliment is not helpful for building others up according to their needs. When I think of building I think of constructing something on a strong foundation. “Great job” lacks any foundation.


Much research on education points to feedback as being one of the most influential factors of student learning. This aligns with Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”


May our words benefit those around us as we provide affirmation specific to their trials and accomplishments!

If you’re looking for more examples of my faulty responses to students, check out “Responding to Distractions: Shhh, Not Now!”


The Problem with “Old School”

In her reflections on faith and art Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “It has often struck me with awe that some of the most deeply religious people I know have been, on the surface, atheists.” In the same way the traditional vision for education is its biggest enemy.

The “Deeply Religious”

It’s easy for traditions to turn into a checklist of rules to follow. The biblical example of this being the Pharisees who were caught up in their teaching of irrelevant laws. These laws were initially aligned under God but when Jesus came and made it a direct relational game for all who believe, the Pharisees were too hardened to move off their teachings.
Jesus repeatedly declares them “hypocrites” and “blind guides”.
Some excerpts from Jesus’ rant against the teachers of the law and Pharisees (Matthew 23):
“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

The Education Traditionalist

background photo credit: Charlie Stinchcomb flickr

I think I notice this same disconnect with individuals that have climbed to the top of academia without ever truly learning or teaching. In this case education is the process of achieving a rank. Does a degree necessarily equal automatic qualification? Success in life should never be associated with one’s worldly appointed status.


I do believe schooling can powerfully develop and grow an individual as long as it is paired with relationships along the way. Unfortunately it is easy to pound through classes and degrees in isolation. The academic structure is setup to promote a single aspect of intelligence, limiting the product of our education.


The Pharisees along with the “standardized” educator are good people with good intentions as they strictly follow an outdated and irrelevant set of practices. A belief depositing them in a land of judgement and control.


Guiding the students without controlling them is a real struggle the teacher faces every minute in the classroom. The same probably goes for leaders and parents.


Predictability in Education: An Epidemic

Should we strive for predictability in education? Schools now use assessments to predict a student’s standardized test score. Yes, tests to predict tests, and it’s quite accurate as well.


So this is the process for the “accomplished” teacher. She assesses her students in the same manner, over the identical content as the state standardized tests. These results show her which students are in danger of not passing. Then the teacher focuses her standardized drill techniques on these select students, desperate for the kids to answer one or two more questions right on the state test, resulting in the teacher keeping the label of “accomplished”.


Predicting the Future. Or Not.

Woohoo! What a thrill ride this profession offers! While the industrial revolution was an exciting time, I’m not sure the education sector should be striving for the same predictable productivity. Actually, I would argue that the future workforce is harmed by this practice. If we can’t even predict what careers will be waiting for these students, why would we choose to equip them with such a finite skill set.


I see how knowing the future would save us from unnecessary risk but, I also see the coming years and decades being as unpredictable as ever. Technology has that way about it. If there was ever a time to promote unconventional thinking and the exploration of ideas, it is today!   


In his book The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry says, “we do less than we’re capable of because we don’t want to deal with the consequences of disapproval at the end of the process.” It’s devastating to know that many in education succumb to this. Sadder still, when teachers carry this concept they embed the same attitude in their students. So many talents and gifts are jammed into the hidden closet in the back room, limited by the restraints of conformity.


The Shift

And know that this doesn’t mean we’re abandoning foundational skills. Exactly the opposite. We attempt to take those skills and move them to spark creativity and art, therein stimulating life! Actually creativity needs to be considered a foundational skill. It too is something that can be nurtured and developed. For this, the Maker Space and Genius Hour are important trends in the classroom.
Share and interact through ideas. It’s an exciting time to be an educator!


Peace in collaboration


Past posts like this:

Calling All Millennials!

Fit to Teach

The millennial generation comes off as the Coolest people! Millennials are all the right things: Both artistic and unconventional, purpose-filled, unselfish, invested in their local community.
Did I mention how cool they are? They make me want to give everything away and live in a solar-powered tiny house.
(FYI: According to wikipedia I missed the millennial generation by just one year, so I consider myself borderline cool.)
I’m such a fan of this group of people because they have the raw make-up of the ideal teacher. A stereotypical millennial is exactly what education needs. She is invested in the local product and desires a connection with her work. She is deterred by the mundane, while engaged with inquiry and creating. This is the mentality that students need from their educators.

The Millennials have stretched the professional world to look beyond traditional qualifications and credentials. There are more ways to learn something than sitting in the classroom and passing the occasional test. I admire this generation’s courage to try new things and learn through inquiry. They admit to not knowing all of the answers. How refreshing! The worst thing we could have is a teacher who knows all the answers. Somewhere along the line we mistakenly took the label of “professional” to mean “a field know-it-all”. We’d be better off to prefer vulnerability and honesty.

