Laura K Spencer, Ed.D.

This morning on Twitter, Sam Patterson posted:

I responded, in the moment, with a quick tweet about the need for active listening and not just a passive head nod.

But then it got me thinking…

Why do we need to teach kids empathy? Research has shown that children develop empathy when about two years old. A two year old will see someone upset, and offer a teddy bear, or favorite blanket, to help console the person. Although the solution provided may not meet the needs of the upset person, for the two year old, it is a way to reach out and provide comfort.

Dr. Martin Hoffman, who researched empathy in children, said that it isn’t until around age 7 that children begin to really be able to “walk in someone’s shoes” and provide a response that is more appropriate to the situation. because they are learning how to see a situation from someone else’s point of view.

It’s in adolescence, Hoffman explains, that children can start thinking abstractly enough to understand the plight of others, such as homeless or or oppressed. Hoffman labels this stage comprehensive empathy and explains that it is at this point that children are first able to understand how the interplay of life’s experiences may color attitudes, feelings, and behaviors.

Ask (most) any parent or educator and they will tell you that empathy is an important trait for children to possess. “Of course we want our kids to care for others. How silly of you to ask!” wouldn’t be an unheard of response. And yet, research conducted at Harvard University showed that, while 96 percent of parents say they want to raise ethical, caring children, and cite the development of moral character as “very important, if not essential,” 80 percent of the youths surveyed reported that their parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” Sadly, the percentages were no different when students were asked what topped teacher concerns. Surveyed students were three times as likely to agree as disagree with the statement “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my class than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

Why is there such a huge disconnect between the traits we think we value, and the values our children are actually being provided?

Could it be because the messages we send are stronger than the words we say?

When students see signs like the ones above that scream “I don’t care what your issues are, just do your work,” we are stripping the empathy away.

When we force compliance  on meaningless assignments in our quest for higher test scores, we are stripping the empathy away.

When we send students to the principal’s office without hearing “their side” of what happened, we are stripping the empathy away.

And when we hear a student speak, but don’t listen to what they’re saying, we are stripping the empathy away.

justice-scalia-quotes-on-religion-best-ideas-social-issues-international-day-for-compassion-and-empathy-only-go-so-farSo why do we need to teach students empathy? Because adults are the reason they are losing it in the first place.

Need tips on how to build empathy? via Teaching empathy: Evidence-based tips . Have others? Please share them below.


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Bringing the Invention Cycle to Design Thinking

Imagination leads to creativity.
Creativity leads to innovation.
Innovation leads to entrepreneurship.
~ Tina Seelig

Engaging in the Design Thinking process is a human-centered approach to creative problem solving. Regardless of what you call the stages of the process, or how you draw the progression, at its core is a belief that people can make the(ir) world a better place by engaging in divergent thinking practices. What is sometimes missing in the implementation of design thinking, especially in the classroom, is an understanding of how ideas develop and take shape. Enter Stanford University Professor Tina Seelig, who teaches a creativity course at Stanford, and her book Creativity Rules. 

1_pVd4Ieg64ETU6a_xzR5lNASeelig’s book focuses on the four components of the Invention Cycle: imagination, creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Imagination is envisioning things that do not exist. It requires engagement and the ability to envision alternatives. Creativity is applying imagination to address a challenge. Creativity requires motivation and experimentation to address a challenge. Innovation is applying creativity to generate unique solutions through focusing and reframing to generate unique solutions. And Entrepreneurship, which requires persistence and the ability to inspire others, is applying innovation, scaling ideas, and thereby inspiring others’ imagination.

When considering the Invention Cycle, it’s important to understand how the four components build upon each other. As Seelig explains, imagination requires curiosity, engagement, and the ability to conceive of ideas in your mind. Creativity then fills a specific need and are manifest in the world. With creativity, new ideas only need to be new to the creator, and not the world. However, with innovation, the ideas are new to the world, not just the inventor. Therefore, the world must be looked at from a fresh perspective by challenging assumptions, reframing situations, and connecting ideas from disparate disciplines. Once the innovative idea is developed, it is entrepreneurship that brings the unique ideas to scale.

