Laura K Spencer, Ed.D.

My ex-husband lives a few hours away. He rents a small room behind a house in a not great part of town. When COVID hit, he got sick and lost his job. His car broke down around the same time. Because California’s unemployment system is so archaic, it took about six months for him to get any funds. And of course, that was after the federal stimulus ended.

When you don’t have a cash flow, you have to make choices as to what to prioritize. He prioritized his cell phone, and decided to use the hot spot as his wifi for his laptop.

Last week, my oldest daughter, with whom he shared a phone plan, decided to get her own phone plan. She transferred her phone number to the new service and let the previous provider know that she no longer needed their services.

Instead of cutting off her phone, they cut off his.

Of course, none of us knew this.

So when his children could no longer contact him, and his friend had also not heard from him in days, we all assumed the worst.

Today I called the cops to do a wellness check. When they called me an hour later, I was expecting them to ask me to come ID a body.

Instead, it was my ex, explaining that his phone was disconnected and he wasn’t sure how he was going to get to the phone company’s office to get it resolved. Remember, he has no car. And no phone.

That means no directory to look up the nearest phone company location. No Uber or Lyft to take you there. No internet to check email to see if there’s a message about the mix up.

After he told me he was alive, we hung up. (Can’t really have a long conversation on a police officer’s cell phone!) I called my daughter and explained the situation.

She called the phone company and explained what they did wrong. They restored his phone line. Only issue was that we had to somehow tell him that he needed to reboot his phone for it to work again.

Dang it!

The cop was long gone.

Now what?

My daughter had the great idea to send him something via Amazon with a note to reboot his phone. However, that would still be a day or two of waiting for the delivery to arrive and hoping he saw the little gift receipt note.

So I went to Domino’s pizza online and placed an order. The pizza that was our favorite when we dated almost 30 years ago. And I wrote in the delivery notes that I needed them to write a note on the box to reboot his phone.

It worked.

A modern carrier pigeon.. haha

Domino's pizza note that states:
Go thru side gate. Knock on door of back house. Please add note w/pizza: "Reboot phone and it should work. Laura"

But it made me realize just how much our world becomes a prison cell without access. No phone, no internet, no connection to the world.

How many of our students are in similar situations? And how are we bridging that divide? Do we need to start sending pizza boxes with lessons written on them?

Why doesn’t the federal eRate program include home internet costs? Why are we still, as a nation, treating internet access as a privilege instead of a necessity? Although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since feminine hygiene products are still charged a value-added, or sales, tax, unlike the tax exemption status granted to other products considered basic necessities.

I’m grateful to Domino’s for helping me out today, but as a country, we have to do better than this. Our families deserve it.

I’m starting to podcast my blog posts, so if you’d rather listen than read, check me out on Anchor, or any other podcast medium, under #CageFreeThinking. They aren’t polished and professional… just me talking.)

Okay, so I’m still working on the digital detox, and with mixed results. I think releasing the grip on the phone is harder than when I quit my six-pack a day Pepsi addiction!

The cards my daughter bought are helpful. They give me a moment to reflect on an alternative to scrolling Tik Tok videos for an hour. Here’s the cards I focused on this week:

Mute.

"Mute. Silence combats the overstimulation we're all suffering from and turns our attention to what's going on inside."

I’ve been intentionally focused on physical activity for a few weeks now to combat the sedentary work I do. One way I’ve been doing that is to get up and take a short walk every hour or two. In the past, this meant connecting my Air Pods and getting some steps in. But this past week I’ve learned to mute the noise and just take the walk without my tech. (Well, except for my Apple Watch because you gotta get that step count in! 😏)

Friday was my first time doing a full blown work out without music. I ran the convention center stairs downtown for 30 minutes and truly enjoyed the sound and scenery (which is the cover photo of this post). Seriously, how much have I been missing by constantly keeping my ears plugged up with tech, and noise?

