Revisiting the “Sponge Factor” and Why it Will Always Matter in Education

In this month’s “look back” post, I was reminded of a post I originally wrote in 2015 on what I named “The Sponge Factor.” This is one of the most important things I look for in others, and I hope to embody myself. 

In short, the “sponge factor” is the ability to take in feedback and do something with the information moving forward to make you better. 

It doesn’t mean that all feedback is accepted indiscriminately. It means being open to a) hearing it and b) doing something with it to grow if you know it can lead to improvement.

If you can’t do A, then B will never happen. But the ability to do “A” doesn’t mean “B” occurs. Doing both in tandem matters.

Two quick things:

1. My friend Amber Teamann reminded me of the original post. She was in the Orlando area recently, and I came to watch her speak at a conference. I have been mentoring speakers for a while, but at first, she did not want me to come. She relented and wrote a wonderful post on what she learned from the process.

Here is something she wrote in her blog:



“What is the resistance to being better? How big is my ego that I can’t accept hearing what could potentially be true and helpful just because I am scared of it being critical? How often do I miss an opportunity to be better… just because?

Why do I resist having confidence not in my knowledge but in my ability to learn? 

One of my purposes in education is to help others be more than they think they already are, and sometimes that means DIRECT FEEDBACK. And yet…am I willing? Do I come across as willing?”

Amber Teamann



That is awesome of Amber, but in reality, I have grown in giving feedback because of Amber as well. She didn’t like my input in the past., not because it wasn’t helpful, but because of my delivery. Just because you have ideas that can help someone else doesn’t mean they will. The message and the delivery both matter. I have improved because of Amber’s feedback as well.


2. I discuss it briefly below, but if you are interviewing people to work with you, do you create a space for an authentic “back and forth” conversation where you can decipher if someone is open to being challenged, or is your interview space just a firing line of questions, with no conversation? If it is, you have to ask yourself, when will that experience happen again in your school or organization?

Probably never, which tells you it ain’t great!

In this post, “3 Ways to Rethink the Education Interview,” which I also wrote in 2015 (a good year for blogging for me, I guess!), I discuss the importance of creating a bit of “conflict” in the interview process. Here is a portion of that and why it mattered to me:




“I wanted to know that I was hiring someone who was a critical thinker and would make all of us better, not just simply bend to someone else’s will.

How they handled conflict was also crucial, but again, if you do not make people feel comfortable, they will tell you what they think you want to hear, not necessarily what they believe.”

George Couros, 3 Ways to Rethink the Education Interview



As you can tell, I can go on about this forever.

But just one last point: with things like emerging technologies, AI, and whatever else comes our way, if we cannot take feedback (from humans or technology, thanks, Grammarly!) and grow from it, the world will pass us by.




That will always be the most important thing we can teach our students and embody ourselves.

Below is the original post from 2015, with some Grammarly edits because I didn’t use that back then! I hope you enjoy it!



The Sponge Factor
(Originally posted in 2015)


I learned a lot from my days as a basketball referee.

Although the environment was quite collaborative, as great referees worked as a team on the court, there was also a lot of competition in the field. The best referees would get higher-level games based on their consistent performance.

One of the things that I found interesting was the half-time feedback referees would receive from evaluators.  Having between 10-15 minutes during a break in the next half, there was no time to mince words.  Evaluators could often be blunt and sometimes brutal in their feedback.  They needed you to correct your work now, and they didn’t have time for you to embrace their input.  The feedback given was not to be mean or harsh but to make you better.

The interesting thing about this is that you could have two refs in a game, with one perhaps being a better quality at the beginning than the other, but what the evaluators would look at was not how good you were at the beginning but how teachable you were by the end.  If feedback was given in the first half, they expected you to implement it in the second.  Sometimes, it wouldn’t work for a referee, but what the evaluators looked for was the willingness to take feedback and give the learning a shot.  You may not have been perfect on your first try, but your desire to learn would surely improve your performance as a referee.  The ability to be a “sponge” was crucial.

This “sponge” factor is crucial for educators.  I have often said that I am much more comfortable working with a teacher willing to learn and grow than one who thinks they have “mastered” teaching.  Things will change in education and society, and someone unwilling to evolve in their practice will eventually become irrelevant.  It may not be next year or the following year, but it will come eventually. Ae person who is willing tolearn continuouslyn and evolve will always stay relevant. 

Yet there are people in all fields who will totally listen to feedback, nod their heads in agreement, and go back to what they have always done. 

There is a difference between “hearing” and being “open” to feedback.

As educators are currently interviewing for positions, one of the questions I have asked in interviews before was, “Tell me an area where you received feedback, and what did you do to improve.” This question promotes a vulnerability needed to be an educator, that we are not a “know-it-all” but are willing to learn.  This willingness to embrace turnaround learning is crucial to growth, which is not only being open to feedback but doing something because of the feedback you have received.

Change will happen regardless of our own personal growth.

Are we open to our own evolution?

Scroll to Top

Changing the Trajectories of Those We Serve​

Join over 40,000 Educators who already get the Newsletter