Student Achievement

Here’s What Our Opinion Bloggers Are Reading This Summer

By Phoebe Brannock — August 03, 2017 9 min read
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Summer is a time for relaxation, and many of our opinion bloggers like to unwind with a good book. Last year, we asked them about the best books they had read—anything from guilty pleasures to education-related material to young-adult books they read with their children. We checked back in to find out what made this year’s list and why. Some bloggers, like Rick Hess, are revisiting perennial favorites. Heather Singmaster, who writes about global learning, is taking the opportunity to explore a novel with her son. Others are using the time to delve deeper into the subject on which they blog—be it leadership or talent management—to inform another year of writing.

While my summer has been busy, I have been learning and reflecting a great deal as we see the world and education landscape shift. We live in a world where both educators and business leaders have a daunting task ahead of them: We must work to grow the competencies of students and staff, ensuring they can solve problems we’ve never seen before, work in jobs that don’t exist, and utilize technology that we see only in sci-fi movies.

The question becomes: How do we prepare for the 21st century? I have started to learn more about 21st-century learning and how districts move toward comprehensive systems. If we see these shifts in learning, how do we continue to attract, grow, and retain the right people? Karen Garza, CEO of the nonprofit Battelle for Kids and former superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, recommended the two books that I have started reading.

The Leader’s Guide to 21st Century Education: 7 Steps for Schools and Districts (Pearson, 2012) by Ken Kay and Valerie Greenhill shares steps that schools and districts can take to implement 21st-century learning. The second book is Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our Kids for the Innovation Era (Scribner, 2016) by Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner. While I am only though the first chapter, I can say that if you enjoy reading about the intersection between education, economics, talent, and research, this book is for you.

I’ve also been reading a few books on talent management—the subject of my blog. Some of them are industry-specific, but others explore talent-management in other spaces. The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014) co-authored by Reid Hoffman (the co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn), Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh is a quick, easy read for individuals who are interested in employer-employee relationships and leaders’ ability to attract, manage, and retain the right staff. This focus throughout speaks to the power of networks—which should not be a surprise from the founder of LinkedIn.

I have also started to re-read The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization (Doubleday, 2006) by Peter Senge. This book speaks to systems thinking and learning organizations. It is not an education industry-focused book, but there is an education-specific version called Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education (Crown Business, 2012) that people might enjoy!

Larry Ferlazzo, Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo

I’m cheating and choosing two books—one I just finished and one I’m ready to begin. I’ve just read Boosting Achievement: Reaching Students with Interrupted or Minimal Education (Canter Press, 2017) by Carol Salva. It’s an excellent guide for any educators teaching English language learners. I’m beginning to read Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations (Simon & Schuster, 2016) by Dan Ariely. No teacher can learn enough about how to encourage our students to develop intrinsic motivation.

The most delightful book I’ve read this summer? Teacher Tom’s First Book: Teaching and Learning from Preschoolers (Dog Ear Publishing, 2012) by Tom Hobson. I Highly recommend it to all educators, not just early-childhood teachers. In fact, the education world would be a better place if parents and policymakers would read Teacher Tom’s musings on what it means to be educated: risk, play, joy, genuine literacy, and community. Favorite takeaway: “If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right.”

I also recommend Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family (Lee Boudreaux Books, 2016) by Daniel Bergner. I love this book. I admit that I am the perfect audience for this story: a lifelong music teacher, fascinated not only by the redemptive story but the technical details of music pedagogy and performance. Still, anyone could love the narrative thread: Opera saves kid with few prospects.

In June, I re-read Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down (Riverhead Books, 2006). It had been several years, and I’d forgotten how terrific, funny, wrenching, and true it really is. The most amazing thing, for me, is how Hornby inhabits four profoundly different broken characters, narrates in their voices, and makes this suicidal cast relatable, funny, and sympathetic.

Next up is Dan Koretz’s The Testing Charade (University of Chicago Press, 2017). I had a chance to review a draft manuscript earlier in the process, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the final, polished version came out. Koretz’s critique of our testing infrastructure is so compelling that it’s a really provocative read.

One book I recommend for everyone this summer is The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray, 2017) by Angie Thomas. It’s an important story told well. I was especially appreciative of Thomas’s ability to put the reader in the shoes of an adolescent as she manages conflicting expectations and messages around her identity.

