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


Open-up to open-ended challenges.

“Of course the internet being the internet…there was a rapid outcry.” Scott McLeod

Snowballing happens when nothing gets in the damn way.  The honest reason that more teens aren’t using social media to change the world is because there are so many teachers in the way.

I’ve been that teacher.  We have all on occasion been more of a hurdle and less of an inrun.

8577295645_aaf98d957a_m Photo Credit: tomfkemp via Compfight cc

A huge shift in my teaching and learning happened seven years ago.

Thanks in part to NIST

I applied to be on a small team of educators who would shape the house program.  We coordinated a range of activities big and small, we brainstormed ways to inspire a culture of mentorship and community.  The key to that coordination was two part:

a) Empower student-driven activities

b) Provide open-ended opportunities

Coordinating our house program wasn’t about coordinating kids.  It was about fostering creativity and collaboration.  Navigating that challenge is only possible if you trust the students.

Want to see what happens when you get out of the way of students?

We need to shift the way we think about assessments. 

My former colleague Brian Jackson is a true trailblazer in this regard.  He knows that we need to give our students the opportunity to think for themselves in regards to the methodology in which they can demonstrate learning objectives.  Brian Jackson often constructs rubrics with the students.  This shift in collaboratively constructing units of inquiry is hugely needed.  The top-down approach no longer fits our flat context.

The reality is, students have publishing, programing, and production opportunities at their fingertips.  The options for demonstrating learning have quadrupled. 

As an MYP and DP teacher, I think of myself as a thinking-facilitator.  My primary purpose needs to be fostering globally-minded citizens.  That’s huge.  That’s why teachers get summer vacations.  If I am not asking my students to practice being thoughtful day after day after day, I have no hopes of achieving my primary purpose.

It is difficult to ask someone to be thoughtful and creative if you keep students out of the planning phase. 

Schools that don’t make time for this are short-changing the entire community.  I’ve long been an advocate for protecting ‘teacher-time.’  When I am short on time, my planning suffers.

“Nobody needs telling that meetings are a catastrophic waste of work time. But even so, it’s a little alarming to learn just how much time they can waste. In the Harvard Business Review, three consultants from Bain report the results of an exercise in which they analyzed the Outlook schedules of the employees of an unnamed “large company” – and concluded that one weekly executive meeting ate up a dizzying 300,000 hours a year. Which is impressive, given that each of us only has about 8,700 hours a year to begin with. Including sleep.” Taken from The Guardian’s “Meetings: even more of a soul-sucking waste of time than you thought.”

Most schools prioritize teachers meeting with other teachers and administrators.  Shouldn’t we place more emphasis on the time we each spend with students?

Teachers and administrators can also be hurdles.  What might happen if we hosted a ‘meeting-free month’?  What creativity might ensue from those pockets of time?

Much in the same way we need to challenge our students, schools also need to challenge their own practices.

Empowering learners is not only about empowering students.  How can we empower our colleagues?

Make room.
Make time.

Assume your community will use both wisely.


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