Because Design Thinking is focused on problem solving, and not selling a new product, entrepreneurship is not called out as part of the process, although it does fit in the test/feedback stage. Spencer and Juliani noted in Launch that marketing skills help students learn how to share their work with an authentic audience. Building on that principle. then, entrepreneurial skills teach students how to go beyond simply sharing the work and actually bring an idea to fruition. Seelig explains:

It’s a crime not to teach people to be entrepreneurial. We’re each responsible for building our own lives and for repairing the broader problems of the world. Skills related to innovation and entrepreneurship are the keys to seeing and seizing those opportunities. People should emerge from school with agency, feeling empowered to address the opportunities and challenges that await them.

According to thought leaders, the advances in technology are moving us towards an  imagination economy. This economy is defined as one in which “intuitive and creative thinking create economic value, after logical and rational thinking has been outsourced to other economies.” Looking at the Invention Cycle as a transparent layer atop the Design Thinking process, it becomes even more evident that we do our students a huge disservice if we do not provide meaningful ways for them to develop their imaginative, creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial skills. Like all soft (but critical!) skills, these can be developed and are critical to students (and their teachers), regardless of their career paths.

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Launching into Design Thinking

I read Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student when it first came out, but at the time, it wasn’t as relevant to the work I was doing as Director of Educational Technology. In that role, I was not able to fully immerse myself in transforming classroom learning practices.  However, in my new role, Design Thinking plays a huge role in bringing our core principles of student agency, collaboration, personalization, and cultural intelligence to life. Therefore, I decided to crack the book open one more time and look for nuggets of wisdom I could share with teachers partaking in the revolution to making learning relevant, meaningful, and deep.


From “Getting Started with Design Thinking in the Classroom” blog post by John Spencer

“Creativity is a process that requires structure. The word structure gets a bad rap as being part of some sort of rigid process that takes away from authentic and creative learning. That’s simply not the case” (p. 23).
For teachers new to Design Thinking, they often jump to connecting it to makerspaces, which may then trigger images of students building cardboard arcades and toilet paper roll robots. For others, it triggers anxiety around loss of time management, or no academic instruction. But when design thinking is used with intention, structures such as thinking routines, time constraints, and feedback loops support students through the process.

“Too many educators believe they lost their creativity – or that they were never creative in the first place. Maybe they stopped creating because they didn’t think they had the time, energy, or mental capacity for new ideas. We don’t buy it. Not creating is a choice – and a poor choice at that. And in truth, every time you come up with a new idea for a lesson, you are creating. Every time you think of a way to handle that super-challenging student, you are creating. Every time you collaborate with a colleague, design your classroom, set up the desks in a new way, or do something different – you are creating!” (p. 31)
Honestly, I think this is the most important paragraph in the book. We often talk about the need to empower students with the soft skills needed for success, and creativity is one of those skills. But what we neglect to consider is that, for many teachers, creativity was stifled under No Child Left Behind, Program Improvement, and other high stakes accountability system. They lost their mojo, so to speak. So as we encourage them to open the doors to new experiences for students, we need to also remind them of the creative nature they already posses and find ways to nurture their innate abilities.

“Creative classrooms are the ones where students are able to question answers as often as they answer questions” (p. 100). And along those lines, “You cannot empower students to be self-directed, responsible, critical-thinking people if they can’t ask their own questions. At that point, you’re teaching compliance rather than responsibility” (p. 106).
In a previous district, we spent three years of instructional rounds looking for effective questioning strategies. This focus meant that a lot of our energy was spent watching for teacher moves that provided opportunities for multiple student voices; observing DOK levels of the questions asked; and watching for a variety of ways in which students respond to the questions. What was missing from this entire dialogue was the opportunity for students to feel empowered to ask their own questions, to dig into meaning that was relevant to them.

Other items I appreciated in the book:

John and AJ discuss how empathy is not always about a specific audience. Sometimes, industry designers base their work on awareness, which can involve empathy, but may also include “a personal awareness of a process, a system, or a phenomenon. [It] can be scientific or artistic, social or economic, human centered or systems centered” (p. 69). Opening empathy up to a broader context helps teachers and students better identify the purpose for engaging in the design thinking process.

