On the power of assemblage

When Is the last time you told a friend, colleague, or student: “I’ll be your audience”?

Last Monday, the third #teacherbookclub chat (Via Twitter) hosted the extraordinary co-author of Launch, John Spencer.

If you are in education and you have yet to check out Spencer’s ‘Sketchy Videos,’ be prepared to be amazed:

In John Spencer’s post “Ten Things Pixar Can Teach Us About Creativity” he reminds us that creativity is not the end goal, rather, creativity is a byproduct of healthy communities of learners who prioritize relationships above outcomes:

People are more important than ideas. There was a great quote here, “Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas . . . too many of us think of ideas as being singular, as if they float in the ether , fully formed and independent of the people who wrestle with them. Ideas, though, are not singular. They are forged through tens of thousands of decisions, often made by dozens of people.” This has a few big implications. First, it means trust and relationships are more important than the products we make. Second, it means we need to be okay to abandon ideas without taking things personally. Finally, it means our success in generating ideas does not define who we are as people.

JD Hancock Relationship
JD Hancock


Spencer’s musings on the trust we need to precede ‘creativity’ continues in his book (prioritize it on your summer to-read list):

“If we want students to hit a place of creative flow, we need to give them time to experience this phase. We must allow them to be excruciatingly slow. There’s no shortcut. They can’t bypass the necessary learning and discovery, trial and error. They simply need more time to work through it.”

A week ago, one of my amazing grade 9 students had a day off from school.  With all the open space of a day off campus she could have done just about anything.  Instead of binging on Netflix, she hit that place of creative flow.  All on her own. Check out her amazing project in the making here:

You can read all about the project to be here. Please consider leaving your comments, or connecting her with other students who might ignite other ideas too.

In many ways, that student followed Spencer’s Launch Cycle.  Perhaps she’d even agree with another quote from #LaunchBook:

“There’s power in problem-solving and experimenting and taking things from questions to ideas to authentic products that you launch to the world. Something happens in students when they define themselves as makers and inventors and creators.”

I’ve been thinking about the students and colleagues I’ve known who have been ‘prone to Launch.’  They all share one common trait:  they have a network who will support them by being a member of their audience.

Being someone’s audience comes in all shapes and sizes.  You can comment on their post, quote their tweet adding your ‘yes, and…’ thoughts, ask them to tell you more, connect them with someone who can take their work further, invite them into your network, or just listen.

“Just Listen.”

Sarah Horrigan Listen
Sarah Horrigan

How often do we underestimate the power of listening?

It is one of the most effective ways to make someone feel valued.  Think of the people you’ve most loved working with, I bet they made you feel heard.  The most inspired administrators I’ve had the privilege to work with are all stellar listeners.

As another academic year comes to an end, I propose a goal for all you gearing up to set brand new goals: make any five members of your community feel heard, for the entire year.  What if this goal applied to all stakeholders of your school? How might that feed into other goals?

I’m reading two books at the moment which are proving to be very helpful if you want to unpack that goal:

The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations Into Breakthroughs

by Marcia Reynolds


While I am incredibly excited to listen to brand new colleagues and students at my soon to be next school, I must say, I am every bit as excited to hear from the creator of the Firesaur, to find out how her project evolves.  I’m also excited to hear from members of the #EagleEd squad, and play audience from afar to hear about what they do with blogging, Davos, service learning, and more.
As a goodbye and thank you, I leave with a blogpost (also by Spencer) as a parting gift.  I hope my students and colleagues continue to foster the power of positive relationships and embrace what Spencer calls ‘The Food Truck Mindset”:
Food trucks often allow a chef to continue to improve on his or her craft by learning through making. You figure out if it works by sending it to a real audience. Part of why food trucks can experiment so well is that they are moving through the design cycle faster than a typical restaurant. They are able to test things out to a real audience and see if it works. Schools can easily get bogged down by meetings where they are planning about planning. But if they take this “ship earlier” approach, they can test things, modify them, and then create a new iteration faster. Innovation often looks small and humble at first. But good ideas have a way of spreading when people are able to see it in action.

Happy Making this Summer!

