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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

16 Books Educators Should Consider Reading in 2016

By Peter DeWitt — December 27, 2015 8 min read
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If you’re anything like me you get on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networking platforms and your education geek friends start listing books that you need to read. It seems as though there are new education books that come out every day ... and that’s probably due to the fact that new education books come out every day.

Besides writing this blog for Education Week and running presentations and giving keynotes, I do a lot of work behind the scenes in publishing. With Ariel Bartlett and Arnis Burvikovs, we created the Connected Educators Series for Corwin Press which turned out 21 short-form practical books for teachers and leaders, and we are working on a new leadership series now.

And, if I don’t read enough through editing the books in the book series, I’m a reviewer of manuscripts for a couple of publishers. Over time what I have noticed is that the books with the big publishing machines get a lot of notice ... as most of them should, while other books that come from smaller publishers don’t often as much publicity. So, I thought I would help out a bit by providing a list of some books, both big and small, that I think educators should know about.

What often happens with lists like this is that some books are forgotten, and commenters leave rather nasty comments about books that I should have listed but didn’t. First and foremost I apologize if I left off your favorite education book, and please feel free to leave the title in the comment section. Just to be fair, I didn’t put my own books in this list, so before you get angry at me for leaving off your favorite, please know I didn’t even include mine! All of the books were published in 2015 or early 2016.

If you have the time in your busy days ahead in 2016, you should consider reading some of these books because they are worth the time it takes to read them. I promise that you will need to take notes on your laptop, in your notebook, or on the book itself, because these books will inspire you to think differently.

Visible Learning Into Action (John Hattie, Deb Masters, & Kate Birch) - For full disclosure, I work with John and all three authors are colleagues and friends. Hattie has written some of the most popular academic books ever, and I truly value his research, which is why this book is at the top of the list. When I’m on the road doing Visible Learning trainings I often get asked, “Where do we start?” Visible Learning Into Action helps leaders and teachers understand where they need to begin, because each case study offers a different school’s journey through the VL process.

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education (Sir Ken Robinson & Lou Aronica) - It’s Sir Ken Robinson. I’m still not sure whether I like his amazing TED Talks or insightful books better. He weaves in research, thought-provoking information, and an amazing sense of humor into this book, which will be a top-seller for many years. I love books that will be relevant for decades and this is one of them.

Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected (Jim Knight) - For the next full disclosure, I work with Jim Knight as an Instructional Coaching trainer. I have long valued Jim’s coaching style and have been on the receiving end of it as well. Jim practices what he preaches and I have an inordinate amount of respect for his work and who he is as a person. This book is well worth the time and will not only enhance your relationships at school but also at home.

Uncommon Learning: Creating Schools That Work for Kids (Eric Sheninger) - Eric has been a friend for a few years and I loved his first book. There is no sophomore slump here, and it is filled with great ideas for teachers and leaders. Eric was a building leader, so he understands the need to keep it real and make it practical. He does that very well in this book. Someday perhaps uncommon learning will be a bit more common.

Engage Every Family: 5 Simple Principles (Steve Constantino) - Steve is someone I met a few years ago. Lots of people talk about how to engage parents, but Steve has been actually doing it for decades. Constantino is a superintendent in Virginia, and he writes with a hard-hitting yet humorous style. Full disclosure #4 is that I wrote the forward because I am a huge fan of Steve’s work.

The Tech-Savvy Administrator: How do I use technology to be a better school leader? (Steven Anderson) - There are a few books on the list that involve technology, but I have long valued Steven’s approach to the topic because he was the director of technology and now works with tech companies and schools. Plus, this is a book in the ASCD Arias series, which are short-form practical books that leaders can read in one sitting.

Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems (Michael Fullan & Joanne Quinn) - Michael Fullan should be on a Top 10 ... or 14 ... list every year, especially with the book The Principalship that he released a couple of years ago. Coherence is equally as good. Fullan is internationally known for his work in systems thinking. In Coherence, he and Quinn keep their message practical and research-based, and this book will help leaders improve their practice. It helps streamline where our energies should be placed.

