29 Comments

  1. Paul vanOosten

    Well said, George. I have never written, but I read all your posts. This one struck a chord with me. I’m a math-science teacher, since 1981, and have never been a writer. Yes, I do notice grammar and punctuation errors, but I attribute those to writing quickly and sending it off; it’s like emails, not intended to be perfect but to communicate, and that you do in spades.
    Thanks for sharing. Keep it up and don’t let the ‘nit-pickers’ take the wind out of your sails.

    E&OE

  2. As an English teacher, I have discovered that parents love to show their kids when I make mistakes in correspondence I send home. It often is in the spirit of “gotcha,” when the student walks in to the classroom to noisily announce, “My mom said you need a comma here!” I have a thicker skin about it now, (in my younger years I felt utter shame), and even have a response ready. (“Oh, yes, sometimes people forget that English teachers are humans.”) Incidentally, I make mistakes all the time, and one of my most common error is the our/are problem you described. Thank you for your writing, George. It is a gift to the world.

  3. Duke Lines

    Thank you George for sharing your internal thoughts and insights into this matter. I feel like many people are discouraged to write or share their journals/blogs as a result of this “fear” of criticism or mistakes. I appreciate your sense of wonder and courage to just put it all out there and further the conversation. It is inspiring and I hope to begin blogging and challenging my own growth instead of staying quiet and comfortable. Hope all is well.

  4. Tracy Mayhue

    Echoing what Paul said! Thank you George for communicating your thoughts and ideas. As a big fan of your work, and one who has considered writing, but has not taken the plunge, I resonated with this post as well. You’ve beautifully articulated so well why I, and possibly many others, have not yet blogged about our work. I am an Educator who also has a learning challenge . . . with writing specifically. Grammar is like another language to me (and other aspects of writing are equally tough -even with support). Emotional Intelligence though is another story. I have the opportunity to connect with students and fellow educators about the key role of EI in the learning process and I love it. I’m sure grammatical (& even spelling) errors abound in this comment, yet I hope what comes through is a deep appreciation and admiration of your work. Please keep letting us hear your voice. It lets some of us better understand our own.

    P.S. Paul’s comment about “writing quickly and sending it off”: so true!

  5. Thanks for this post George. I am sure I am one of those bloggers who makes errors each time I write. I find it a bit weird that people would make comments on a post that pick up on small errors – what is the point? Why try to bring someone down.
    I remember meeting you at one of the BIT conferences in Niagara Falls. The encounter was so positive and friendly, you encouraged me as an educator and as a blogger. I really appreciated the positive nature of that encounter.
    I think we always learn more from positive encounters. The negative ones can be instructive, but criticism needs to be delivered with kindness for it to be effective.
    I am now a retired educator which has allowed me to be more critical of established educational institutions than I could have been as a principal. I have received great support from people like Doug Peterson and Steven Hurley, and this encouragement has propelled me to write more. I sometimes feel like I am writing for an audience of two or three, but at least there is some audience out there that reads and comments on my posts.
    What I do find bizarre and rather hurtful are the people who disagree with what I write but who respond by actually blocking me on Twitter.
    To my knowledge, this has only happened once, but I truly don’t understand this behaviour.
    If something you read upsets you, how does it help to block out that voice? How can you continue a conversation when you turn off the speaker?
    Blogging is a risk. Everytime you hit the publish button you really don’t know what will happen next. People may like your writing, some will ‘unfollow’ you and I guess in rare cases you might be blocked.
    As a blogger, what I would rather see would be a response. If you disagree with what is written, write back. It may take more time, but it shows more respect for the writer.
    All that being said, positive comments are appreciated too!
    Thank-you for being the inspiration for this piece of writing!
    I hope your day goes better.

    • Dr. Janelle Woodward

      Hi George! I just started reading your blog and applaud your leadership! After serving as a principal for more than 15 years at the elementary, middle and high school level before moving to a district office position, I appreciate the challenges that each day brings – each day is a new adventure! So as you are going far beyond the day to empower other fellow leaders and share your heart and struggles, just know that your words inspire and help those of us doing the work to not feel so alone. :)So…thank you!!!

  6. George,

    I find that I am more comfortable giving criticism/feedback when I have a relationship with that person. Fortunately/Unfortunately, sometimes the person on the receiving end doesn’t feel we have as close as a relationship as I think we do!

    One tool that I have found and use is Grammarly (https://www.grammarly.com/) which can check for spelling and grammar errors in text fields on web pages. Not a perfect tool, but it catches much more than I do on my own. It also doesn’t work with every web page, but I find for me, the times it works outweighs the time it doesn’t.

    I’m also reminded of the Teddy Roosevelt quote (and also said by many others in many ways), “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”

    Keep making mistakes!

