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Empowering Students

What’s Your Legacy as a Teacher?

By June 26, 2017March 8th, 20184 Comments

What’s Your Legacy as a Teacher?

On Saturday afternoon, I felt my phone buzz.

It was a message from George Couros. “Congratulations guys, your book is up.”

Our new book Empower was officially live on Amazon. Terror set in. What would people think of it? How would people respond? Would they like the visual-oriented style or would they mock it?

See what I mean . . .


This moment was the culmination of an exciting journey to create a book that was truly different. It was one of the biggest creative risks A.J. and I had ever taken. It took off in a way that I could never have imagined. Yesterday, it was the #181 book in all of Amazon’s book sales.

But this moment almost never happened. Throughout the process, I doubted myself because I’m not a “real artist” and I wondered how folks would respond to this type of a book. And yet, when I was ready to quit, I was reminded of my 8th-grade teacher Mrs. Smoot who said something that stuck with me for my entire life. It was a moment I wrote about in Empower, when I was ready to quit during a project and she said:

hide your voice

Although she had no idea at the time, her words changed my world. She was the reason I became a middle school social studies teacher. She was the reason I found my creative voice. She is the reason I ask my kids, “What did you make today?” and why I believe, to my core, that kids need to develop a maker mindset.

Your Greatest Legacy

George Couros recently wrote, “Your legacy as an educator is determined by what your students do.”

I love this idea of legacy. When you empower your students to own their learning, they became makers and dreamers and builders and tinkerers. They grow into innovators who change the world.

I became a teacher and a writer and maker because Mrs. Smoot empowered me to own the my learning. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. So, it was a cool moment the other day when this happened:


That moment absolutely made my day.

You often hear people describe what it was like the moment that they met their hero. Well, here’s the crazy thing: I met my hero 24 years ago when a selfless teacher took the time to get to know me as a person and a maker. Years later, I got the chance to reconnect on Facebook. Her legacy is beyond measure.

I know that teaching can be frustrating. Your impact can feel like a drop in the bucket. But Mrs. Smoot is a reminder that those tiny drops have a huge impact. Every student I connected with and every work I created was another ripple from that drop that goes all the way back to the 8th grade. This is a part of her legacy.

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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


  • Liz hibbard says:

    I’m Mrs. Smoot’s mother and your words make me proud of her–but that is not an unusual feeling. I was at some of those history Day contests, and well remember how she empowered you contestants. Congratulations on your book, I’m sure it will be a huge success.
    Liz Hibbard

  • Katie Hunter says:

    Thank you for sharing the encouragement. I’m in the middle of getting my degree in education, and I often forget that I’m not just paying and working for my own education, but for the opportunity to educate and inspire my students in the future. Your thoughts are helping me to refocus on why I’m doing all this. Thank you.

  • Wanda Monley says:

    Mrs. Smoot was a very caring teacher. I felt that she wanted everyone to learn, but at their own pace. She respected the fact that we were all different and for this reason she was very patient with us all. The one thing that stood out to me with Mrs. Smoot was that she actually listened to us. If we were wrong she would not tell us we were but would explain it in a way that made up think differently and change our way of thinking in order to get the correct outcome.

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