When I attended Harvard’s Project Zero last summer, I was fortunate to meet and learn from Edward Clapp, a Project Zero Project Director. Clapp discusses the biography of an idea, which John and AJ mention in their book as well. They quote Clapp:

“What if instead of telling the biographies of individuals who are widely seen as creative geniuses, we tell the biography of the ideas that they are most known for? For example, what if instead of telling the biography of Albert Einstein, we told the biography of the Special Theory of Relativity? We would tell the biography of that idea, highlighting all the different players who have historically participated in the development of that idea, the different roles those individuals have played, and the different twists and turns that idea has taken as it has wended its way to the world” (p. 147-8).

“Seven Reasons Why Kids Should Learn Marketing” is something I had not considered. Sure, we do elevator pitches with students and talk about audience awareness, but John and AJ write that students who learn marketing from a marketer’s perspective “grow as critical consumers while learning what it means to share their work with an authentic audience” (p.197). Their reasons why, which include learning about rejection and growing in creative confidence, also support the soft skill acquisition students need to succeed in the world.


For the teacher who is dabbling in design thinking, or PBL, or genius hour, this book provides strategies and examples that will build teacher confidence in the process while engaging students in meaningful work. I appreciate the website connection which provides tangible projects, structures, and questions to guide teachers through design thinking. It’s a nice gateway before digging into the world of IDEO, Stanford, and others.

Learn more about the work we are doing with Design Thinking on our website:

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What is your BIG opportunity for impact? #DesignCamp

Today I had the pleasure of attending #DesignCamp. This event is a participant-driven deep dive into all things related to Design Thinking! The big levers towards deeper learning and equity for all students are: pedagogy, culture, leadership, and innovator methods/mindsets with the goal of spreading more goodness on the world (website). It was my first time attending this event, and definitely won’t be my last. Kaleb Rashad and Eric Chagala certainly know how to throw a party!

The day started with some epic jams by Atlanta-based musician Chavis Flagg (Check him out – it won’t disappoint!). I’m sure the inclusion of Flagg at the start of the day was intentional, as music impacts our ability to connect with one another. According to music psychologist Stefan Koelsch, music “impacts brain circuits involved in empathy, trust, and cooperation” (article).  Flagg’s musical talents did a great job building empathy and cooperation amongst the attendees. Energy levels were high, smiles were big, and everyone seemed ready to embrace the day’s learning.

IMG_9198After engaging our empathy, Billy Corcoran and Mike Strong (with a special remote guest appearance by Dan Ryder) defined the Design Thinking experience for us by taking the group through a quick-paced challenge to design a space suit for attendees of a rock concert on the moon. Many assume Design Thinking challenges will take days or weeks away from academic instruction, but this entire experience was less than an hour. And it did not require a huge makerspace. In fact, our prototype consisted of trash bags, cardboard, tape, and a piece of paper.

Once our astronauts were safely launched on their voyage to the moon, it was time to dig deeper into the learning. The variety of sessions addressed many different facets of Design Thinking and deeper learner in the classroom.Having a large group of educators from our district, we were able to divide and conquer, gathering information and ideating on what all these new ideas meant for the work we are undertaking in our classrooms.

IMG_9201Because I was speaking in the second session, I could only choose one, and so decided to spend my time with David Culberhouse, who always leaves me with more questions than answers! David shared the rapidly changing future with us, from Artificial Intelligence and the new gig economy to the skills this new work landscape demands. David challenged us to consider: 

– What is your BIG opportunity for impact?
– Where can I have action?
– Where can I make change?

It was the perfect segue to the session I led with Paula and Sarah. In our session, we challenged participants to craft a new story of education, to question the systems, structures, and beliefs that have defined education for the past hundred years and embrace a new vision. We discussed the parts, purposes and complexities that reside in our current educational landscape, and dove into the ways in which design thinking can transform learning so that students develop student agency and cultural intelligence.

After our sessions, I appreciated the fact that the day did not just end. Back together in the common space for some more music and sharing of learning. Sara Schairer, of, briefed us on the prototype her group of participants developed to help promote the work her non-profit is doing to inspire compassionate actions and attitudes. One of the teachers from our group who participated in this design deep dive definitely heeded the call to action and began sharing her plans to spread the compassion to her students.
Ending our day was a moment to reflect on the day, to consider what we had learned and what we were going to do with that learning. These quiet moments are so few and far between in our work. Often times, we attend trainings and then rush out at the end of the day so that we can get lesson plans ready for the next day. Having that opportunity to just think gave me a chance to consider ideas I want to test back at our district to make a BIG impact on our mission to ignite genius and empower students.
Thanks to everyone who made today remarkable! It was truly mind-blowing!

