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.

When Will I Ever Need Math?

PaycheckAs a high school math teacher, I often hear this comment from my students: “When will I ever need to use math?” That’s a fair question. Here are a few compelling reasons I can offer students (and adults). See what you think. Notice that the level of math required increases as you move down the list.

The Oxymoron of Extra Credit

The nimiety of excuses that students offer to ask for extra credit near the end of a semester is truly remarkable. Regardless of the pretense, why ask for extra credit when the regular credit was not even attempted? Truly, extra credit is for the student who has completed all of the regular credit, and who wants to apply and synthesize what he’s learned in a challenging extracurricular way. This extension of curriculum aspect is why students never complete “extra” credit — because they can’t!