I believe in the power of language. As a writer, I immerse myself in words. As a researcher, I pick apart phrases. I nerd out on Conceptual Metaphor Theory. If you see me zone out during a staff meeting, I’m probably analyzing the clashing implied metaphors.

For four years, I worked for an urban non-profit that emphasized anti-racism and indigenous leadership. It was humbling and often painful to see how my language conveyed unhealthy power dynamics and biases. I realized that what I had once mocked as “political correctness” had a direct impact on people’s lives. Referring to someone as…


It’s easy to pit creativity and consumption against each other. However, critical consuming is vital for creative work. When you engage in critical consuming, you become more inspired and ultimately, you will create better content.

The Vital Role of Critical Consuming

I still remember sitting in my sister’s Pontiac Grand Am when she placed the cassette in the tape deck. After a few hissing sounds, I listened skeptically to the repetitive chord progression of the sparse-sounding”Round Here,” followed by the fuller, eclectic sounding “Omaha.” Although this was a new album, it felt vaguely familiar — like sitting on the shag carpet listening to my dad play…


I wasn’t always a dog lover. I used to be a dog-liker and most of the time a dog-tolerator. I never understood why people would get bumper stickers with their favorite dog breed and I cringed a little when I heard the phrase “he’s part of our family.” But I’ve become that guy. I have the bumper sticker. I refer to Jasmine as “a part of our family,” and yes, I even have pictures of her on my phone.

I’m now a dog person. More specifically, I’m a greyhound guy. Here’s why.

A year ago, we decided to adopt a…


Recently, I asked my students (pre-service teachers who are currently in their practicum) about the ultimate goal of education. Some described the need for raising democratic citizens who will think critically about the world. A larger group described the need for preparing students for the global economy. Others wanted students to develop into life-long learners. They wanted to see students fall in love with reading and writing and to geek out on ideas and to continue to make stuff on their own.

While these goals often conflict in education, I’m struck by the fact that they all require students to…


Earlier this week, my friend George Couros wrote a wonderful post about seeing the value in balance and it had me thinking about the role of balance in creativity and teaching.

Years ago, my friend Wayne gave me some great advice about balance and self-care. Although this was about the non-profit world, I think it pertains to teaching as well.

He said, “John, people think about balance like a scale but it’s more like a highwire balance where you are also spinning plates. You can picture that, right? The sticks and the spinning plates?”

I nodded.

He continued, “The point…


I’m sitting in front of the computer blinking, ready to press the “submit” button; knowing that if I missed this problem, the progress bar will drop down another 25% and I’ll spend half an hour trying to get back up to where I was. At this point, I have spent well over ninety minutes on a lesson that’s meant to last twenty to forty-five minutes.

I take a deep breath and press submit. A red bar appears warning me that it’s “not quite right,” and so I step away. Every part of me wants to quit this lesson and move…


I’m about two-thirds of my way through my doctoral program and it’s beginning to get more challenging. I’ve spent hours working through the self-paced instruction in my statistics class while geeking out about professional development in my second course. My mind is ping-ponging back and forth between ideas I want to explore and research I want to pursue.

It’s exciting but it’s also overwhelming. Between teaching, speaking, doing workshops, making content, and hanging out with my family, I haven’t been as proactive about pursuing these burning questions through research.

So, when my colleague and mentor Karen emailed me asking how…


We’ve all been there before when we were students. You’d hear the dreaded words “group project,” and immediately begin calculating the additional work that you would need to do to keep the group afloat; especially if the teacher chose the members. You check the list of names on the board. You’ll be with the drifter, who wanders around the class chatting with friends. You’ll have the needy student who wants to ask the teacher questions before making any decisions. Then you’ll have the feisty fighter who picks arguments because he’s bored.

But then as a teacher, you see a new…


When my middle son was in the third grade, he volunteered to share a joke with a big audience at a family camp. As I watched him standing in the line with older kids and quite a few adults, I felt nervous. What would happen if no one laughed? Would he be crushed? Did he fully understand what he was getting himself into? Maybe he needed a little more time.

I turned to my wife and asked if we should pull him back to the table with us. We whispered back and forth, debating whether or not we should let…


I’m a huge fan of Parks and Recreation because of a surprising element: being earnest. Yes, the show is goofy and the city of Pawnee can feel cartoonish at first glance. However, the characters feel surprisingly real. Most comedies move their characters further and further toward caricatures until they are essentially cartoonish. Dwight Schrute became outright mean and Kevin became such a bumbling buffoon it was hard to watch in the last few seasons of The Office. But with Parks and Rec, the writers kept surprising the audience with unexpected kindness. The characters grew as a result of one another…

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something new every day. Some days, I make stuff. Other days, I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store