It’s amazing how many sounds there are outside when you are intentional about hearing them. Right now, as I type this, my window is open and I can hear the finches as they enjoy the seeds I set out for them. I hear an airplane flying overhead, and ooh, I think a bird just took a bath in our fountain.

Think Positive.

Think positive. Take social media offline and hand out some real 'likes' to friends, family, and strangers.

On Tuesday I decided I needed a change of scenery and brought my laptop to UCSD’s Design Lab to work. The people there are amazing. Their creativity and deep thinking inspires me when I’m stuck on an idea. After a couple of them left for the day, I took a moment to leave Post-Its on their desk with a note letting them know just how awesome I think they are. One responded:

A few days later, while at a professional learning for our staff, a colleague handed me a thank you card, and like the text above, I didn’t realize how much I really needed that encouraging note.

This is important.

Both of my detox cards this week were important life lessons. Life lessons I knew, but needed to be reminded of anyway. Taking time to mute the noise and share positivity with others is definitely going to stay a part of my life routine.

How’s your detox going? Share an idea below…

For Christmas, my daughter bought me a deck of cards. But they aren’t your ordinary cards. These are Digital Detox cards. On each one there is an idea of a way to be less reliant on digital technology. I knew I was having issues with my tech reliance, but getting those cards from my daughter really brought it home. So now, even though most of my job relies on technology, I’m now working on detoxing from it.

If you’re also feeling the need to put the phone down a bit more, here’s a few of the ideas that you may want to try: 

  • Challenge yourself to refrain from using any of your devices during the first hour after you wake up in the morning.
  • Get some fresh air! When you do go out, make sure to leave your devices at home.
  • Practice not responding immediately to every notification that comes up. Be more conscious of when you respond to things.
  • Spend 10 minutes doing nothing, on purpose. Be still, be quiet, listen to the sounds, feel your breath and experience the sensations in your body.

I was going to try one a day, but Jordan thought I should stick with one for a week and see how it goes. I’ve been working on the fresh air one. I’ll admit that I do bring my phone (for photos like the one with this post), but I’ve been turning off notifications and just enjoying the weather a lot more.

Do you engage in any digital detox? Would love to hear what works for you. And I’ll periodically share different cards and how it’s going for me.


When I was little, my dad was on the road a lot for work. So when he was home, we’d often go out to dinner so my mom could take a break from cooking. The best restaurants were the ones with plain, paper placemats because those were the ones in which creativity could flourish.

My dad would grab a pen from my mom, and draw a squiggly line on the placemat. My job, then, was to create something from the perceived nothing. Like looking for cloud animals, somewhere in that squiggly line was an animal, or an airplane, or something else just waiting to be discovered, and drawn, with the pen. When I finished my creation, we’d swap roles, and I’d create the squiggly line with which he would create.

A not-yet-invented motorbike I can ride to pick up the mail.*

This back and forth continued until the waiter inevitably ruined our creative masterpiece with my dinner plate. Back then, it seemed like a simple way to pass the time with a child anxious for her food. But now, I can look back and see a much greater result of those encounters.

It was in those moments that I learned the power of “ish.”

In Ish, by Peter Reynolds, the main character learns that drawing “ish-ly” provides more creative freedom than getting it just right.

For me, a young girl who struggled with perfection, this was an important learning. My mom was artistic, as were my uncle and my grandpa, so my self-judgment would often result in a desire to skip the creative aspects of any school project. “Ish” thinking helped me to set aside my negative self-talk and see the value in my creations.

In Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, Tom and David Kelley explain that “striving for perfection can get in the way during the early stages of the creative process.” Unfortunately, schools don’t always provide the time, the space, the freedom to engage in the early stages of the creative process. The “ish” loses to the strive for perfection when learning is connected to an assignment with a deadline and an assessment.

Students need to learn “ish,” to value “ish,” and to believe in the power of a squiggly line. Squiggly lines aren’t about being perfect, or the best. And that’s what makes them perfectly ‘ish.”

