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Student Achievement

Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers: What We’re Reading This Summer

By Catherine A. Cardno — June 24, 2013 7 min read
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Today’s entry in BookMarks’ summer reading series penned by www.edweek.org opinion bloggers was written by Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz, the authors of the Leadership 360 blog.

Ms. Myers (left) is an associate professor of educational leadership at Sage College in Troy, N.Y. Ms. Berkowicz (right) is a director of curriculum and instruction at a school district in the Hudson Valley.

Some parts of the country have been in summer vacation for weeks. Others begin it next week. If leaders have time to read things other than memos and background material for upcoming meetings and new regulations, it will be now. The same is true for us. We employ a three-category strategy and try to read from each over the summer. The first category includes education-related literature, which keeps us current in our field. The second is that which broadens our perspective because it isn’t written specifically for educators. The third category is pleasure reading.

Within those categories we attempt to blend recent publications with books we’ve missed along the way. Unlike during the school year, we carry a book or our tablets. We read with cups and glasses in our hands, with sunscreen applied, and burgers on the grill. We read before bed and in the doctor’s office. Summer is when we return to the voracious readers and learners we once were. So here is what we will be carrying around this summer:

In his book, Cage-Busting Leadership (Harvard Education Press, 2013), Rick Hess has done a stellar job of defining the challenges and the struggle we, in education are experiencing. He begins by comparing cage-dwelling educators to Sisyphus, who was condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder up a hill, never to reach the top. What better way to describe our current situation? As Mr. Hess writes: “Cage-dwellers spend most of their energy trying to stamp out fires, woo recalcitrant staff, or beg for resources. Cage-busters...wake up every morning putting their heart and soul into identifying big challenges, dreaming up solutions, and blasting their way forward” (p. 223). Reading this book this summer, with a highlighter in hand, may be what is needed to begin to take hold of the wild stallion that last year became, and help get that wild stallion on a path that will help give us better control of our schools.

Tom Sobol wrote a groundbreaking book, My Life in School (Public Schools of Tomorrow, 2013) about education, while revealing the underbelly of living as a leader. He shares his private feelings, his marriages, his divorce, his illness, and each step of his leadership up to and including his life as New York State commissioner of education and his professorship at Columbia University’s Teachers College. He strips away all pretense and tells it like it was, for him. An honest reflection of one man’s experience, it is a compelling read and hard to put down. Mr. Sobol has advanced Parkinson’s Disease. He wrote this book by typing with one finger while confined to his bed. But his deeply held desire to call us to action by giving us insight into how his personal journey pushed him past his physical limitations, and his heart and soul, gave him the energy and ability to write this book. This is a book for all educators to learn from.

Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind (ASCD, 2009) offers a deeper understanding of the effects of poverty and our responsibility to understand and mitigate them. He reveals the range of poverty’s effects, whether it is a high-poverty school, or one with students from backgrounds of poverty, the middle class, and even wealth. He includes rich examples of “teaching with poverty in mind” from which we can learn. Recent research about how poverty affects brain development and social behavior are well explained and eye opening. School leaders and their teachers will most certainly benefit from reading this book.

With the nation’s focus on the Common Core State Standards and the angst incurred by its speedy implementation, Robert Rothman’s Something in Common (Harvard Education Press, 2011), offers a welcome step away from our frantic race to implement the standards and gives us a valuable view into how the standards came to be in the first place, what the standards require students to know and be able to do, and the challenges that lie ahead. This book can help everyone enrich the implementation process by having a deeper understanding of the potential of a strong and focused investment in changing the way we teach.

When he was making the transition from school leadership to higher education teaching, an urban principal commented to us about the middle class white teachers and leaders who were faced daily with minority children living in poverty. He suggested that pre-service teachers and aspiring leaders needed to know more about those lives than they currently did. The first class of teacher “wannabe’s” confirmed his proposition: All but two were seeking to teach in suburban or rural districts. We see a similar phenomenon among leaders. They, too, are preparing to lead in those districts where salaries are typically higher and students more like them. Interestingly, 2013 may be the year in which minority births in this country exceed the number of white births. Within four or five years, our schools will reflect that shift. So, taking to heart the advice of that principal friend from a few years back, we are going to pick up The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children, 2nd Edition, (Wiley, 2009) by Gloria Ladson-Billings. This new edition profiles teachers who are exemplars of creating culturally relevant classrooms. It may be politically controversial but we think that the more we understand who our students are, the better we can be as facilitators of their learning. Perhaps, we’ll even use this as a reading club book next fall. After all, that’s our work.

Of course, we also recommend Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Knopf, 2013) the new controversial book by Sheryl Sandberg. Since the majority of the educational workforce is female and increasing numbers of educational leaders are as well, it is time to revisit gender. We are charged with ensuring that our graduates, both boys and girls, are college and career ready. So it might be valuable to take a summer moment and consider whether we are generating or perpetuating limitations on a part of that student body. It may also be that we are limiting the potential for leadership among our faculty and on our leadership teams. Sandberg challenges us to confront ourselves and our values. We, too, aspire to the time when the greatest potential is contributed by all.

Last year, The New York Times Best Seller List contained Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown Publishers, 2012) by Susan Cain. Popularly known as Q, the book took off but we think its insight for our field has been underestimated and is still unexplored. In every classroom, there are students who are quiet, hesitant to raise hands and ask or answer questions. As participants and observers of leadership team meetings and board meetings, we see that there are those who consistently talk and those who listen. There are some who are uncomfortable with silence and fill voids with words before others have even formulated their thoughts. We miss much when that happens. Drawing from psychology and neuroscience, offering examples from many fields, Cain explores the relationship between introversion and creativity. She also discusses children, teachers, and leadership. If we want to maximize the contributions everyone in schools can make, this is a worthy summer read. If we think it is time for us to release a new power in schools, this is a mandatory read.

In our third category—books for fun— Ann’s beach bag will hold, Inferno by Dan Brown, the return of Harvard Professor Robert Langdon as he dives into Dante’s world; Carla Neggers’ New England mystery series; and Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, Flight Behavior set in rural Tennessee where a young woman’s life and world are radically changed by butterflies.

For fun, Jill’s beach bag will hold The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, a book written from the perspective of a dog. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris will also be included and surely ensure laughing out loud while reading.

Susan Cain observes in Quiet that “if solitude is an important key to creativity—then we might all want to develop a taste for it” ( p 75). Whatever you choose to read this summer, our hope is that it becomes your own time. We will be enjoying those moments alone, reading, reflecting, thinking in new ways.

Ah, yes, summer allows for solitude.

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