Kind Regards,


Takashi .M Thank you !!
Takashi .M
Thank you !!

Thank you Flickr for the amazing Creative Commons Images!

JD Hancock


Sarah Horrigan


Making Headlines.

Jon S Newspaper sunny yellow
Jon S
Newspaper sunny yellow

So much has been workshopped, blogged, tweeted and packaged in terms of helping educators everywhere come to terms with ’21st Century Learning.’  We are already in the 21st Century, but still concerned with catching up, it seems.  Usually the phrase ’21st Century Learning,’ prompts people to think about 1:1, social media, coding, or mobile.  But when we really look at the demands of our current times, shouldn’t we be focusing our pedagogy on the problems plaguing society?


In essence, I think we’ve lost our way when we focus goals on preparing students for ‘the future,’ when in reality, we can do so much as learners with what is happening today.  There isn’t a student out there who hasn’t heard the phrase ‘this will prepare you for tomorrow,’ and thought: ‘hmmm…really?’  Many schools have jumped on the ‘wellness wagon,’ and preach the importance of being in the moment. So let’s reframe that:  Is your school in the moment?

Has the curriculum responded to a pressing global issue making headlines this year?

Do we have time in our curriculum to pursue issues in real time?

Because that’s what being 1:1, or ‘having Google in your pocket’ is really about: being able to be the learner today’s world needs, today.

I know this sounds lofty, so let me try to propose a few tangible ways to rebrand 21st Century Learning into a model which is remarkably in the moment.

  1. Check out 2015’s CNN heroes.  Which initiatives could you and your students start working on next week? I bet there is at least one that you could remix in the context of your campus.
  2. Do a close audit of the apathy barriers in your community.

Apathy as we think we know it doesn’t actually exist…that we live a world that actively discourages engagement…” (Dave Meslin)

Watch the talk in full here. Identify and have an honest debate with students on the tenets in Meslin’s talk.  Find out what ‘intentional exclusion’ might be in the way of your learners (this includes the teachers).

  3. The PBS Idea Channel is one of my favorite Youtube channels out there. The   episode ‘What is Violence?’ is particularly relevant to me today as I type this post.

I think of violence as the removal of choice. Violence is the interruption of inertia, the removal of possibility and most importantly, of choice.

Critically examine your course outline, is it one which promotes a nonviolent approach to learning?  Is it one where opportunities for inquiry flourish? Or are student questions only given a small sliver of time?

As an educator and former Peace Corps volunteer, I believe that a more student-driven educational system will lead to a preference for nonviolence, and an ability to ‘think we, before me.’

Think about times you have felt aggressive. Did your aggression come from feeling trapped emotionally or physically?

School schedules and systems, as they currently stand in many schools do, to a certain extent confine the learning. In her book,   Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, author and editor Heidi Hayes Jacobs writes:

“Currently we have submitted to the concept that the only thing we can do is what the schedule allows. We think, “I only have 40-minute blocks, so I can only do 40-minute types of activities.” It is no wonder that a school’s schedule becomes the tyrant of boredom. Teachers and students look at the clock as the mechanized referee of an endurance contest.”

Could more flexible and adaptive schools promote a nonviolent approach to conflict, both personal and global?  I think a part of that answer can be unpacked by reading Tag Rei’s piece in Aeon entitled “How Could They?”

It isn’t easy to change a culture of violence. You have to give people the structural, economic, technological and political means to regulate their relationships peacefully. Social groups have to learn to shame and shun anyone who hurts others. But it can be done. It has been done in the past, and it is happening as we speak.

Cultures do change. Globally, violence is on the decline. People everywhere are finding ways to satisfy their moral motives and social-relational aims non-violently. This does not mean our work is finished. People still hurt and kill one another because they believe that it is the right thing to do. But if their primary social groups make them feel that they should not be violent, they won’t be. Once everyone, everywhere, truly believes that violence is wrong, it will end.

