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Teaching Students to Accept Criticism

Teaching Students to Accept Criticism

Pat Hensley

I really don’t think we teach our students how to accept criticism and learn from it. Most teens get defensive and shut down but learning from criticism can be a positive experience if we choose for that to happen.

When I was trying to get my students into the work place, one of the items on their evaluations was a question about accepting criticism. This was a pretty broad statement. By accepting criticism from an employer, I wanted them to listen without becoming defensive, listen without giving excuses, listen to find out what they needed to do differently, and then actually do things differently to make the boss happy. I think I was expecting too much out of my students without actually teaching them all of those steps separately. A student isn’t born knowing these steps and needs to be taught them. This is such an important skill to learn in order to keep a job.

One of my biggest challenges was teaching my students with autism to accept criticism. They usually saw things in black or white and there was no gray area. It was really hard for them to understand that that sometimes they had to act differently in various situations. One of my students worked in a medical records office where he filed all of the medical folders. He was exactly on time to work, took his lunch time at the allotted time and returned back to work promptly. When it was time to leave at the end of the day, he left exactly when it was time to leave. He was such an excellent worker and was doing a great job. I was approached by the employer about one little problem though. Apparently he had learned that doctors were supposed to update the records by a certain time (I guess it was office policy) and some of them didn’t do that so my student scolded doctors who didn’t follow this rule. We had to have a conference to explain to my student that he did not have the authority to scold the doctors. Of course my student argued that the “rule” needed to be followed and had trouble accepting this criticism. We finally compromised by agreeing that following rules were important but there was also a rule that you could only scold people who work under you and not people that you work for. This seemed to click with my student and he was able to move on.

I think it is important to teach students different coping skills so that they can handle criticism they receive. Many times they take criticism as a personal attack and sometimes they need to learn to step back from the words and look at the big picture. They need to stop thinking that criticism means they are bad people and look for the behaviors that this criticism is addressing. It is alright to admit that criticism hurts our feelings because that is normal but we need to move past the hurt feelings in order to learn from them.

My students always learned best if I could come up with a procedure or steps for them to follow. So here are the steps that I think helped them.

If you are criticized:

1. Listen without interrupting. Keep an open mind and really listen without thinking about why you did what you did. Do not take what they are saying as a personal attack but as a way to make you better.

2. Restate the behavior that the person is having a problem with. Sometimes you might think they mean one thing but they really mean something else.

3. Ask the person what you could do differently.

4. Restate what they said you should do differently so you are sure that you understand.

5. Try this different way because it actually might be better.

Then I have my students role-play different situations so they can practice this behavior. It needs to be practiced like a fire drill so when the actual situation occurs, they will be prepared. I have little flash cards made up with the criticism on them. One student plays the boss and reads the card. The other student plays the employee and follows the steps. Then they switch roles.

I actually got to see it work on the job site so I was very proud of my students. Even some of the employers remarked about how well they took criticism and noted this on the job evaluation. I think this lesson was very successful with my students and will help them later in life also.

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