Professional Development Opinion

Response: More Book Recommendations For Teachers

By Larry Ferlazzo — September 24, 2014 14 min read
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(This is the second post in a three-part series on this topic. You can see Part One here)

This week’s question-of-the-week is:

What are five important books you would recommend that teachers read, and why would you choose them?

In Part One of this three-part series, education writer and parent Melinda D. Anderson shared her book recommendations for teachers, as did educator/authors Kelly Gallagher, Cathy Vatterott and Vicki Davis. I also briefly shared my own suggestions.

Today, in Part Two, Megan Allen, Erin Klein, Jeffrey Zoul and Mike Fisher contribute their responses to the question. Part Three will be published in a few days and feature more contributors, including a zillion reader comments.

I also had a ten-minute conversation with Megan, Erin and Jeff on my weekly BAM! Radio Network show. It was a very lively conversation that included ideas on how teachers can make time to read and the three shared specific examples of how reading the books on their list directly affected their teaching practice. It should be live a few hours after this post is published [CORRECTION: I just learned it won’t be available until early next week. However, you can still listen to earlier guests].

Response From Megan Allen

Megan M. Allen is a National Board Certified Teacher and the 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year. She is currently working as a program developer and visiting instructor at Mount Holyoke College,creating a blended-learning graduate program to support the development of teacher leaders. She has taught for ten years, serving in Title One schools in Hillsborough County, FL. She blogs regularly at the Center For Teaching Quality:

Confession: I am a self-proclaimed book nerd and edugeek. There are so many books that I would recommend- this challenge was tough! I’m going a little untraditional here, listing my current top five to help understand the complexities of the role of a teacher...inside and out of the classroom.

1. This is Not a Test by Jose Vilson. This is a must read for every aspiring and current teacher. I must preface by saying that Jose is a colleague of mine at the Center for Teaching Quality, but even if I didn’t know this amazing math teacher, I would be a fan. Jose explores the world of education, race, and reform. Powerful. For a little taste of what’s behind the cover, watch the poem he reads of the same name.

2. Drive by Daniel Pink. This explores motivation and connects to education on every level, from student motivation in the classroom, to the underlying issues behind our current push for performance pay systems for teachers.

3. Educating Esme by Esme Codell. A young teacher in urban Chicago tells the story of her first year teaching. This was the first book that I read when I was just considering education, and it got me hooked. Thirteen years later, this book still comes to mind as what ignited my passion.

4. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. This coming-of-age novel was inspired by the author’s move from Vietnam to rural Alabama. Understanding our students and where they come from is vital to building relationship in our classrooms, and is the keystone to almost everything that happens in between those walls. For me, this book really unlocked what the experience of an English Language Learner might be and helped me better understand a growing population of students. It helped me become a better listener, a better learner.

5. Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper. It may seem like I’m a little unorthodox recommending children’s, but there is so much that can be unleashed in great books that can be applied to the lives of adults! This book is written from the point-of-view of a young girl named Melody who is quick as a whip, witty, and full of life, yet few people know. She lives her life in silence, for she has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak. This is a beautiful story of a young girl overcoming challenges, which helped me better appreciate all that our students overcome and all they have to offer...as their teacher, we just may have to uncover it.

Response From Erin Klein

Erin Klein is an elementary teacher in Michigan, recently named as the 2014 MACUL K - 12 Michigan Teacher of the Year, a member of the Scholastic Top Teaching Team, ASCD Emerging Leader, and National Association of Independent Schools Teacher of the Future. Klein’s ideas can be found on her award-winning educational blog and you can connect with her on Twitter @KleinErin:

As we get back into the swing of school, many of us enjoy the opportunity to continue reading professionally. Book clubs begin to form and colleagues start to share the inspirational works they’ve dug into over the summer break. The following are 5 important books I recommend for all educators. .

1. Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

I first read this picture book with my grade two students during snack one afternoon. About half way through the story, I found my self fighting back tears - not for the sad way in which the character was treated by her peers but for the compassion her teacher had to elevate her confidence and support her academically. As I looked into the eyes of my students as I read aloud to them, I could see the empathy in their faces and hearts. Our classroom was silent, and each child sat perfectly still hanging onto the words that lifted from each page.

2. There Are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquith

What I took away most from this book was the passion Esquith had for his students and his will to get each student to believe in their abilities. He told them with brunt honesty that life wasn’t easy. Those who became successful worked hard: there were no shortcuts. Not everyone will become a Nobel Prize winner or attend Harvard; however, everyone can have the opportunity to find success and happiness - and that will look differently for each individual. It is up to me to build those relationships with my students and nurture their love for learning.

3. The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

The Book Whisperer gave me the permission to do what I always knew was best-practice in my heart... allowing children to sit comfortably, fall into a great story, and share their books with friends.

4. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I sat to read Outliers one Saturday afternoon as my daughter was reading. Typically I read for about an hour and then other tasks need to be completed. After all, I am a mother of two elementary aged children. However, on this particular weekend, I completely checked out of being social and responsible. I read until the night, slept, and finished the book Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t put it down.

5. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Many are familiar with his popular TED Talk that has been turned into a RSA Animate segment. This video stems from the work in his best selling book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. If you’re looking for effective ways to manage your classroom, I highly recommend this book. Lastly, for a good laugh, I encourage you to watch this brief clip taken from The Office regarding the ineffectiveness of passing out rewards.