Students’ Design Thinking Skills Sets Them Up for a Successful Future

Yesterday I received this email from three 6th grade students:

Dear Dr. Spencer,

                As sixth grade students, we have been given the design challenge to enhance our school experience. There are problems ranging from balls left in the field to bathroom catastrophes. We thought that you would be a great person to interview because you are the Executive Director of Innovation and Design. 

So today I happily set aside my desk work and traveled over to the school to talk to the students. I can honestly say, I’m not sure who learned more from our experience: them or me.

As they had shared in the email, the students have been given the challenge of enhancing the school experience. In Del Mar, a K-6 district, our vision states that we are in “unrelenting pursuit of the extraordinary school experience” and now, so our these 6th grade students. Their teacher, who has been trained at both Nueva School’s Design Thinking Institute and Stanford’s, is using her Quest elective class to provide the students with the skills and strategies necessary to utilize the design thinking process. Her focus is spot on. Jim Hackett, CEO of Ford, explains. “The old way was about disciplines,” Hackett told Fortune Magazine in September. “The new way will be about projects and understanding what people want.”

During my conversation with the students, we discussed the school, and the needs I saw as rising to the top. But then the conversation shifted, and the students became intrigued more with my job, and the goal of our district to bring design thinking experiences to all students, and not just those lucky enough to have their teacher. One student then remarked, “What happens to us in middle school? They don’t do these things there, do they?” Although I wish I had a better answer for them, all I could say was “not yet…” They continued pressing me. “How will we handle the homework load in middle school? We have a reduced homework load now.”

And so we started to analyze the skills that the students are receiving, and how those skills would translate to middle school (and life!) success. Homework load? No problem! Within these design thinking challenges, their teacher has taught them:

  • Backwards Planning: Just like homework, design thinking challenges have deadlines that must be met. But unlike assigned homework, backwards planning ensures students know how to prioritize their work load based on estimated work time, complexity of task, and due date.
  • Questioning: Design thinking requires students to define the problem that needs to be addressed. The questions they are formulating are complex, and get to the root of a problem so that they can better ideate and prototype solutions. This means they’ll have a better understanding of what information they need to complete their work. Furthermore, they’ll have the confidence to ask clarifying questions of their teachers.
  • Prioritization: When prototyping possible design thinking solutions, a lot of elements must come together. It can be easy to get distracted by wanting to make a prototype pretty, or add “just one more thing.” Learning how to prioritize actions based on a needs statement will also help them figure out if they should start their math homework due tomorrow before or after writing their English essay due next week.
  • Iteration: One of the most important concepts students learn in the design thinking process is that the iteration process is not a one time thing. Iterate, prototype, seek feedback, and do it again…and again… and maybe even again. Failure is not a cause for meltdown, but just an opportunity to iterate again. If you doubt me, just watch Audri and his Rube Goldberg machine process!


Carole Bilson, President of the Design Management Institute, states, “There’s a lot of observation, listening and research as you are developing products and solutions.” Evelyn Huang, Director of Design Thinking and Strategy at Capital One Labs, explains that Design Thinking, a “human-centered methodology, coupled with a ‘fail fast’ attitude, allows us to quickly identify, build, and test our way to success. We spend less time planning, more time doing, and, above all else, challenge ourselves to see the world through the eyes of our customers every step of the way.”

With skills like this being developed in our 6th graders , I don’t think the students will have any problems tackling the challenges they face in middle school next year. In fact, I venture to guess that these students will be redesigning the middle school experience in no time! And then high school. And soon, they’ll be solving problems we can’t yet fathom. Homework? Psh! No problem at all.


The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

The Antidote book jacketI have to admit, part of the reason I picked up this book at the library was to joke with my daughter. One of the things she will tell you about me is that I am anything but overly peppy or bubbly. It’s not that I am negative, or a “Debbie Downer.” I consider myself more of a realist who likes to look at all potential outcomes of a situation. So when I saw this book displayed on the bookshelf, I thought it’d be a great kick off to my 2018 reading list.

