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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

12 Books You Need on Your Leadership Bookshelf

By Peter DeWitt — March 10, 2019 8 min read
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Every so often I love when I get into a space of learning where I can sit down, read a book, and take multiple notes because the book inspires me to read, reflect, and write. Sometimes it’s due to writing a new book or blog, so it’s a part of the research that I’m doing. Other times it may be that I want to give a presentation a makeover, and I’m looking for fresh perspectives to cite during a workshop or keynote.

Recently, I have become acquainted with some books that have not been out for long, and reacquainted with a few that I have read several times before. To be honest, I started this list with six books and then it quickly doubled. The books in the list are meant for anyone in a leadership position who is looking to put a focus on learning, build on collective ideas within their school, or are new to leadership and they’re worried or insecure about their decisions.

Why These Books?
Books are meant to teach us, inspire us, and sometimes bring us together as a group because they challenge our thinking and we have to find commonalities together. The authors in the list do just that, and I believe if readers want to try something new in their position, they could find fresh ideas in one of these books, even though some of them are several years old.

This is a list of books that I believe would be helpful for any school leader or someone in a leadership position. If you have a book that you believe would be equally as helpful, please feel free to add it to the comment section. I believe we should all be able to share our opinions about books. Especially those books that will help us in our position.

The twelve I’ve been diving into lately are:

Leading Collaborative Learning (Corwin Press) by Lyn Sharratt and Beate Planche. Collaboration is a word we hear so much about in leadership circles, but so often it’s much more complicated than just bringing people together. Systems experts Sharratt and Planche offer a strategic path for leaders and teachers to follow which will help them improve student learning.

Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems (Corwin Press) by Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn. Fullan and Quinn have laid a foundational leadership book. So often, leaders get sidetracked by opportunites that may not provide them with the best impact. Fullan and Quinn provide leaders with a road map that will help leaders decide what might be the best course of action for their schools. I have long admired Fullan, and he has been one of my favorite leadership experts since before I was a leader. Although he is the author or co-author of many, many books, he delivers powerful leadership resources for leaders over and over again. Coherence is a book not to be missed.

From Teacher to Leader: Finding Your Way As a First Time Leader Without Losing Your Mind (Dave Burgess Consulting) by Starr Sackstein. I have been a big fan of Starr’s for a while because she has a very raw and unapologetic look at teaching, leading, and learning, and I find that to be refreshing. She has no issue writing about her mistakes and successes, and we can all learn from those. I especially like this book because it’s been many years since I started my leadership position, and Sackstein helped me go back to those beginning days to remember what it was like to be a new leader.

Visible Learning and the Science Of How We Learn (Routledge) by John Hattie and Gregory Yates. I have been working with Hattie for the last five years and I’ve read this book twice already, but I wanted to give it another read due to their focus on surface-, deep-, and transfer-level learning. Regardless of how someone feels about Hattie’s research, this book offers us so much when it comes to how students learn. Each chapter offers research, practice, and challenges our thinking when it comes to how students learn. This is the first book in a long time that I actually answered the questions at the end of each chapter and was inspired to look at the authors’ citations and read some of those as well. Truth be told, it is my favorite book by Hattie.

Conceptual Understanding: Harnessing Natural Curiosity for Learning That Transfers (Corwin Press) by Julie Stern with Natalie Lauriault and Kristin Ferraro. Like Visible Learning and the Science Of How We Learn, this is a book that has inspired me to take copious notes. I sat in the barstool at the island in my kitchen and wrote note after note. The authors have helped refresh my memory around surface, deep, and transfer learning, and inspired new thinking on my part when it comes to both student and adult learners. If you care about student learning, or want to be inspired to think of new ways to offer professional learning to adults, this is the book for you. I know I will be referencing it for many, many years.

What we know about grading: What works, what doesn’t, and what’s next? (ASCD) Edited by Tom Guskey and Susan Brookhart. Guskey has written multiple guest blogs for Finding Common Ground, and to be perfectly honest, he is one of my favorite presenters/researchers to learn from, and I consider myself fortunate to call Tom a friend. He has helped me behind the scenes more times than I can count because of his extensive knowledge and his patience with all of the questions I send to him, and you can find that knowledge in this book around the topic of grading. Guskey and Brookhart have edited a book filled with practical ideas that will help any school leader focus on this never-ending important topic of grading. If leaders are going to call themselves “instructional leaders,” they shouldn’t do it without reading this book.

Hacking Leadership (Times 10 Publications) by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis. This is part of a larger series of Hacking books, and it’s written by two people I respect very much. Not only are Sinanis and Sanfelippo practioners but they are two of the most energized guys in educational leadership that I have met. This book is filled with practical suggestions that are proven to give school districts the positive shot in the arm that they need.

Collaborative Professionalism: When Teaching Together Means Learning For All (Corwin Press) by Andy Hargreaves and Michael T. O’ Connor. For full disclosure, I am the series editor for this particular book. What I loved is not only working with Hargreaves and O’Connor on the topic of collaborative professionalism, but what I learned through the editing and final stages of it as well. This book helps guide leaders into the collaborative process by highlighting some great leaders and school teams from around the globe, some of whom I was able to spend time with at a conference in Norway when I facilitated the panel. Hargreaves has long been one of my leadership gurus, but more important than that, he and O’Connor have a no-nonsense way to get to the heart of the issue of collaboration. If leaders really want to build a democratic school that fosters the voices of the community, this is the book for them.

Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning (Corwin Press) by Jenni Donohoo. Donohoo is a colleague and a friend, but more importantly, she is someone who challenges my thinking more than anyone I know. She has deep knowledge around research and learning, and only has to look at me and say, “But I am wondering ...” and I know I need to be prepared to be challenged. Additionally, Jenni has extensive knowledge around building collective efficacy, and in this book, she offers protocols to help leaders do it effectively. This will help leaders focus on growth with a team, and get to the heart of how to do it through the collective efficacy process.

The Superintendent’s Rule Book: A Guide to District Level Leadership (Routledge) by Patrick Sweeney. Books just for Superintendents seem to be few and far between, and this is a new book by a new author. I reviewed the book before it came out, and Sweeney has a good way to approach difficult subjects by using humor and his extensive knowledge as a superintendent. For full disclosure, Sweeney was my high school X-country coach and one of my first mentors, but that’s not why the book made the list. The book made the list because Sweeney took those impactful mentorship qualities and put them in a book.

Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times (Corwin Press) by Eric Sheninger. Sheninger is my technology guru, and has been for a long time. So often schools buy devices but do not implement them well, and this book focuses on how to do a better job of that. I’m excited because Eric has written a 2nd edition for this book which will come out in the next few months.

Student Centered Leadership (Wiley) by Viviane Robinson. Leaders looking for a practical guide to helping have an impact on student learning will love this book. Robinson is out of the University of Auckland and I been a fan for years. This book has a great mix of practical suggestions based in research.

In the End
There are many times I pick up books and put them back down rather quickly. Perhaps it’s due to the topic or the timing of when I pick them up, but I do not always feel engaged when I’m reading. I need something that will pull at me from a moral standpoint or inspire me to think at a deeper level. For me, the best sign that I am reading a book is when I wake up in the morning thinking about it. These twelve books have done that for me lately.

If you are thinking about what book you should read next, consider picking up one of the books from my list. If you have been deeply inspired by a book lately, consider adding the book in the comment section. And not that popular books don’t need to be highlighted, but consider adding a book you read that is not making all of the rounds on social media. Thanks for reading about my list.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., is the author of several books including Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership (Corwin Press. 2018). Connect with him on Twitter.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.