Laura K Spencer, Ed.D.

Become a Better Human.

My 15 year old daughter started a blog. A blog to encourage and empower teens based on her experiences and views of the world. Her second post is titled, “…like a girl.” In it, she talks about the negative impact the statement “like a girl” has on girls, and that girls are just as “strong and capable of anything as males are.” It was a positive message of self-worth.

And yet, within an hour of sharing it on my Facebook page, it was attacked. In one comment, she was told that “men are stronger than women and she should face the facts of biology.” Other, similar comments followed.

IMG_0379 3The dominant male voice was, ironically, reinforcing my daughter’s point: “Together as women, we are intelligent, beautiful, and powerful human beings that shouldn’t be trampled on by derogatory expressions.” His messages, even when couched in conciliatory statements like “Don’t get me wrong, great intent…”  sought to silence a young girl sharing her voice of empowerment by asserting superiority.

One thing I have learned from the voices rising up after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting is that there are people who assume power comes hand-in-hand with freedom, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to silence any oppositional voice.

Our society defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” That’s the biggest paradox of freedom: if nothing restraints how each person behaves, it will be absolute chaos. The bully would be free to enslave the meek. It will eventually mean that only those at the top are free, and those at the bottom — the weak — are not.
Freedom is Not About Speaking Up but Choosing to be Silent

Our mission, as educators, is to build empathy and facilitate student voice and agency so they can positively advance the world. We want them to be, we need them to be, good humans. Better humans. Empathetic humans.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
– Nelson Mandela

I wasn’t the most athletic kid growing up. Haha. Who am I fooling? I’m still not athletic. I tripped trying to run to first base because my legs were moving faster than my body. I fell playing kickball because my foot landed on top of the ball instead of kicking the ball. I sometimes run into walls. So you can probably imagine that I wasn’t the first one picked to be on a team. And even if I was (eventually) picked, I certainly wasn’t in the starting lineup!

So it really resonated with me when Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, explained to my colleagues and I* why the employees at WD-40 consider themselves a tribe and not a team.

A team, Ridge explained, comes together for a purpose… usually a competitive one. There are top players, and benchwarmers, and people who didn’t get picked to be on the team at all. They practice together to meet their goal of beating the opponent. But when the game is over, they separate. They lead their own lives, independent of each other.

A tribe, however, is different. Tribes depend on the people within their unit for survival. Every member of the tribe has an important role based on their skills and talents. There are no benchwarmers in a tribe.

Tribes have other elements as well. They have values; they’re future-focused; they are warriors, when needed; and they place importance on celebrations. All of which are elements that contribute to a positive workplace culture.

And because the tribe is dependent on each other, the responsibility of the tribal leader is to be a learner and a teacher. Not only is the leader learning and gaining wisdom that will nurture and sustain the tribe, but s/he also must pass the wisdom down so that the tribe’s success continues without the leader.

The tribe is a much more intentional, and meaningful, connection than a team. People belong to a tribe. They have purpose within the tribe. They are protected by the tribe.

Seth Godin, in his book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us, writes: “Caring is the key emotion at the center of the tribe. Tribe members care what happens, to their goals and to one another.”

Isn’t that, ultimately, at the core of what we want our classrooms and schools to be for our students?


*Before meeting Garry, I would have used the phrase “team” to describe my colleagues. But they are my tribe. As Seth Godin describes it: “Tribes are about faith—about belief in an idea and in a community. And they are grounded in respect and admiration…” Grateful to have found my tribe!

Learn more about the WD-40 tribe on their website.

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This may seem out of the norm for my usual posts, but as a former EdTech/IT Director, I think it’s important that you know how to limit what information you share with apps you have connected to your Facebook.

This Cambridge Analytica data fiasco should be a wake up call for all of us. Understand that this was not a BREACH. Data wasn’t hacked by a nefarious group. It was freely given by the “What Cat Are You?” type of quizzes you take on FB; by the agreements you hurriedly say yes to when registering on a new website; and on the security permissions you don’t often check on Facebook. We are all complicit in this situation.

But here’s how to start reducing that data share:

There are more Facebook settings that you will want to dig into as well,but this is a good starting place.

(And if you haven’t received the Cambridge message from FB yet, or already closed it, you can access your app settings under the FB Setting ms section.)

Featured photo used with attribution permission from:

Defeat is Always Momentary

Defeat is always momentary.

So get up.

Dust yourself off.

Learn from it.

Embrace the opportunity for growth.

And help others do the same.

P.S. And while you’re here reading this, check out my daughter’s blog post on a similar topic:

Failure is Not the Finish Line

Show her some love – her blog is new!

