Praise, Instruct, Evaluate: How to Help Your Board Members Develop Skills

person writing notes on her notebook

When I was in graduate school at Louisiana State University, I audited a life-changing course on pedagogy.

How could pedagogy, the study of instruction itself, be life changing?

It involved a souffle cup of cherry pie.

One day, our professor Dr. Kennedy brought in a tray of souffle cups, each filled with a single spoonful of cherry pie.

As she walked among the desks, handing out the souffle cups, she told us about the praise/instruct/evaluate model.

First, she said, you praise the student’s work. You talk about what has been done well in the current assignment and the progress they’ve made.

Next, she said as she continued to weave through our desks with the remaining souffle cups, you instruct the students in how to correct the errors they’ve made. Do not criticize them for their errors; instead, instruct them on how to improve.

Finally, she said, lowering the tray as a student received the last of the souffle cups, you evaluate the student’s work. Assign the grade only after you’ve praised their work and progress and instructed them on improvements.

This set of instructions on the nature and best practice of instruction itself changed the way I looked at my personal interactions, not just how I worked with my students to learn how to be better writers.

I realized immediately that this was the kind of instruction I’d needed all my life but had rarely received. I knew it was how I would need to interact with others from that point on. It’s what we all want and need.

How does this apply to nonprofit boards?

If you’ve got board members who need help—and what organization doesn’t?—then apply this model.

  1. Praise a board member’s work up to now. No board member is an utter failure; find out what he or she is good at and praise it.
  2. Ask if the board member is open to feedback. If she or he says yes, then offer instructive suggestions about something that’s a sticking point for him or her. It’s easy enough to observe what these are, and even easier is to offer instructive suggestions about something the board member has noted already.
  3. Evaluation in this case won’t involve letter or number grades. Instead, return to the previous praise and, if there’s a parallel between it and the sticking point—that is, if the board member has skills in one area and could apply them to a problem in a different area—then offer that as an observation. Or find another way to recommend steps to take. Be prepared before going into the conversation. Evaluate for growth.

I learned more in Dr. Kennedy’s class that I’d ever learned before, including having taught college students myself during my master’s program and having had a mother who was a university instructor. Of the many things I took with me from that course, the praise/instruct/evaluate model was one of the longest lasting.

Praise, instruct, evaluate, and watch your board members blossom.

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