*P.S. I created the above drawing to illustrate the squiggly line concept, and it was very hard for me to let go and just draw something… guess I need to start going out to eat with my dad more again!

P.P.S. This short video from Pixar Animation Studios shows how characters can be created from squiggly lines.

A Tribute to My Bestie

On July 31st, I lost my best friend. She died, unexpectedly, of a blood clot after battling breast cancer and undergoing reconstructive surgery.

Laura and Christine smiling for the camera
Christine and me at the SDCOE Equity Symposium

Christine’s been my best friend since I moved to San Diego in 2000. Before her, friendships for me were fleeting. They came, they went, and that was life. But Christine… she was a different story.

I could fill this blog with stories about our friendship. Stories about us learning hip hop dancing – okay, failing to learn hip hop dancing. Although we could do the sprinkler and the lawn mower better than anyone… just ask our 8th grade students!

Or about the time we hauled the new kayak into the middle of her cul-de-sac and pretended to row the open ocean, all the time yelling, “Are we there yet?” for a yearbook video. 

There are stories from our 14 hour bus trip to Reno that we thought was going to be on a train.

And stories about our attempt to start our own greeting card company.

Like I said, so many stories! 

A couple years into our friendship, we were talking about growing old and Christine mentioned all the trouble we’d get into at the nursing home. I remember saying to her, “I won’t know you when I’m 80.” I’ll never forget the look on her face. In total seriousness, she said to me, “That’s the meanest thing you could ever say to me. Of course we’ll know each other. We’re besties.” 

That day, she changed my perspective on not only friendship, but on life.

A few years later, we sat beside her mom Jean’s bed as her mom’s fight with cancer was coming to an end … we had been chatting light-heartedly while Jean slept when Christine’s brother Eric noticed that Jean had quietly passed away. I remember us talking about how she was able to finally let go because she knew we were all going to be okay. 

Even though Christine may not be around when I’m 80 to perform all those old folk home antics, I have to believe that, like Jean, Christine knew everyone she loved was going to be okay because she made everyone better by knowing her.

They say the body is 70% water, but for Christine Fax-Huckaby, it was all heart. She was a passionate educator; a passionate animal advocate; a passionate fighter for equity; and a passionate wife, friend, and colleague. For 23 years, Christine touched the lives of students and staff as a public school teacher and mentor in both Lemon Grove and Sweetwater.

Christine was always a cheerleader for me.

She believed in the ability of each student to achieve his/her inner greatness, and never let them settle for less. She had just as much love for animals. Whether they were hers or not, Christine loved every fur baby she ever saw. She was constantly rescuing dogs and cats, finding them their fur-ever home. Although truth be told, a lot of times that home ended up being her own!

I’m sad without her in my physical life. Sad without her laughter, her jokes, and her unconditional love.

Winnie the Pooh said it best: If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together there is something you must always remember… You are braver than you believe. Stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is even if we are apart I’ll always be with you.

My boyfriend and I have very different communication styles, especially when it comes to sharing our feelings. He’s just not the kind of guy who will bring me flowers, or leave me notes or proclaim his love for the world to hear.

So when we decided to pull weeds at about 7pm last night, the last thing I expected was this:

Him: “Hey Google, play ‘Tell Laura I Love Her.'”

Me: 😍

…And This Has to Do with Education How?

So why tell you this story when this blog is about education?

Because I know that, if relationship skills were to be assessed in school, my boyfriend probably wouldn’t get top scores. In fact, he may even be labeled as “at risk” or some other label equally obnoxious.

We have this narrow view in education of what success is, and how we measure it, and honestly, our measures seem to lack correlation to what success means in life. Not sure what I mean by that? Check out The Valedictorians Project.

Or read about Basil’s experiences in her piece, “Dear School, Eff Your F.”

Your education factory assembles each student in the same order, first this piece then the next. Units are assessed as they move down the line; the standards are high with little room for deviation. Those who fail inspection are stalled in production, the ones who pass are given certificates and sent out to market.

