How to Distinguish Between Substantive Feedback and Hate Speech

Tips for new teachers on how to deal with "one-star reviews"

Have you ever purchased a Kindle book? If so, you probably checked out the reviews. When a book has mostly four- and five-star reviews, you probably don’t pay much attention to a few one-star reviews, do you? And if you’ve ever actually read such a one-star review, the reviewer usually isn’t providing any substantive feedback. They’re usually bashing the author for having a different point of view on some trivial point. How is this related to your job as a school teacher? Well, we all have to learn to discern from the inevitable one-star review whether there’s anything substantive that can help us improve our craft. Are they solid critiques that can help us improve? Or are they just haters happy to be outraged about something? Here’s how you can tell…

What? Embracing Failure?

A not-so-novel idea for building a growth mindset

I saw this video over at, and it made a lot of sense. Imagine a world where students welcome — even seek out — tough critical feedback. No place for snowflakes in this program. The New Mexico School for the Arts trains students from the outset to expect failure, but to use it for personal growth. It’s okay to make mistakes. Encouraging this mindset allows students to accept constructive criticism and make improvements based on the feedback.

This is the essence of the growth mindset. At NMSA, students are taught that they can improve their abilities with effort. Just like playing an instrument, math ability is an acquired skill. Expect mistakes, especially if you are participating in a tough class. Criticism is tough to hear. For this reason, many students simply opt not to try without an iron-clad guarantee of instant success.

According to Dr. Carol Dweck, training this growth mindset should begin at a young age. Children being taught that mistakes are not only allowed, but should be anticipated, is contrarian in public schools. Most schools teach — perhaps unwittingly — that mistakes are bad. Cheating in secondary and post-secondary institutions runs rampant when this is the case.

As an entrepreneur, I have made a fair number of mistakes with business start-ups and failures, but I learned critical distinctions each time. As a husband, I have made miscommunications. As parents, my wife and I are certainly not batting 1.000.

Segue into parenting… Education starts in the home. The apple usually doesn’t fall far from the tree, so when I encounter classroom issues, I keep in mind that students are a product of those they spend the most time with — their parents. Or worse, absentee parents! So parents, I encourage you to learn all you can about a growth mindset. Fostering growth mindset from the start may even pre-empt many a meltdown during adolescence.

On Wise Use of Study Halls…

Just because you do not have an artifact-producing assignment to submit does not mean that there is nothing to do in Study Hall. Final exams are just around the corner, so start your preparation. Put the pedal to the metal, and finish hard. You’ve worked too hard to phone it in now…

And remember, there is always a next level. If you pursue the next level, you will surely experience success down the road.

Top Ten Honored at Annual Rotary Club Dinner

Each year, the local Rotary Clubs host the Top Ten Dinner to recognize the top ten students from the three valley schools — Sayre, Athens, and Waverly. And each year, there is a keynote speaker. This year’s guest was none other than Sayre graduate, Dr. Joseph Polinski.

Photo by Linda Noldy – val pals

Dr. Polinski’s speech echoed the concern of many educators. The message was a kind-hearted warning. In the quest for “collecting paper,” don’t overlook “collecting skills.” Joseph shared an emotional story of the event (along with the happy ending) that hastened his realization. He cautioned students to pause and reflect on what really matters. Accolades are meaningless if they don’t lead to the acquisition of skills. The number of ACE courses on your college application isn’t important unless you actually possess the skills the coursework implies.

Dr. Polinski then related that effort is the key to acquiring these skills. He reminded us of Edison’s statement that opportunities are often missed, because they come dressed in overalls and look like hard work. The Pareto Principle, known as the 80/20 Rule, was referenced next. As a Six Sigma Black Belt, Joseph was speaking my language when he explained how distinguishing the useful many from the vital few is what allows an individual — or an organization for that matter — to break the 80% barrier to become truly exceptional.

Dr. Polinski wrapped it all up when he indicated that it’s “pretty easy” to be “pretty good.” But hitting 80% isn’t exceptional. As Charles Osgood’s poem reminds us, pretty good is in fact pretty bad. Your journey is just beginning. Finish this junket hard as you springboard into the next phase.

Sayre’s Top Ten…

Photo by Daniel Polinski

(standing L to R):  Chloe Tracy, Kaitlyn Cron, Brandon Paris, Adriana Romano, Jeremy Marshall, Anna Moliski and Molly Ball; (seated L to R): Kaeli Sutryk, Andrea Noldy and Kaitlynn McCarter.

What did you do today that moves you in the direction of your life’s chief definite purpose?

Is Mobile Technology Addictive?

Although few would argue that mobile technology is one of humanity’s greatest inventions, one must ponder whether the average human even scratches the surface of what his or her mobile device’s capabilities. Today’s smart phone replaces a clock, a timer, a stopwatch, and an alarm clock. A calculator. A calendar. A reminder service. An email reader. An ebook reader. An Internet browser. A GPS device. A music player. An online course catalog. A home security platform. A banking tool. A heart rate monitor. A word processor. A spreadsheet. A still camera. A movie camera. A photo album. A F2F comm device… You get the idea. And that’s just native apps! Marvelous machines, for sure…

In schools, a day does not go by that youngsters can’t be seen walking the halls, head down, enchanted by their iPhone. I am a huge proponent of classroom technology. After all, I’m a blogger, an online course designer, and an author. But for most students, mobile technology seems barely more than an expensive texting machine that takes pictures and makes phone calls. Doubtful? Ask a high schooler what Nozbe is? How about Spark? Evernote? With so many great apps, why do most “screenagers” do more little than text, snap, and listen to music.