And it truly was. Burkeman, a journalist and author, sets out in this book to explore the negative path to happiness. Motivational seminars and self-help positive affirmation books can actually lead to less happiness. Through his research of various psychologists, philosophers, and religions “…it pointed to an alternative approach, a ‘negative path’ to happiness, that entailed taking a radically different stance towards those things that most of us spend our lives trying to avoid. It involved learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity, stopping trying to think positively, becoming familiar with failure, even learning to value death. In short, all these people seemed to agree that in order to be truly happy, we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions—or, at the very least to learn to stop running quite so hard from them.”

You know, maybe I should just let this video explain it:

Some specific quotes that jumped out at me:

“The effort to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable. And that it is our constant efforts to eliminate the negative – insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness – that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy.”

“Confronting the worst-case scenario saps it of much of its anxiety-inducing power. Happiness reached via positive thinking can be fleeting and brittle, negative visualization generates a vastly more dependable calm.”

“Reassurance can actually exacerbate anxiety: when you reassure your friend that the worst-case scenario he fears probably won’t occur, you inadvertently reinforce his belief that it would be catastrophic if it did. You are tightening the coil of his anxiety, not loosening it. All to often, the Stoics point out, things will not turn out for the best.”

“A person who has resolved to ‘think positive’ must constantly scan his or her mind for negative thoughts – there’s no other way that the mind could ever gauge its success at the operation – yet that scanning will draw attention to the presence of negative thoughts.”

“But sometimes you simply can’t make yourself feel like acting. And in those situations, motivational advice risks making things worse, by surreptitiously strengthening your belief that you need to feel motivated before you act. By encouraging an attachment to a particular emotional state, it actually inserts an additional hurdle between you and your goal. The subtext is that if you can’t make yourself feel excited and pleased about getting down to work, then you can’t get down to work.”

“Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.”

What it means to me

IMG_8773.jpgI just keep thinking about the anxiety levels of my daughter leading in to her high school final exams. She was a miserable human being. I saw more tears in a 7 day span than I had probably seen the past year. And I wonder if it’s because our current society focuses so much on positive thinking and goals and “you can do it.” Her fear of not doing “it” was crippling her. Had she been exposed to negative thinking, she would have been able to see that the worst-case scenario (failing the test) would have resulted in maybe a B in a class. And truly, in the grander scheme of things, is that B worth the anxiety she put herself through? (She passed, by the way, and maintained her straight A record…)

Are we teaching students resilience? Are we teaching them how to cope with failure? Or are we just piling on the gold stars for everything they do? Embracing a growth mindset does not mean ceaseless optimism. It means wiping the dirt off our knees when we fall and looking for a plan B… or C.. or maybe even a Plan W.  But does it also mean asking students to consider what’s the worst that could happen if it doesn’t work out? Are we helping students to see that their life is NOW or are we always talking to them about “one day” and “in [next grade/school/etc] you’ll need to know this…” When we talk about goal setting, how do we frame it? “There’s a real benefit to finding ways to loosen our grip as goal driven people. When you look at successful entrepreneurs…you find they don’t follow this stereotype.” Instead, Burkeman says, we should remain ready to adapt where we are heading and embrace the uncertainty that scares us.

Maybe that should be added to my one word 2018… can I commit to uncertainty? What are your thoughts on this?

A full review of the book via The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman – review | Books | The Guardian

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Commit to the challenge.

The adventure.

The healthy lifestyle.

The quest for knowledge.

Reading to learn.

Reading to escape.

Learning new things…

Improving educational opportunities for our students.

Spending quality family time with my girls…

Quiet times with my boyfriend.

Alone time for reflection.


This is my #oneword2018. It encompasses all aspects of my life. My personal life, My professional life. My romantic life. And most importantly, my family life.

I look forward to sharing this year with everyone through my blog and tweets.

Happy 2018!

(Photo from Superstition desert during a recent off road adventure weekend)

Learning to Drive

Jordan in her carMy daughter got her driver’s permit, and now the state of California has entrusted me to teach her the rules of the road. (I truly think they should make adults pass a test showing that we are qualified for this important role!)

When she first started driving, she was extremely nervous and unsure of herself. Who wouldn’t be? Her knowledge of how to handle a 4,000 pound vehicle was limited to the reading she had completed in an online permit class and two hours behind the wheel with a certified instructor.