“Dear School, Eff Your ‘F’” by Anastasia Basil

I’m hopeful that we’ll one day get to the place where people aren’t measured against some arbitrary “norm” but instead are celebrated for their own skills and talents. Because hey, he may not buy me flowers, but my boyfriend brings me joy, and that’s a true measure of success.

P.S. If you don’t know the song, it’s a 1960 (somewhat tragic) love song by Ray Peterson.

For the explanation of Silent Sunday, please read this post.

On Twitter today, I was introduced to the concept of Silent Sunday.

What is Silent Sunday?

The idea is simple. A photo is posted. There is no caption. No title. No explanation. The rules for the photo are simple as well. It must be taken by you. It must be taken in the past week.

I thought it’d be a great way to reflect on my edu week. I’m also curious as to how other people respond to my photo. Does it spark a conversation? Illicit a smile? Or a wonder?

Silent Sunday 6.2.19

So here is this week’s photo:

SIlent Sunday

I’ve been overwhelmed lately by life changes – my Navy daughter moved to the East Coast for her first duty assignment; my boyfriend and I bought a house; my work responsibilities have increased; and I have resumed teaching college courses parttime.

All of these changes had my mind and my heart going in a million different directions and as a result, my blog and my tweets and my readings have gone in a million different directions as well.

In that journey, i’ve come across some interesting reads. Here they are for you to explore as well:

“A Thousand Rivers” by Carol Black

Thanks to Will Richardson for this awesome find. As I grapple with cultural intelligence, a principle our district has called out as integral to student development, this article touched my heart on many levels. Black sets out to explain how we’ve gotten it all wrong in our focus on the science of learning because we have focused on the science of learning in schools, which is like “collecting data on killer whales based on their behavior at Sea World.” This short, pithy description doesn’t do it justice. Grab some hot cocoa or something, a cozy blanket, and settle in for an eye-opening, or life affirming, read.

“The Difference Between Fixing and Healing” by Rachel Naomi Remen

When I attended Deloitte U’s Courageous Principal Institute, they had us all take a business chemistry survey. I was designated a “Driver,” which means I am direct, logical, competitive, goal oriented, and tough minded. To that end, I tend to want to fix situations and move on so that they don’t divert me from my destination. This article reminded me that there is much in life that can not be fixed. Sometimes, the focus needs to be on healing. And it made me think, how often have we looked at our students, our children, as people needing fixing instead of humans needing healing. It’s a move that requires empathy, and time to really understand and connect. Something Drivers like me need to put more conscious effort into to ensure it happens.

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She Never Saw A Classroom Until College. Now She Has A Ph.D. And A Lot Of Thoughts About Education” by Catherine Brown

In this interview, Brown talks to Tara Westover, author of the bestselling memoir Educated. Westover was raised by survivalist, fundamentalist parents, and as a result, did not attend school as a child. It’s a fascinating interview, and I look forward to reading her book. In the article, Westover states, “Become educated but don’t let your education petrify into arrogance. Education should always be an expansion of your mind, a deepening of your empathy, a broadening of your perspective. It should never harden your prejudices. If people become educated, they should become less certain, not more. They should listen more, they should talk less. They should have a passion for difference and a love of ideas that aren’t theirs.”

That’s my approach these days… to try to listen more and talk less. So now I’d love to listen to you …

What are you reading and thinking these days? Would love to hear all about what’s resonating with you.

If you enjoyed this post, share the link to this post with two friends. Learning together is way more fun than learning on my own.

 

My Boyfriend Is Smarter Than Me…

I have five degrees. Five! An Associate degree, a Bachelor’s degree with a double major, a Master of Arts degree, a Master of Science degree, and a Doctorate in Education.  I love school.

And yet, even with all those fancy certificates, my boyfriend is smarter than me. He’s a welder. No fancy college degrees. But he can build and create and fix and imagine in ways my brain can’t comprehend.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 14.40.40

John fabricating seat mounts for our ’68 Jeep I nicknamed Wabi Sabi.