Before I arrived at the SXSW EDU conference, I spent time looking through the conference app, marking sessions that correlated with goals I have for my department. Little did I realize just how much I was going to learn at this conference, and the bulk of it did not happen in those sessions. It happened in the personal connections I made. In the friendships I built.

Those connections will fuel my soul and keep my mind churning with ideas and possibilities long after I forget the “how to” details of the sessions. They remind me why I am an educator; they share in my passions; they push my thinking; and they teach me through their actions and reflections. Can’t get that in a one hour session on learning environments!

Next time you head to a conference, ask yourself, “What friendships will I form?” before you ask yourself, “What new things might I learn?”


The Sky is Blue. It’s Always Blue.

12767714195_c359fd6c1e_bToday I was binging through season 5 of Orange is the New Black in an attempt to complete the series (to date) before returning to work. In one of the episodes, Suzanne shares with her cellmates that the sky is always blue. She said, “It’s like the sky is blue, right? But when there are clouds, you think it’s gray. But, really, it’s still blue. It hasn’t changed. It’s just covered with gray clouds passing by. And your clouds will pass by.”


How many times have we been so consumed by the grayness of the clouds that we fail to remember the sky is still blue? The clouds can take many forms. At work, they may be state mandates, or meeting overload, or high stakes testing. At home, it manifests itself as a squealing dryer, a leaking toilet, or a (near) empty checking account. And I have to admit, sometimes my clouds manifest themselves in those dearest to my heart, when frustrations run high over short tempers or hurt feelings.

“It’s like the sky is blue, right?”

Sure state mandates can be tedious, and meetings get boring, and we all know that high stakes testing isn’t the best accountability measure, but I get to spend my days with passionate, dedicated teachers and administrators who are in an unrelenting pursuit of the amazing school experience for EVERY child. I get to help design experiences that ignite student genius, and empower them to pursue their own passions. How amazingly blue of a sky is that?!? And I get paid for it, too!

“But when there are clouds, you think it’s gray. But, really, it’s still blue. It hasn’t changed.”

I ordered a rear bearing kit from Amazon for my dryer, and with the power of YouTube, should have it back in action before the weekend is over. A toilet seal is only a few bucks at Home Depot, and at least I have a steady paycheck to replenish that checking account. These are just things, after all. Things can be fixed, replaced, or lived without.

“It’s just covered with gray clouds passing by. And your clouds will pass by.”

My family is my center. My daughters fill my heart with so much joy. My boyfriend makes me smile every time I see him. We all have our moments when we are not at our greatest, but through it all, we continue to love and support each other.

Epicurus, ancient stoic philosopher, said, “Not what we have but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance.”

Committing to enjoying the blue sky!

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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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The Next Chapter

The other day, my boyfriend told me he didn’t know what to buy me for Christmas, because I don’t have any hobbies. It made me stop and reflect because I always considered reading a hobby of mine. When I was little, my mom would punish me by sending me outside to play because I just wanted to read. I remember refusing to leave my room for days at a time because I was wrapped up in the Witching Hour series by Anne Rice, and then Imajica by Clive Barker and oh, the joy of holing up with every Neil Gaiman book! I remember crying during Harry Potter, and rooting for love to win in Jane Eyre, and adding quote after quote to my quote journals while reading Kierkegaard and Camus and Sartre and Hesse. My professional spirit grew with Daniel Pink, Sir Ken Robinson, Pat Lencioni, and Simon Sinek. I have always been in love with the ideas in books.

I think that, somehow, as my career progressed and the daily demands increased, I got so wrapped up in “I have to read this”  to stay current or to sound smart that I stopped enjoying the love of reading just for the sake of loving reading. Sure, I’ve read, but I wasn’t becoming part of the books. They were something I needed to do before going to bed.  It had become a hole I didn’t realize I had.

A book is a dream that you hold in your hands.

And then today, I read a blog post called “100 Books” by Joe Mullikin. Joe describes his resolution to read 100 books in 2017 and the impact it had on him. One of the elements I appreciated in Joe’s blog is that his list of books was not just a list of professional books, but included thought-provoking fictional books as well. His list made me miss books – miss the way they fill my soul, fill my brain, and push me to think beyond myself.

So I am committing to recapturing my love of reading in 2018. A book(ish) a week. A blend of fiction and professional learning. And I need your help. Please leave a comment with the one (or two) books that have shaped you as an individual. The book that made you sad when the end came. The book you wish you could buy for everyone you know.

As I read, I’ll share with you my thoughts and titles. Hopefully my journey will inspire the work I do, the life I lead, and the children I raise.

Let’s do this!

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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