The Power of Questioning: Opening Up the World of Student Inquiry (Starr Sackstein) - Starr used to write guest blogs for me, and I quickly saw that she needed her own space to communicate with readers. She writes the Work In Progress blog for Education Week Teacher and I reviewed The Power of Questioning. It is a very well-written book that will inspire many, many teachers. Starr is truly student-centered and this book hits the core of who she is as a teacher, and offers steps for other teachers to take to meet that same goal.

The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity (George Couros) - George is a passionate speaker and has been inspiring leaders and teachers to think differently through his Principal of Change blog for a few years now. The Innovator’s Mindset has hit the ground running and when you read it you will be inspired by George’s passion for education and kids.

Evaluating Instructional Leadership: Recognized Practices for Success (Ray Smith & Julie Smith) - This book was one of the best books on leadership that I read in 2015. Ray and Julie are colleagues through the consulting I do for Visible Learning, and this books brings together a great deal of research as well as decades of practice that they both had as teachers and leaders. We often talk about evaluating teachers but spend little time talking about how to help evaluate leaders. Smith and Smith do it well.

What Connected Educators Do Differently (Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, & Jimmy Casas) - Todd Whitaker has been a major influence for me ever since Sharon Lawrence, my former assistant superintendent (and predecessor as building principal), gave me What Great Principals Do Differently back in 2006. Todd is a friend, but he also has a way to offer very practical insight with a humorous style. He brought in Jeffrey Zoul and Jimmy Casas, both of whom are amazing school leaders, to help him offer additional insight with this book.

Hard Conversations Unpacked: The Whos, the Whens, and the What-Ifs (Jennifer Abrams) - This book by Jennifer Abrams comes out in a month, and I reviewed this one as well. Abrams focuses on a very important topic, which is how we communicate with our colleagues. I think we all have been in schools where teachers don’t talk to one another because of something that happened five years ago, and Jen offers practical steps on how to communicate so we don’t have to ignore our colleagues.

Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence (Lyn Sharratt & Beate Planche) - I would read anything from Lyn Sharratt, and this book is no different. Sharratt and Planche offer practical steps on how leaders can lead collaborative learning. Collaboration is something we talk about often but it’s not done to the degree it could be in schools, and Sharratt and Planche show us how to meet that goal.

Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era (Tony Wagner & Ted Dintersmith) - It would be easy to just say read this book because Tony Wagner is one of the authors, but educators should read this book because Wagner and Dintersmith tell a very important story about our educational system, and everyone can learn from it. I love books that provoke a great deal of thought and this one certainly meets that criteria.

Rethinking Multicultural Education (Edited by Wayne Au) - When I was a young teacher working in a city school in 1997 I picked up Rethinking Schools and I have been a big fan of their work ever since. They made me feel as though they understood what I was seeing as a teacher, and helped me become a better teacher due to the resources they offer. They explored issues that other publishers wouldn’t touch, and they did an awesome job every time. This book by edited by Wayne Au is in a long list of other publications, but I think it will be your favorite for a long, long time.

The STEM Shift: A Guide for School Leaders (Ann Myers & Jill Berkowicz) - We have been talking about STEM for many years, and Myers and Berkowicz address the topic beautifully through philosophy and practical steps based on decades of experience. For full disclosure (#5 or 6) I was in, and graduated from, the Sage College of Albany doctoral program with Jill and Ann was one of the founding members. I have a great deal of admiration for both of them and have learned a lot through our conversations in the program and those conversations that have taken place over the last five years since I graduated. Myers and Berkowicz write the Leadership 360 blog for Education Week, and if you like the blog, you will love this book.

There you go. It’s my list based on books that were released in 2015 or early 2016 that I have read or reviewed. If you have time, please choose one of them and give it a read. If you have other suggestions that I didn’t include, please add them to the comment section.

Thanks for taking the time to read it.

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Creative Commons photo courtesy of Vargazs.

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.