Case in point: We bought a Jeep. A ’68 Jeep that hadn’t been loved in a very long time. It had been parked in a field for 15 years, stripped of its elements and left abandoned to nature. No seats. No pedals. No steering assembly. All wiring stripped and sitting in a pile in the cab. Rusty nuts and bolts that belong somewhere filled a coffee can.

And yet he is rebuilding it. There’s no manual for this. No YouTube video series that connects all the dots. He has to figure it out. He IS figuring it out. Sometimes with parts that are there. Sometimes with new parts he is purchasing. And sometimes with parts he fabs up on his own. Watching him work mesmerizes me. His ability to see in three dimensions, and to understand the interdependency of systems and how they contribute to the overall form and function, is a form of genius I don’t possess.

I share all this with you not just because I am insanely proud of his skills (although I am!), but because I think it’s important to remember that there is not one best way to learn. As much as I love school and books and conversations about school and books, John would shrivel up in that environment.

Our experiences often have a greater impact on us than degrees ever will!
— Jonathan Spike (@Mr_JSpike)

 

When I started play teaching my dolls and neighborhood friends at age six, I knew everything and dispensed my knowledge to them through worksheets I drew, and books I read, and homework I made them complete (my poor friends!). When I started actual teaching twenty years later, not much had changed. I still made worksheets for my students, and read books with (and to) them, and assigned homework. Over the years, I learned and adapted to a 1:1 environment, and brought in Genius Hour and Project Based Learning. But sadly, and I am not proud to admit this, I controlled much of the learning structure in my room.

But our role as teachers is changing. We need to be cognizant of the needs of our learners. All our learners. Not just the ones that are compliant. Not just the ones that are college bound. Not just the ones that look like and sound like we do.

And part of that change is the realization that the best way to support a learner may simply be to get out of his/her way and let the learning figure itself out, like it does for John.

***

If you like Jeeps, or just watching things come to life, feel free to follow along via Instagram @wabisabi68jeep as we get this thing desert ready!

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When school dress codes focus the majority of their attention on what girls should not be allowed to wear, it sends a message.

A powerful message.

A message that girls are the problem. Their bodies are distracting to boys. And that boys shouldn’t have to be responsible for curtailing their sexist behavior.

This needs to stop.

It breeds harassment. And misogyny. And a blame the victim culture.

Proud of my daughter for standing up for her rights. For her body. For her voice.

Take a few minutes and read her post. Words of support always loved:

There’s More to Me Than Meets the Eye

Countdowns Suck. Yes, I said it.

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I wanted to write earlier…I really did. So many blog posts have been ruminating in my brain the past few weeks.

But I’ve had a major life event happen. And I needed time to process. And that meant taking a break from my blog.

So what happened? My oldest daughter, Alexandra, enlisted in the U.S. Navy. In fact, she leaves for basic training in 21 days. 30200 minutes.

I’m so insanely proud of her. Having served in the U.S. Army myself, I know how scary it can be to give control of your life over to the government in the name of freedom. But she did it, and not only did she do it, but she was chosen to participate in the cryptology program, which is the same program in which my dad served during the Vietnam War.

So if I am so proud, why haven’t I blogged? Because I am also scared to death! I vacillate between proud momma and “Oh my gosh… how will I survive eight weeks without talking to her, without seeing her, without knowing she is okay?”

The days are counting down until she leaves… 21 days… 30175 minutes since I started writing this blog post. 21 days until her exciting new life begins and my angst-ridden new life begins.

Makes me wonder how many of our students have similar angst with those “Countdown to Summer Vacation” signs that are found in so many classrooms these days. If a child’s summer is spent traveling to Hawaii, that countdown is amazing. If that summer is spent babysitting younger siblings or wondering if there is enough food for lunch and dinner, those numbers are pretty darn scary.

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