(My previous post Regaining Purpose goes into more detail about maintaining a right vision for teaching and learning)

The Master Teacher

Looking at the book Twelve Ordinary Men it’s obvious Jesus was a master teacher to the disciples because he developed each in their unique characteristics. Each was groomed according to the individual. You see each personality come out, although it’s been refined on a personal level.

But those fixed and hardened teachers combat a hopeful future. Their students soon believe that there is only one right answer.

It’s possible I’ve idolized the millennial a tad, but I simply admire the perspective they represent. It shouldn’t be about climbing the ladder, instead commit to your exploration and be grateful for each discovery.

Disclaimer: I understand I have drawn a wide stereotype of the millennial and have not discussed the negative attributes.
I feel they’re entitled to their share of positive publicity.

Ryan Hershey see my blog at

“Data vs. Story” The Debate is Everywhere

Data versus Story.
I see these two perspectives battling it out in many facets of life.

The statistical approach is demanded in schooling and marketing. The analytics are desperately consulted by sports franchises looking for the slightest edge. Even churches can begin to define themselves by the numbers.

The old idea of Story, determining meaning through interactions and connections with others, remains critical. It’s not as shiny and at times it’s uncomfortable, but its proven to work in everyone of the fore mentioned categories.

In Education

As an educator I’m trained to chase anything that provides a glimmer of hope. (This is also why I fit the persona of the typical Cleveland sports fan.) Education decision makers are enamored with data-driven instruction, standardized assessments, and progress monitoring because these things provide a quick picture. A simple number that is easy to understand. This makes it easy to calculate the next move without understanding the story and all of its variables.

Our analytical nature and our desire to understand and interpret everything sometimes takes over. Like Philip when Jesus fed the 5,000. He was crunching the numbers attempting to figure out how much it would cost to feed the crowd. While Andrew didn’t require a clear numerical answer. He just directed the few loaves and fish to the One who chooses to work through relationship and story (John 6:1-15). The Creator of humans seemed to choose story over data in this case.
    -Sidenote: If you’re looking for a model, Jesus’ preferred teaching strategy was and is  personal connection and parables.

I have faith in our teachers because the initial desire to be a teacher is rooted in building relationships with students. There are teachers fighting off the confines of data with strategies like genius hour and maker space that are based on the personal connection between the student and her learning. This educational design also relies on human interaction and processing the world around us.

In Marketing

For so long business and marketing has been about precise decisions based on consumer statistics. Now, the modern business model is seeking to build value through growing relationships with honest generosity. See the marketing philosophy of Seth Godin or Donald Miller’s StoryBrand as examples.

In Church

Too often the blinders of the flesh take over and measure worth according to the attendance numbers or financial giving. I’m sure the book has been written, 10 steps to become a mega church. The struggle is the same here as it is in business, sports, or school. The temptation to see quick results and affirm one’s impact is constant. The longstanding church is relationship-driven utilizing authentic connections between people.

In Sports

Professional sports is going the opposite direction, putting an increased emphasis on the analytics while placing team chemistry in the backseat. Franchises are using extreme equations to determine their most productive roster. Check out the movie Moneyball as evidence of this mentality.
But we can’t solely rely on statistics. It is the reason we can never accurately compare players across decades and generations, because we can’t isolate statistics in a bubble. If we could then it’s easy to conclude that Karl Malone was the second best NBA player of all-time (second in career points). Also Drew Bledsoe was a better quarterback than Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, and Bart Starr (more passing yards).

We’d be silly to make these claims without considering the never ending variables. 

Choose Story

No matter the industry, the best teams and franchises pair good players with great team chemistry.

Our mind and thoughts are driven by the concept of story, it’s the only way we can determine meaning in our lives which are pushed by so many unpredicted variables. I have no doubt that story is intended to better the human being. There’s even a data based book that proves this: Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story.

Go ahead and attempt to map out your days and years ahead using statistics and a linear equation. Let me know how accurate your hypothesis is to reality. 
Instead engage with those around you while acting according to your established vision.

Ryan Hershey see my blog at

Lead Them From Darkness: But Where’s the Light?

I attended a seminar recently where the instructor shared the etymology of the word “educator”.
  • “duc” being the Greek meaning for -leader.
  • “e” or “ex”, translates to meaning -out of, -from.

So as christians intend to be light for the world, educators also hope to lead others from  darkness. For christians, I think the definition of “light” and “dark” is made pretty clear. Being in the light is being near God. It is not the life situation or circumstance that determines the brightness or dimness, it is purely the state of one’s relationship with God.