  7. I wonder how many brilliant minds have been shut down simply because of errors in writing conventions… and then it makes me think deeply about how many voices have been silenced over centuries because they did not speak in the accepted form. Spelling and grammar have always come easily to me, and errors in writing used to be my pet peeve. However, I also noticed, as a teacher, how much people ignored WHAT kids were writing because they were too busy nitpicking the errors. I love that you used that exact phrase, because that’s exactly what it is. Nitpicking. I want kids to WRITE to share their thoughts with the world. If I obsess over their conventions, they won’t want to even try. This is one of the reasons I don’t edit their journaling or blogging… they need to be able to get their thoughts out without criticism. We learn to edit as we become stronger writers, but the thoughts come first. Thanks for writing and sharing your experience, George. Edusnobbery comes in a lot of forms, and there really isn’t a place for it if we TRULY want more for ourselves and our students.

  8. […] out there”, I encourage you to A: follow them, you can’t not be inspired, and B: Read this post by George Couros, who challenges the notion that the publish button equals perfection. As someone who absolutely […]

  9. Thank you for your post today! As a beginning edublogger (only 3 published), I have been worried about criticism. I am not concerned about a dialogue starting, in fact that is what I hope will happen but I am concerned about “Yet one comment within the first few weeks of its release from an educator was this; “You spelled Carly Rae Jepsen wrong.” That was it. No congratulations, no challenging of ideas, just a pointing out of an error. I asked, “Is that all you got out of the book?”, and I am not sure that I ever received an answer. ” I often cringe at grammatical and spelling mistakes in books and blogs but I pass them by for the real message that is waiting in the words written. Again Thank you for often writing what I think and sometimes for giving me a different perspective on a topic.

  10. Sarah Chauncey

    A million thanks for this reflection. Your thoughtful posts are some of the best I have ever read. Published authors have content and line editors to catch and correct the numerous errors in their drafts. Your posts are exemplary. I am certain that you edit your work before posting. Line editing requires another set of eyes. To all who criticize, start writing…

  11. George you are a very powerful writer! Spelling and grammar mistakes bug me, but not enough to stop reading! Honestly, I have only ever offered feedback to a couple of my colleagues, and only if they wanted it. The beauty of blogging is in the personality and voice of the writer and your voice is important and powerful. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I agree that what goes around comes around, especially to those of us who can come across as critical. Thanks for the reminder, about the person on the other side of the screen..

  12. George,
    As someone who has been on every end of the spectrum: someone who was once that English teacher who couldn’t help myself from criticizing a grammar point, one who has benefited from your constructive criticism, and one who has been debilitated by pressing publish on my own blog because of the fear of spelling errors, and one who now, because of your encouragement worries less about that, I am so grateful for this. This post is important because it reminds us about the importance of relationships as well as how we sometimes squash others (and their passions) by focusing on minutia. Of course it is important to articulate your ideas effectively, but putting out ideas which make an impact and inspire others is more important. I think there is a lesson in this post for all of us especially as teachers of young people and I for one am grateful that you are always willling to expose yourself by putting your thoughts and learning out for the world (us) to benefit.

  13. Amy Garoutte

    What a great post. Thank you for sharing. I started reading Social LEADia last night and I was touched by your memories of a presentation when two students posted rude remarks on Twitter about your presentation. You are so inspiring and have such an important message, yet even your feelings can be hurt by unkind criticism. That message and this post really help to build my confidence when dealing with criticism. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and providing regular inspiration to educators everywhere!

  14. Nicole

    You nailed it with naming this type of feedback as a “Gotcha” moment. And delivery is key, as you say!

    I have gotten a lot of success from giving feedback to my grade 7 students in the form of questions instead of statements. “Please state exemples.” versus “Can you find exemples to support this point?”. Guess which one encourages students to improve their work and re-submit it? 😉 I find a question is more like a conversation, and students naturally look for an answer after reading it.

    In life, in general, it is good to ask ourselves if we offer feedback for self-satisfaction (often unsolicited) or, as you say, because we care about the person improving.

    The feedback that demotivated me as a “doer” still stay in my memory, which shows how impactful they were. I worked so so so many hours on a science fair last year and a parent had one comment for me: “The music was too loud”. Really? That’s all you got for me, the educator that worked hard and pushed your child to explore a science topic and present it to a public?! I didn’t invest the energy in a science fair this year.

    I organized a trip to Algonquin Park and the very few negative comments from parents had me promise I would never organize another trip in my volunteer time. I didn’t feel that my efforts were appreciated.

    This takes me back to one of your quotes: you have to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear. Taking the time to share positive feedback and appreciation can be very powerful, with students and teachers.

  15. George,
    You are one of those wise ones who criticizes by creating. Beautiful blog posts, leadership in schools and universities around the world, empowering teachers to do the best for students. You have learned to criticize the status quo by creating new educational worlds for us to envision. Thank you for that and for this.

    Your post reminds me of the #teacherswrite feature #FeedbackFriday, which just started today. The order of feedback given is set:
    1) What works?
    2) What doesn’t work?
    3) Do you want to read more?

    The authors receive and respond to others’ feedback on their own writing and give feedback on others’ writing, but the order is mandatory. They know the importance of what you say here. It is easier to take constructive criticism when there is a sincere appreciation for the work shared.