I believe schools need to prove that violence isn’t ever anywhere close to being the best option.  We can do this by making room to problem solve a priority in every course, at every age.  This only happens when we make more space in the curriculum.  And we can do that better if schools rethink current systems, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World has another thought on what that could be:

“What if schools gave classroom teachers and teaching teams the option of three or four full weeks to go into depth on their personal projects, research investigations, creative generation of digital products, and onsite visits? These weeks could be planned throughout the year and would provide an open opportunity to create exciting interactive sessions.”
Natalie Warne’s TED talk is one of my top-three all time favorite TED’s.  I’ve seen it at least twenty times.  As a teacher, the thing that haunts me, is thinking about how much time and flexibility Warne needed to make her inquiry matter.  I have had many ‘Natalie Warners’ come through my classroom.  But I have not done nearly (not nearly) enough to make space for inquiry. If you haven’t seen her speak, take the 12 minutes to do so. “Anonymous Extraordinaries” should be required viewing for all educators.
Do our courses meet 21st Century Learners in this shared moment?
Do schools confine or refine the ambitions of the learners they house?
Do we limit our students to simply being aware of current events?

Or…do we recognize that changing the tone of headline news starts with what the headlines of our course syllabi read?

Thomas Leuthard Headlines...
Thomas Leuthard


Flickr thank you for providing access to wonderful Creative Commons Images

Thomas Leuthard

Jon S

Newspaper sunny yellow

Set the bar.

When I was in my early 20’s (nothing makes you feel older than a phrase like that), I paid my bills by bartending.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had so much to learn about teaching from mixing martinis and recommending bottles of wines. I suppose it could be said that any line of work dealing with people will teach you something about helping them learn.

StylishLensT AT The Bar.
AT The Bar.


Get the tone right

A night out, like a lesson in, needs to have an intentional tone.  Don’t leave it to chance.  Take care of your classroom the way you would a dinner party.  Guests want to know that you’ve thought of them in advance.  The more we can do to make students feel welcome, the better.

give space, but be attentive

Know when to step in, and when to back off.  A great bartender anticipates when customers are ready for another round, and a great teacher anticipates when students need a moment of support.  Hovering in front of a customer is about as effective as hovering above a student: not at all.

Here’s the thing that you need to get comfortable with…the idea of getting kids to fail as part of the learning process…

From This TED:

While it is nice to recommend the occasional beverage, people like to try new things.  Students need to feel like they have control in the classroom as well.  Having a menu is the first step: giving the student ownership over that menu is another.

As an English teacher, I cannot underscore the importance of choice for my readers enough.  Parents often ask me to recommend texts for students.  Students need to choose their own books.  We all need to practice the fine art of making decisions for ourselves.

one room, many moods

You cannot make everyone happy all the time.  One lesson might be a huge win with one student, and a giant fail with another.  People have different preferences, and that is fine.  When it comes to building relationships, always think in Seth Godin’s ‘long run’ terms.

provide a unique service

You can’t do this if you are trying to mirror the teacher next door, or the bartender across the street.  While we can learn from one another, it is important too, to remember that variety is the spice of life.  Success does not have a single face.  When I first started bartending, I worried about not being quite as good as other bartenders on the team.  Whether or not you are ‘as good as’ someone else is irrelevant.  What does matter is whether or not your service is unique.  Are you offering a unique perspective?  Worry more about finding your voice, your approach, and your style, and less about mirroring someone else.

Feel the room

A busy bar means you and your fellow bartenders need to trust one another.  A school in October feels much the same.  Hold one another accountable, and trust that you are in this together.  A part of this means that yes, you do need to offer support, and be mindful of what is happening with your team.  Bartenders are great at knowing when and how to switch gears.  So much of that is steeped in nonverbal communication.  We have the same opportunities to pay attention to the things our colleagues are trying to say Monday to Friday.  Whether or not you choose to do something about it is key.  In Paula Guinto’s phenomenal Learning2 talk, she really brings this home:

Which experiences have taught you to be a better educator?


Thanks Flickr for:


AT The Bar.


Curiosity Saves.

Matt Preparing For Descent
Preparing For Descent


A few weeks ago I asked my fantastic grade 9 class to give me a prompt for my blog.  They quickly constructed a bank of provocative ideas for me to navigate.  One of the prompts asked me to explore the classic cat question: Do cats always land on their feet?