  36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
   we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[a]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    -Romans 8:36-39

          Though in education the definitions of light and dark have become muddled. Is “light” simply knowledge? For the sake of humanity, I hope not! In this case I find it easier to examine the darkness in order to discover its counterpart.
I do believe educators are meant to lead people out of ignorance. For me this clearly defines darkness. Not ignorant of subject areas (history, math, science, etc.) but ignorant of life and the nature of people. A complete lack in understanding one’s self, a deformed concept of community and relationships.
Therefore leading students from darkness is exploring the intricacies of life. The warmth of the light pours over us as we discover the value of all things around us. Seeking understanding of human systems while finding the flaws of the human heart.   
I suppose in faith and in education, the idea of light and dark is quite similar. The enemy’s tactics remain constant: isolate and disconnect the object. I pray no student finds darkness in my classroom.
Be Light: Desire to know each student and be genuinely persistent.   
Peace in seeking!
Ryan Hershey see my blog at

Why My Class Will Not Be Efficient

What a disservice it would be…To bring together 25 uniquely made children, each boasting uncommon experiences, uncontainable interests, various upbringings, and then disregard all of that for the teacher’s pompous plan.


Would you rather have your child become a creator or a cog? A cog is formed to fit into one specific spot and maintain one duty. That gear may look nice and shiny on the outside with its refined skill-set, but it performs limited functions. A creator is surely interactive, artistic, and dynamic. The needed environment for developing these two would be quite different.


The making of a cog:

One must be told where to go and what to do requiring strict training and redundancy. A controlled environment removed from all variables. Very efficient!



The making of a creator:

A creator must draw deep understanding of herself and the world around her from authentic experiences. The creator engages and explores available resources and surroundings.
I hope the image on the right displays the characteristics of my classroom community this year. (Which of the two pictured neighborhoods would you rather visit?)

Jon Acuff suggests that relationships are not designed to be efficient but instead messy. I struggle with this since I’m working towards being a more relational teacher to my students. But again I think this boils down to our personal intentions. If my intention is to deliver as much content as possible to my students then I must forfeit in the area of relationship. If my intent is to stand with my students through support, encouragement, and authentic interactions then I’m going to have to concede strict control over the specifics of student learning.

Many teachers have the syllabus structured and set no matter what kid walks in the door. These teachers embrace efficiency while neglecting creativity and student autonomy.
Without knowing the future world our youth will grow up in, I think a focus on social-emotional development will serve them better than a strict academic agenda. It will also give them the tools to better navigate their learning as young adults and in their eventual professions.


I will take depth and vulnerability over efficiency. This philosophy will grow life-long learners much more than the teacher that covers a large quantity of content on the surface, which obviously lacks genuine engagement.  Which results in a healthier person?
Here’s too a “messy” year!

See also: “How to Avoid a Shallow Education”
Ryan Hershey see my blog at

The Way We’re Made to Learn

“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How about now?” Curiosity can be annoying sometimes. Especially when it is the persistent kind. Don’t worry parents and teachers,  it’s been documented that we, as humans ask less and less questions as we age. On the surface this might sound relieving to the exhausted caretaker, but I actually find it quite concerning. I’d much rather be surrounded by learners who question and search for truth, rather than ones who just want to know they’re right. Unfortunately I’ve witnessed education that has produced the latter.

We label children as being naive and ignorant when really the adults are the ones too busy with the mundane to engage with what matters, resulting in a harmful ignorance. So often today I find people are fighting to be heard (myself included), instead of a people who first: engage, explore, research, and consider.

I see a shift in our curiosity as we age. Children ask questions and explore based on genuine personal interest. As adults our curiosity is driven based on a motive to be right, and to build support for our predetermined position. When does such a shift happen? What are we doing to cause this? 

Why don’t we follow the development methods God has used in reaching His people spiritually. He speaks to us using a personal authentic experience, our inquiry, and then application of what has been learned. Obviously God knows how His creation learns best, so why don’t we use this same model in our academic process.

Why would God choose to leave us with such wonder and mystery, not only about this world but also about who He is? I think he desires His learners to have a healthy practice of wrestling in wonder and deeply exploring curiosities that result in perspective, overarching respect, and of course wisdom. I look to C.S. Lewis as being a fantastic model of this, and boy did he land on those three resulting characteristics.  

So teach them to explore and to be curious. Let’s be quick to question, thorough in seeking, and slow in concluding. For if our kids can maintain and engage their curiosity over time they’ll be equipped for a life full of learning. When God draws their attention to Himself, these learners, filled with curiosity, will not dismiss it or misinterpret the encounter. They will engage, seek, and discover who He is. I this this concept of inquiry learning closely relates to “God’s Vision for the Classroom” (a past post).

