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My wife and I give each other one night a week to pursue our own interest. It’s sort of like having a date night alone. Odd, I know, but something that allows both of us to pursue our own interests no matter how crazy life gets. I used to feel guilty leaving my kids for one night but now I realize that this time

Each Thursday night, I go somewhere to do creative work. Sometimes it’s Starbucks (I know, I know, it’s a chain place) and sometimes it’s a microbrew and sometimes it’s a local Mexican food joint. But wherever it is, I sit down alone and pursue my own creative work. This is my Genius Hour. This is my Twenty Percent time. I have a few rules for myself:

  1. I can’t work on anything related to school. I can’t grade papers. I can’t plan lessons. But I also can’t work on a presentation for a keynote or write a blog post or write an article. This time can’t be connected to teaching.
  2. There are no deadlines. So, while I love to write fiction, this is bonus time that isn’t part of a scheduled writing process.
  3. I have to be learning something new. A few years ago, this was coding and programming. Last year, this has included story craft (where I have studied up on what makes a story) as I write a novel. Lately, it has been illustrating and animation. So, while I might be working within my strengths, I am also pushing myself to try something new.
  4. The audience is optional. I may someday create a short animated film for students. I will most likely partner with my wife again and publish another novel (my last one was Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard.) However, the goal in my own Genius Hour is to work without worrying about audience.

The end result is that I teach differently because of this personal Genius Hour time.  I am more likely to think about inquiry, choice and creativity in my lessons because I know the value of this in my own life. I am more patient when students get scared of failure. I see what happens when I make mistakes. I understand the frustration.

I realize that teachers are busy. I know that some people don’t have the luxury of being married to someone else who thinks personal Genius Hour is a great idea. But if it’s possible, I’ve found that all the benefits of Genius Hour for students are true of this time for teachers as well.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


  • Nathan Olson says:

    Sounds like golf league night for me in the summer and city league basketball in the winter! Couple time, family time, and alone time all need to be protected and planned. Nice work!

  • Joy Kirr says:

    John, you didn't finish one sentence in your first paragraph… "I realize that this time…" ?? I'd love to know what you realize. 😉 I'm also very curious – what is does your wife do with her time? Does she have parameters, too? Thanks for posting – we all need some time for ourselves. It's difficult for me to separate my own genius hour from school, however, since I keep wanting to make my school life better… I keep pushing off those other ideas (as my banjo sits in the corner) for "when I retire…" I need to bump them closer a notch.

  • I think as we age we start to morph into our daily lives… we put being a professional, husband/wife, father/mother first and, in doing so, we lose ourselves.

    Time to pursue your passions become part of your purpose and it makes you a better YOU… period. Which in turns give you perspective to be really awesome at the other non-negotiables… human, teacher, parent, partner.

    Thank you for sharing 'your' genius hour with us.

    My thesis writing time is very similar…

  • Kelly says:

    Don't apologize for sitting in a Starbucks.

    And great idea; I do this anyway, guilt free, all the time, but this evolves the framing of it.

  • jonharper70 says:

    This is so important. You really push my thinking. I find that too often I am straddling creative time with parenting/education/time with my wife and so that my full undivided attention is not given to either. The fact that you get away for a bit makes that time much more precious and that much more productive. I imagine it odes anyway. I think by doing this I would actually gain time because instead of spending my time climbing back and forth over the fence I am straddling, I would be comfortably situated on one side or the other. Plus fences have jagged edges and they can leave marks if we're not careful.

  • I've been hosting a series of Ignite talks across Canada and am while the presentations are very passionate and good, I'm surprised how few times educators reference learning and interests outside the context of schools. The fact they are passionate about teaching is wonderful but I worry that they have few outlets. I love the fact that one of your rules is that it can't be related to school. Yet I'm sure your time here makes its way into your classroom either directly or indirectly. I stand by a quote from Gary Stager, "One of the best things you can do for your students is to be an interesting person". I find it weird that we'd advocate genius hour for students but not ourselves. I suppose that's true of many things we think are good for kids.

    • Tom Panarese says:

      I think that the reason that educators rarely reference learning and interest outside the context of schools is because of the way our culture in education seems to look down upon teachers who have interests outside of their classrooms. We all hear the condescending remarks about those who leave at the last bell and don't take work home with them, or those who aren't Connected Educators, spending every last minute on Twitter participating in a #chat with their PLN. There's this idea that teachers should always be thinking about their students and their work; moreover, that they shouldn't have any "private" to their private lives (how many times have I heard someone say that I should share my writing with my students and I'm doing a disservice if I don't?) and educators seem to look at that sense of privacy as if it's selfish.

  • Whenever I pursue my own interests (writing, running, reading), I am energized and rejuvenated. Fresh new ideas, insights, and perspectives fill me, and find their way into my home life, and my teaching. Which all points to the reality that I need to plan for this time, and protect it, rather than catch it haphazardly. Thank you for the clear direction.

  • Tania Wilson says:

    First of all I want to say that this post is well written and helpful for me and others.
    and thanks for referring books I will definitely read them.
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  • Anonymous says:

    The wold doesn't need more people who just get things done, the world needs people who do things well. There are enough people who merely cross the finish line, perhaps because they are running so many races that is all the strength they can muster. The world needs people who fly across the finish line, wind in their hair and the joy and pain of the race on their faces. And all who watch dont see and say "good job, you finished," but "wow, one day, I want to run like that."

  • Aaron Davis says:

    Great post. You certainly are a lucky man. I have mused about the importance of Genius Hour before ( My question I guess is how we celebrate such creations even in an education setting. When I think about what staff might bring to a team, I wonder how often we really consider skill sets outside of the usual?

  • Aj Juliani and John Spencer answer the burning questions that teachers have on their minds. This is the perfect podcast for teachers who want fun, practical, creative inspiration on their way to work each day.

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