My Passion for Creative Classrooms
I am passionate about seeing kids embrace creativity through design thinking. As a middle school teacher, this included murals, documentaries, STEM camps, and coding projects. As a dad, this has meant helping my kids with their elaborate pillow forts and home-made pinball machines. As a children’s book author, this has meant co-writing Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard (a book about a non-magical wizard who falls in love with robotics). It’s also why I co-founded the blogging platform Write About. Now, as I begin my career as a professor of instructional technology, this means empowering new teachers to use technology and design thinking for creative reasons.
Over the last three years, I have had the opportunity to share this vision for creative classrooms with a variety of audiences, including the White House Future Ready Summit, a breakfast keynote at ISTE, and a TEDx Talk. I’ve been honored to work with schools, districts and organizations through keynotes, workshops, sessions and coaching on the topics of design thinking, blended learning, and student engagement.
I offer the unique perspective of being a published author, the co-founder of a successful startup, a classroom teacher for over a decade, and now a college professor. I am someone with extensive classroom experience, industry experience, and research experience.
As a facilitator and speaker, I believe teachers need to be affirmed for the great things they are doing while also being challenged to grow in their craft. My approach blends practical skills, best practices, and reflective thinking with a style that is both humorous and conversational. I always include a set of practical resources that participants can access online at any time.
Areas of Expertise
I am in the unique position of having industry experience, classroom experience, and research experience in the following three areas:
- Creativity through Design Thinking
- Helping Students Develop a Maker Mindset
- Empowering Students with Voice and Choice
Interested in bringing me on as a keynote speaker or workshop facilitator? Fill out the form below.
Frequently Requested Keynotes
Here are some of the most requested keynotes. Each session comes with a free, customized toolkit packed with resources for your specific audience.
LAUNCH Into Design Thinking
Despite the myth of “digital natives,” most of my students have very little experience using technology as anything more than a consumer device. It doesn’t have to be this way. By using a design thinking framework, teachers can foster creative thinking in every content area and help students develop a maker mindset.
This is the Future of Education
For all the talk of gadgets and apps, the future of education won’t center around a new content delivery system. The future is in your classroom. It’s with your students. Your school is packed with creative potential. In this keynote, we tackle what the future of education will look like as we shift toward creativity and innovation.
Empowering Students with Voice and Choice
Student choice is about more than just a menu option. It’s about student ownership. This includes ownership of the processes, the assessment, the strategies, and the metacognition. But how do we make this happen? How do we fit this into our standards and our curriculum map?
It Is Personal: A New Vision for Personalized Learning
Personalized learning has become a buzzword in education. However, too often, “personalized” simply means an adaptive program, where students are passively moving through the curriculum. What if we empowered students to own their own learning? In this keynote, I share a personalized learning framework that begins with the idea that learning should be relational, social, and creative.
Workshops and Sessions
The following are some of the workshops and sessions I conduct. The goal here is a meaningful, practical, hands-on experience.
The Seven Types of Creative Teachers
Creativity is often viewed through an artistic lens. The creative teacher is the one who is doing things wildly different. However, creativity can manifest itself in different ways on campus. In this workshop, we explore the five creative mindsets used in the classroom. The goal is for teachers to identify and analyze their creative identity while also empowering students to embrace creativity in the process.
The Eight Stages of the Teacher Technology Journey
Using the metaphor of a journey, this session takes educators through the phases that many teachers go through from “tech tourism” to “tech assimilation” to “tech integration” and eventually “tech citizenship” (including media criticism). The idea here is to develop reflective questions we could ask teachers in each phase so that they could progress toward a deeper understanding of the nature of technology. Participants will reflect on their own journey through technology integration while also developing reflective coaching questions they can use with their colleagues.
We Want Kids to Be Creative But How Do We Assess That?
With the explosion of the maker movement, schools are beginning to embrace creativity. However, what does this mean for assessment? Should we assess the creative process? Should we assess the finished product? Does assessing creativity actually make kids more risk-averse? In this session, we explore what it means to assess both the creative process and the creative product without leading to risk aversion. We also explore five authentic assessment strategies you can use tomorrow.
Maximizing Student Engagement
Ever been “in the zone” while working on a project? You lose track of time. You focus on what’s in front of you. There is a strange mix of calmness and excitement. Those moments are tied into something called Flow Theory. How do we create lessons, experiences, projects and spaces that maximize flow for students? This session is an interactive discussion with an end product of something tangible that would increase flow in learning (a space, a lesson, or a unit).
The Power of Maker Challenges
Limitations and challenges can be frustrating. However, they can also be the creative constraint that leads to problem-solving and divergent thinking. Over the years, I’ve learned that students love challenges that they find engaging, intriguing and meaningful. Some of these are practical and real-world. Others are fantastical and require a bold imagination. In this session, we explore what it looks like to create maker challenges to spark student creativity.
Epic Engagement: Lesson Planning Through the Lens of Story
Story-telling is a deeply human way of making sense out of our experiences. Using the lens of story, we explore how teachers can set up “epic” classrooms. The best lessons are the ones with a high level of suspense and profound character development. As teachers, we can allow students to struggle through both internal and external conflict as they make sense out of themes rather than just ideas.
What Educators Are Saying About My Keynotes, Workshops, and Sessions
John’s classroom expertise on project based learning, design thinking, and writing allow him to offer realistic and practical suggestions to move teachers forward. John’s amazing creativity can be seen in his humor, writing, drawings, and visual writing prompts that he creates for Write About. If you are looking for someone to go beyond the “50 Apps in 50 Minutes” style of professional development to a practical, student centered pedagogy then John Spencer is who you should call. – Mike Kaechele, Teacher at Kent Innovation High School and Renowned Expert on Project-Based Learning
John Spencer is a fantastic speaker. He will inspire you and push your thinking to new heights. His mixture of content, storytelling, and humor makes for a great keynote. – Brett Clark, Director of Technology at Greater Clark County Schools
Awesome presentations on Digital Portfolios and Creative Assessments! – Ana Jennings
Recent and Upcoming Speaking Events
- July 31st: It Is Personal keynote (and sessions), Personalized Learning Summit, Chaska, Minnesota
- August 7th: LAUNCH Into Design Thinking keynote (and sessions) at the Level Up Learning Conference, Springbranch ISD, Houston, Texas
- August 11th: LAUNCH into Design Thinking keynote (and sessions), iNation conference, Waxahachie ISD, Texas
- August 14th: The Future of Learning Keynote (extended keynote), Texas A&M – Texarkana
- August 15th: Genius by Design: Inquiry-Based Learning and Design Thinking workshop, Rockdale ISD, Rockdale, Illinois
- August 17th: The Future of Learning keynote (and sessions), Summer DIVE, Lawrence Township, New Jersey
- September 5th: Design Thinking (all-day workshop) at Benchmark School, in Media, Pennsylvania
- September 26th: LAUNCH Into Design Thinking keynote (and session), Innovation Summit, Little Rock, Arkansas
- October 16-30: Guest lecturing in China with my university
- November 9th: Design thinking workshop, St. Michael’s Day School, Newport, Rhode Island
- November 10th: LAUNCH Into Design Thinking keynote (and sessions), Oak Creek, WI
- November 13th: Empowering Students, Winnipeg, MB
- December 1st: Workshop with Klein ISD, Houston, Texas
- December 18th: The Future of Learning keynote, Tampa Bay Library Consortium, Tampa Bay, Florida