My education-related reading this summer will start with Jarrod Green’s I’m OK! Building Resilience Through Physical Play (Redleaf Press, 2016) I met Jarrod, a pre-K teacher in Philadelphia, through some teacher leadership work I did, and I know him to be a thoughtful practitioner and empathetic storyteller. I’m trying to get better at supporting adolescents as they build resilience, and I am curious to find out if Jarrod has gleaned any insights from working with younger students that I might be able to apply to the teenagers in my math classes.

Jill Berkowicz, Leadership 360

The Vanishing American Adult, Our Coming-of-Age Crisis— and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) by U.S. Senator Ben Sasse offers insight into what he calls ‘the vanishing American adult.’ He presents the argument that we need to revisit how we raise our children and how we develop their ability to become responsible adults—engaged in work, contributing to society, and preserving our democracy. His thinking will catapult a conversation in homes and schools of which we should be aware.

Shattered (Crown Publishing Group, 2017) by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes is an insightful autopsy of Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign. Access to campaign managers enabled the authors to examine how these people made decisions, who made them, how good ideas backfired, and how the bridge broke down between old-guard campaign management and the new types of campaigns like those launched by candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The book can be a metaphor for the work school leaders do and the difficulty of matching the work to the community served.

Mindy Thompson Fullilove’s Root Shock (New Village Press, 2016) reveals the dark side of urban renewal. While neighborhoods were destroyed with the intention of improving living conditions, communities were lost. The newer buildings were not affordable for those displaced, connections between people and families were broken, and the positive effects of community life were gone. This happens to the urban poor. How do we expect those children, now isolated from family and community, to come to us in schools and succeed? This view of urban renewal, from a psychiatrist who has studied it from within, is of value to educators everywhere.

Finally, our colleague Peter M. Dewitt’s new book Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences that Matter Most (Corwin, 2016) challenges the traditional habit of leaders acting alone. He defines six influences that help leaders develop collaborative practice. The 21st-century school requires 21st-century leadership. Schools must change. Leaders must learn how to build the coalitions that are required for changes and shifts to take place.

This summer, my 7-year-old son and I are reading Wildwood (Blazer + Bray, 2012) by Colin Meloy. It is set in Portland, Ore.'s (where we happen to live) huge Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country. The book has challenging vocabulary for us to discuss, and the setting encourages us to get out and spend time hiking—while searching for talking animals embroiled in fierce battles and rigid bureaucracy.

For my own professional learning, I want to read Jennifer D. Klein’s new book The Global Education Guidebook (Solution Tree, 2017). Her foundational philosophy is that we should not approach global collaborative educational projects with a deficit mentality (meaning we shouldn’t assume that western educational standards are the best fit for schools in the developing world). This is an important lesson to bear in mind, and she gives strategies to help build partnerships based on a “learning from and with” mentality instead.

Marc Tucker, Top Performers

Did you know that strong trees share their nutrients with weak ones, that a tree can only be as strong as the forest that surrounds it, that mother trees prevent their offspring from growing too fast so they will grow to an old age, that trees communicate through their root systems? This and much more in Peter Wolhlleben’s fascinating The Hidden Life of Trees (Greystone Books, 2016).

In The Color of Law (Liveright, 2017), Richard Rothstein tells us that when the federal government bankrolled the development of the suburbs after World War II, its legislation made it clear that the money would not be available to developers willing to sell the homes to African-Americans.

Finally, Peter Temin, an MIT economist, makes a very convincing case in The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy (MIT Press, 2017) that the United States now has the classic economic profile of a developing country. He explains the now-immense divide between the rich and poor in the United States with a model developed by Nobel Prize winner W. Arthur Lewis in the 1950s. Lewis’ theory explains similar divides in developing countries with a small wealthy capitalist class and a much larger class of poverty-stricken subsistence farmers. Have a hard time imagining how such a model could explain what is going on in the world’s leading industrial nation today? Read it.

Stay tuned for recommendations from EdWeek readers in the Twitterverse.

The responses have been edited slightly for clarity and length.

Image credit: Flickr/Creative Commons: LW Yang

Image 2 by See-ming Lee licensed under Flickr/Creative Commons

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.