    Sincerely,
    Denise Krebs

  16. George,

    I have a question about your writing process. I’ve noticed that you are able to use a lot of quotes to develop or emphasize your ideas. It’s impressive not just the quotes themselves, but the variety of places you pull quotes from. Is there a process you use to gather/store/organize these for later use? I would love to find a system. While I seem to find a lot of quotes from books that I’ve read, it’s hard to keep track of them all.

    Thanks,
    Chris

    • George

      Thanks Chris! One of the things that I try to do is share ideas on social media and get people’s thoughts. A lot of times, I can simply go back to the thread and find information from what people have shared.

      The other thing that I have done is use sites like Diigo to curate sites, but it also allows you to capture quotes. Hopefully, one of those ideas will help. Thanks for the comment!

  17. Chris Plowman

    George,

    I always look forward to your posts. I can see that you are a life-long learner and I love to see your references to other professional literature. Many people do not read enough professional literature. Not sure what the purpose is for someone to publicly correct another’s writing. I think he or she is missing the point. The professional conversation makes me think and always challenges me to question our practice. As an instructional leader it is so important to build a culture of continuous improvement and safety in professional dialogue. It is my goal to do exactly that. I appreciate the model you provide for that. Something important that struck me here is that if educators are listening carefully, there are serious implications here for how we coach our students as writers. If a well known and educated man like yourself can get bogged down with the intent of the feedback and the constructive/destructive impact on your writing and thinking, what do we think is happening to our students who are vulnerable and have to trust us to even show us their writing? Whether 6 or 16, students worry about whether we value their thinking. After all, writing is a very personal process. Those of you out there counting commas, don’t forget to look at the forest rather than the trees. You might miss something beautiful in the process.

  18. Charles Martin

    George,

    Firstly, if you make grammar mistakes, I am not smart enough to notice them. Secondly, I couldn’t care less.

    I consider myself lucky that technology has given me access to people like you that are reflective about their practice and that are generous enough to share it with the world.

    Any form of communication, sharing and exchange of ideas is beneficial to all involved… whether it contains grammar mistakes or not.

    As a francophone living in English Canada, I spent a portion of my life being concerned that my sentence structures or grammar wasn’t perfect when speaking or writing.

    Thankfully, I know that the people that care most about me are just appreciative of my efforts to communicate.

    Cheers,

  19. Adrienne Floro

    Hi George,

    Thank you for the GREAT post! As a middle school principal, your commentary coupled with my current reading of Social Leadia really resonated with me. Fear seems to be the common denominator behind both the movement to shelter and protect our teens from social media as well as the shaming and gotcha mentality at play among some respondents to digital posts. Fear is our greatest adversary as we try to promote agency and voice in our schools. Your post and Jennifer Casa-Todd’s book have inspired me to publically challenge the fear-induced mentality that only serves to limit our efforts, silence our voices, and foil our creativity.

    Keep doing what you are doing! My staff really enjoyed innovator’s Mindset and look forward to your next book!

  20. Michelle Discenza

    “If your delivery makes me tune out, does your message matter?” I love this powerful self-reflection question for educators and parents. Whether we are giving students feedback about writing, trying to impact a student’s behavior positively, or empowering our teenager to make good choices, our delivery matters.

    I have been reading your blog for over seven years, which has included my transition from teacher to principal. Your writing often pushes my thinking and I value it deeply. I appreciate that through your various transitions in life (career, parenthood, etc) you continue to blog consistently. Your writing has had a strong impact on me, as an educator.

    In regards to commenting on grammatical errors, I would suggest that a person doing this may have excellent knowledge of grammar, but lacks emotional intelligence.

  21. Karen Kirk

    As always a thought provoking post. At a recent presentation to teachers, there was an obvious spelling error on one slide. The presenter asked us to discuss the slide and most of the groups focused on the error rather than the content. We were then asked to refocus on the positives and quickly realised how easy it is to pick out errors and judge – the deliberate error was to highlight how we can focus on the negatives. We were then given time to look at how we mark and try and shift from picking out mistakes to highlighting strengths.
    I would like to highlight your strengths in being vulnerable to feedback and open to sharing your insights. Thank you.

  22. Thank you for such an honest, close to the heart post. This is the part that shoved me into bigtime self-assessment/reflective mode:

    “Your purpose might be to help someone to get better, but if they don’t know that intent, does it matter? Are you doing it from a place of helping me get better, or from a place of showing superiority? If your delivery makes me tune out, does your message matter?”

    I’ve actually written myself a reminder question and posted into my first week of school folder that asks, “What are you doing to make sure your students and parents KNOW and will remember your feedback intent is to make them better?”
    Thanks so much George for helping to make me a better teacher.

  23. Thank you for addressing this. As an English teacher, I think I was a critic early in my career, but I moved out of that when a colleague mentioned the two-atta-boys-before-the-zinger mentality. I immediately moved to praising my students as much as possible in my final comments before noting where they could invest time for improvement.

    I also stopped telling students what was wrong or circling mistakes. Instead, I started putting a check mark in the margin if there was something they needed to double check. This moved the ownership to them instead of me, and I received many more questions which led to teachable moments.

    Finally, I gave all students the opportunity to rewrite any and all assignments if they wanted to improve. Yes, I read my life away, but such is the life of an English teacher.

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