Our first time driving was around and around (and around and around) a parking lot at the local community college. It was a Saturday, and the lot was remarkably empty. There she learned how her car responded to steering and brakes. She practiced coming to a complete stop and signaling her intentions. When she was confident, we drove around the campus a few times so that she could practice adjusting speed and navigating turns. And then it was time to hit the streets.

Not even a block away from campus, driving through a quiet neighborhood, a BMW appeared behind us. Impatient with my daughter’s driving, he immediately started tailgating her and honking his horn. Her anxiety rose exponentially, and I could see every bit of confidence drained from her face. As soon as was possible, she pulled off the road. He honked as he passed, and she refused to keep driving.

A few weeks later, I ordered a magnetic bumper sticker from Amazon that read, “Please Be Patient Student Driver” . As she continued to learn how to drive, there were plenty of opportunities for people to be angry or frustrated with her. Her ability to maintain a consistent speed was sketchy, and she was painfully slow coming out of a turn. But remarkably, nobody honked at her. Nobody tailgated or cut her off.  They gave her space to learn. They slowed down and let her over when she signaled. And they smiled when they drove by. I’m sure they were just as eager to get to their destination as the BMW driver, but they didn’t show it. And her driving improved. And continues to improve.

It makes me wonder, what signs would our students wear if they could design their own? Would they ask for more patience because of a rough night at home? Would their sign acknowledge a struggle with reading? Or ask for more encouragement during independent work time? Our students may not be wearing signs, but we do know that they all need our patience and support and love as they learn to navigate their own roads.

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Finals = Lots of Homework = Stress = Sickness = Death, therefore Finals are Death

My youngest daughter is a high school sophomore. She’s the type of student most teachers love – completes her work, answers the questions, conscientious about her grades. Compliant. And a perfectionist who demands more from herself than the world demands of her.

Finals = lots of homework = stress = sickness = death, therefore finals are deathSo when she sends me snapchats like this one, it breaks my heart. This is not what education is supposed to be about, is it? Later that evening, while suffering a mild mental breakdown, she texted me. (Granted, I was only one room away, but the idea of walking away from her studies was too stressful for her.)

How come teachers assign so much homework right before our finals as if they don’t know our other teachers are doing the same exact thing. It’s as if they think we are some miracle workers that don’t need sleep or socializing.

My mental health is deteriorating and I feel PHYSICALLY sick just because of this overwhelming amount of work and hard test where they expect you to remember everything from August 15 which I doubt they could even remember clearly but they think is easy bc they’ve spent years upon years studying it.

How is this fair to the students?

Please explain this to me.

Problem is, kiddo, I can’t explain it to you.

In “Assessing Our Children to Death,” Steve Nelson, author of First Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk explains:

“There is a nearly perfect inverse correlation between the emphasis on metrics and the quality of learning in schools. More metrics mean less powerful learning. As reliance on this data (and the scores it measures) goes up, the real quality of learning experiences goes down. Children are real, flesh and blood, funny, eccentric, imaginative, irreverent, loving and sensitive human beings, not data points for arcane studies of “outcomes.

Yes, Jordan, you are definitely all of those things, and more!

Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jay McTighe (quite a powerhouse of educational experts, by the way!), in Assessing Student Outcomes,  describe conventional assessments, such as Jordan’s final exams, as being narrow in focus since they only capture one moment in time. They explain that these assessment types are “generally incapable of revealing in any comprehensive way what students know and can do. Moreover, the conditions of such tests are often highly controlled. Students complete the work within inflexible time limits and have restricted access to resources and limited opportunities to make revisions. These kinds of tests also sacrifice authenticity, since they differ markedly from the ways in which people apply knowledge in the world outside of school. Despite these limitations, the results of such one-time measures are frequently used to make significant decisions, such as whether a student should be admitted to or excluded from special programs and what final grade a student will receive in a class.”

Oh yes, grades. That would explain this text I received from Jordan:

A text from Jordan asking how a weighted final will impact her math grade

Well Jordan, all I can say is, hang in there! Last I checked, finals did not literally kill anyone. And as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… or at least gets you a good grade in your class!