Imagine how better prepared our kids would be if we didn’t just quickly give them an answer loaded with bias, but took the time to wonder, inquire, and discover along side them. This world would be relieved of much hate and ignorance.

What do you wonder about? Engage your wonder. You will not be disappointed!

Ryan Hershey see my blog at

Why I Love Being a Teacher

Wait, Wait, Wait!!! Before you close this out of disgust expecting to hear about me laying under the sun on the beach…Yes it is easy to say “I love being a teacher” at the beginning of summer but, please hear me out.

I can honestly say that my current mindset is not “which tanning oil is best for achieving a Greek-like golden tone,”  but “how can I be better for my students in the upcoming year.” 
That is the reason I love teaching, much more even than summer break. I love that I get a fresh shot at being the best teacher for my students every year. Maybe it is the lifelong Cleveland sports fan in me saying “next year is the year”. And maybe this just speaks to my short comings and deficiencies as a teacher, but I’d like to think that I just want to be better for my kids. Believe me, I’ve had lessons and even units epically fail. I’ve had students that I know I didn’t reach. To these failures I think I’ve found the answer! I will be better next year because of this solution! While I have lofty aspirations for the start of every new school year, I think I’ve discovered something foundational that will make this one great. 
Here it is…
My leading desire will be achieving a closeness with the students. More than curriculum, more than control or power, more than student academic growth. I aspire to be relational first. This was and is obviously the desire of Jesus and he was able to make miraculous progress with a pretty rough classroom. 
It’s easy to state this as a mindset and leave it at that. Although to make the desired impact on the students it will need to be at the foundation of every decision I make this year. Lessons will revolve around inquire and self-reflection. Classroom management will be a shared responsibility, empowering students to recognize the importance of accountability. Even mundane tasks will carry a collaboration. Every person in the class will be a needed resource.
Now, how will I do this… 
and that is what the summer is for!   
Peace in the preparation
Ryan Hershey see my blog at

Responding to Distractions: Shhh, Not Now!

Let me start by saying, it’s much easier to be reflective on this topic after numerous days of spring break. A week since I last “shush”-ed a student or attempted to ignore the annoyance of constant pencil tapping.
Oh the overwhelming distractions! Don’t these kids know they’re interfering with the agenda I have for their learning?
Though it doesn’t end there, I have this same frustrated, selfish response to my son whining about his Lego creation that won’t stay together.
And the same response still when my wife reminds me that the porch light is still burnt out.

How can I possibly accomplish MY “greater purpose” or MY agenda when God is allowing all of these irritating interruptions to slow me down?
My most popular selfish reaction to these distractions is always motivated by my intent to simply eliminate the distraction. My intolerant attempt to dispose of the disturbance always results in damaging relationships. This behavior obviously does not represent my Lord who lovingly values relationship.
As I struggled with an understanding of how to respond to distractions, the sacrificial practices of Lent came to mind. During this time of preparation, many give up stuff in an effort to draw nearer to God. Surely this could fall into the category of simply eliminating distractions. Are we actually less distracted and more devoted, or do we just find other convenient distractions? I’m not sure God wants us to simply eliminate the distraction. It’s much more productive and sustainable to evaluate the distraction and reflect on the reason behind it.
As a teacher I often find myself submitting to the easy response of dismissing, ignoring, or even disciplining the distraction. I’ve taken the tapping pencil and I’ve shushed the chatterbox. Did Jesus ever have to face disturbances? How did He respond?
First, I think most the miracles He performed were prompted due to a so called distraction. But I’m choosing to highlight one that took place while he was teaching.
(Luke 5:17-39) Jesus is teaching to a packed house, literally. The audience included both his followers as well as Pharisees and scribes who opposed Him. Needless to say, it is already a challenging classroom environment. To add to this, a group of men start digging a hole through the roof, dropping chunks of the clay ceiling on the room before finally dropping a person down the hole. Talk about a distraction! How does Jesus respond to this rude interruption of his teaching? He evaluates the distraction, sees a need and a desire. He gracefully responds by understanding the need and tending to it, amid an otherwise chaotic situation.
What a lesson about recognizing the teachable moments! Jesus views distraction as opportunity instead of annoyance.
So what will be my reaction when my son, student, spouse, or stranger is digging through the roof to get my attention? Will my response be one of selfishness or grace?

As I mature…err…get older, I’m finding my God takes great notice to the fine details in the daily process of life. I think He is more concerned with the nature of my constant interactions with others (how I respond to distraction), rather than some achievable end product. I’m confident He’ll continue to offer opportunities (distractions) for me to develop a better story through Him.

Ryan Hershey see my blog at