I realize in writing this, perhaps that timeless question needs to be revised to ‘Do cats always land on their paws?’ but let’s not get lost in the semantics of this line of inquiry.

Sadly, grade 9, I am not an expert in cat flight trajectory paths, but I’m not about to let that stop me from attempting to unpack this question.

I am however, a pretty experienced Youtuber.  A quick search helped me find this:

When you experience trauma when you are relaxed, you will likely experience less injury

Chill out.

That seems to be the big takeaway lesson from that pretty rad slow motion cat falling video.  Relax.  How does this apply to our species?

If you think you are about to make a mistake, breathe.  Don’t tense up, instead be flexible.  While the mistake you’ve made might be a completely different story to that of a cat trying to fly, consider this: how you react to ‘a fail’ epic or otherwise is more important to the mistake itself.

Fail Forward.

Huh?  Mistakes matter.

“You will fail. It’s going to happen. … Each mistake is simply another iteration on the journey toward success.”

(John Spencer, Launch)


Cats are remarkably curious.  According to the internet they are also mad ninjas.  Be a curious ninja.  Cats take crazy leaps, and whether or not they always land on their paws/feet isn’t really the essential point.  Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, curiosity encouraged the cat to find out just how ninja that cat could be.

How will curiosity fuel your next leap?

zuikoalex Pounce!



Thank you to Flickr for your bank of Creative Commons Images


Preparing For Descent





Books as your Belay Loop

The belay loop is a strong, rigid loop of webbing that attaches the leg loops to the waist belt. The belay loop is also one of the most important parts of the climbing harness since a locking carabiner is attached to the loop when you are belaying or rappelling. The belay loop is extremely strong so it can withstand all the energetic forces of climbing, including severe falls.

(Click here for more via Climbing.About.Com)

Kyle Harbour Belaying
Kyle Harbour


Continue your #Climb this summer

You’ve come so far this year.  Forget about grades and report cards.  Focus on the writer, risk-taker, and inspiration you have been for one another this year.  Think of the feedback you have provided for your peers, the ideas you have seen come to fruition.  You’ve authored work and shared it with your community all year.  That’s huge.  The ideas you’ve produced on your blog, and the contributions you’ve given to your peer group are more important than you will ever know.

Never underestimate the power of a compliment. 

You’ve given dozens of them this year, and I promise you, many of them will be remembered for years and years to come.  Each and every one of you is a better listener today than you were in August.  That matters.  Each one of you has made someone else feel heard this year. When a community feels heard, when the majority of your tribe feels valued, your potential explodes.  As your cohort moves closer to graduation, check in on the culture of your class.  Taking care of the heart of your grade level starts with your ears.  Listen, and invite one another to share.

empathetic leaders are great readers.

If we want to be curators of our school culture’s stories, we have to practice empathy.  I cannot think of another activity that will help you train your mind to strive for empathy more than reading will.  Private reading is a social act.  I blogged about this in an earlier post here.

Invest in your community this summer by reading.

We’ve looked at a number of great books to watch out for this summer. Click here or here to revisit them. Seek out books that you will use to practice empathy with.  Seek out books to spark a conversation with.  Pull yourself up this mountain of learning one chapter at a time.

Seek out the librarians and recruit their help

Ms. Kandelaars and Ms. Glausen know their stuff.  They are the queens of the library, and they will help you.  They’ve ordered every single book I’ve asked them to order.  They think about learning through your eyes, and they try to equip the school accordingly.  They will help you find new passions, and they will allow you to do better research.  The library is a place for you to go to when you need the quiet inspiration that is book hunting.  Thank you to our school librarians for creating that environment. It matters.

Ask other people to share their ‘must read’ books with you

Diversify your book shelf by asking people which books have mattered to them. I’ve given you a head start on this by asking a few of our #EagleEd teacher team on Twitter to share a text with you:

Mr. Paron:




Dr. badcock:



Ms. Jarvis:



Mr. Dalesio:


Ms. Koch:


Mr. Bond:



Which books will enable you to #climb this summer?


Thank you Flickr for providing these Creative Commons images

Kyle Harbour