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Holidays Are For Families, Not Homework

Today’s memory on my Facebook feed was an article I shared a few years ago. Since winter break is coming up, it’s a good time to share it again.

The Tyranny of Homework: 20 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Assign Homework Over The Holidays

No time to read a long article? Here’s the Cliffs Notes version:

Stop assigning homework over vacations, and let students enjoy time with family and friends. And while they are enjoying time with family and friends, you do the same.

The packets, the grading, the reading logs – those aren’t building lifelong memories, but baking cookies together, or going for a bike ride with friends, does.


My daughter wrote a blog post about her observations and experiences while serving as the Social Media Director for SDCUE conference. In her post, she reflected on the lack of “teachers eager to keep learning and the ones who wanted to keep up with the new technologies” when she was in school just a couple years ago. She questioned why teachers are “stuck in their ways” and why there aren’t more teachers like the ones at SDCUE who want to keep on learning.


Maybe it’s because those “stuck” (her word, not mine) teachers need to be more dog. You see, dogs are amazed by EVERYthing. A snack is amazing. The UPS driver is amazing. Even a chewed up ball that smells like mud and lost its shape is amazing. They live for the moment, and they aren’t afraid to fail.

So how can we build the confidence and excitement of our teachers that have not yet channeled their inner dog? What chew toy, adventure, or treat will make them as excited as a dog? Do teachers need more time to connect with teachers that are already being more dog? Do they need more professional development on how to be a dog? Are teachers being asked to be more dog while living in a cat house? How do we fix this?

Culture. We talk about it in terms of the behaviors of a group, such as school culture. But when you look at its Latin root, it means growing, or cultivation. We grow a culture based on our behaviors and beliefs. In education, bogged down by bureaucracy and budget shortfalls and high stakes testing and (whatever else you want to insert here) we have cultivated a culture of … cats. Of people who are tired of chasing the laser light around the room. It’s up to all of us to change that culture. To create more opportunities to be dog. After all, if we aren’t feeling awesome about what we’re doing, how is a student to ever feel awesome learning with us?

If we could all just encourage each other to find moments of dog, we’ll work towards creating the experiences Alex kept searching and hoping for when she was in school. We can all chase the ball. Chew the toy. Grab the stick. We can all be more dog.

Read more about the Be More Dog campaign (2013) and all the ways they inspired people to drop their cat-like ways and embrace the dog inside.

Kobi Yamada wrote a fabulous book called What Do You Do With an Idea? In the book, the main character finds an idea. He takes it with him everywhere. When he first shares it with others, they scoff at it. Luckily, the boy does not listen to the naysayers and instead nurtures the idea.  In the end, the idea takes form and … well … read it and find out.

I read this book yesterday to a 4th grade class. I had not met the students before, but they seemed pretty excited to have me there. At the end of the book read, we discussed the plot, and why people may not have supported the boy and his idea.

After the discussion, I led them through an improv activity called “Yes, but.” In “Yes, but” one person of a pair shares an idea. In this case, the idea was what the student wanted to do over the weekend. The other person’s job is to react to the idea with a “yes, but” statement. For example:

Student 1: I think it’d be cool to go to the zoo this weekend

Student 2: Yes, but it’s so hilly that you will get tired.

Student 1: Oh. Well, maybe I can go to the beach instead.

Student 2: Yea, but it’s supposed to rain on Saturday.

As you can see, it can be discouraging to have every idea turned down by others. (And honestly, who hasn’t encountered these people in our own lives?) After debriefing how disheartening that conversation was, we flipped the script. Now, the second person’s job was to add a “Yes, and” statement to the idea.

Student 1: I think it’d be cool to go to the zoo this weekend.

Student 2: Yes, and you can check out the new panda exhibit.

Student 1: Ooh yea! And I can take a picture of the plants they eat to show our science teacher.

Student 2: Yes, and you can probably buy a book on pandas to share with the class.

Now the idea is growing and taking shape. The students shared how it made them feel to have their idea encouraged instead of stymied. I left them with the call to action to focus on being idea encouragers instead of naysayers.

This activity is a great lead in to any design thinking project or empathy building activity. All ages, adults and children, deserve the opportunity to have their ideas heard. Who knows which of those ideas just might change the world!

Article: Yes, And… 5 More Lessons in Improv-ing Collaboration and Creativity from Second City