Response From Jeffrey Zoul

Dr. Jeffrey Zoul is a lifelong teacher, learner, and leader. He currently serves as Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Deerfield Public Schools District 109 in Illinois. Before serving as a school administrator, Jeff was a classroom teacher for 18 years in the State of Georgia, teaching elementary school, middle school, and high school English.
Jeff is also the author of several books relating to education published by Routledge/Eye On Education in New York. His books include Improving Your School One Week at a Time: Building the Foundation for Professional Teaching and Learning and The 4 CORE Factors for School Success, co-authored with Dr. Todd Whitaker:

Disclaimer: I only agreed to weigh in with an answer to this question only because I thought it asked which five hundred books teachers should read! Paring this down to a mere five is a tough task indeed, but I will give it a shot. It is hugely important for all educators to continue reading books about our noble profession. In a career--and society--that is constantly changing, keeping up with the thinking and research of experts both within and outside the teaching field both challenges and validates our thinking, causes us to reflect on our students, our schools, and our society, and motivates us to continuously improve.

In choosing the five books below, I left off any grade level, subject, or job-specific texts, focusing instead on “general” teaching books worth reading regardless of the grade or content you teach. If I were limited to only five such books, these are ones that come to mind:

What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most by Todd Whitaker

This book is likely familiar to teachers everywhere. It is a book I go back to time and again to remind myself of some very foundational ways to succeed as a classroom teacher. It is an extremely easy-to-read book filled with common sense, practical advice for any teacher. Read this book to be reminded about teaching characteristics and behaviors will help you be more successful in the classroom

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

In this book, Dweck argues that those who succeed tend to have a “growth” versus a “fixed” mindset. People with a growth mindset believe they can become smarter by working harder, while people with a fixed mindset view intelligence as something they were given at birth and that will not change. As teachers, it is imperative that we instill a growth mindset within our kids, letting them know that the effort they put forth, not their innate intelligence, will determine their ultimate achievement. Read this book to discover how you can help students (and yourself) move from a fixed to a growth mindset.

The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction by Robert J. Marzano

I have always considered the teaching profession to be a blending of “art” and “science,” though I lean more to the “art” side. In this book, Marzano examines both, asking ten questions he then discusses which form the basis for effective instructional design. Read this book for a combination of research-based data and solid, practical ideas you can use in your classroom.

The Leadership Challenge: How To Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Obviously, this is not a book about teaching per se, yet I maintain that the words “teaching” and “leading” are synonyms, as are “teacher” and “leader.” Of all the books about leadership I have read, this is the one I come back to most often. Read this book to learn the following framework for leadership and reflect on how it might apply to teaching: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart.

Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov

This book describes specific techniques aimed at establishing clear routines, procedures, and expectations in classrooms. It is appropriate for all subjects and grade levels. Read this book to help create a rigorous learning environment in your classroom so that you can then engage students in rigorous and challenging assignments.

Response From Mike Fisher

Michael Fisher works with schools around the country, helping to sustain curriculum upgrades, design curriculum, and modernize instruction in immersive technology. Michael is the author of Digital Learning Strategies: How do I assign and assess 21st Century Work? (ASCD, 2013) and co-author of Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students (ASCD, 2013). Connect with him on ASCD’s EDge Social Network, his website The Digigogy Collaborative or on Twitter at @fisher1000:

I’m a voracious reader. Over the course of my experiences, I have read so many influential books and invited new ideas into my professional practice. Good ideas come from many sources. Some books give you nuggets of wisdom and some books help you consider different perspectives. Occasionally, a rare book comes along that changes everything you know and impacts your professional practice at an organic and systemic level. The following are those rare books for me. They are the five books that I either reference often or go back and reread for clarity in my practice. These are the books that have become lenses through which I filter my professional decisions and from which I grow new ideas.

Fundamentals of Invitational Education by William Purkey and John Novak

This is an update of Purkey’s Inviting School Success book that I read many years ago and has had the most profound impact on my professional practice. It’s a very common sense approach to learning that addresses the needs of students, the classroom environment, the schooling system, and a shift toward more powerful learning. Learning isn’t just about content, it’s about relationships, and this book tells you how to create them and maintain them.

Protocols for Professional Learning by Lois Brown Easton

When I’m doing workshops and find myself needing the group to make a decision or have a conversation that leads to actionable results, I find myself using the protocols in this book. The protocols help direct professional conversations through the establishment of agreed upon timing, roles, and specific actions. The author offers multiple types of protocols in this book, and I’ve used many of them over the years, my favorite being the “Success Analysis Protocol” that roots new work and constant improvement around those things that people have already done well. (An idea fully explored in the Switch book, below)

Curriculum 21: Essential Education for A Changing World by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, et. al.

I like books that provoke but also move beyond the provocation to action. In this book, the multiple authors challenge the reader (the educator) to think of the world our students are currently living in and how we can re-imagine the ways we “do school.” The big provocation here is “What year are we preparing our students for?” Oftentimes in schools, that answer is still decades before now. This book has given me a lot of good ideas since its publication and sparked multiple “new forms” in my own practice, particularly around how I think of modern student learning outcomes. This book is an important must-read for modern educators.

Rigorous Curriculum Design by Larry Ainsworth

If you’re a curriculum nerd ( I know you’re out there! ), then this is the book for you. I read this book initially with a biased eye, thinking I knew many of the ins and outs of curriculum design and translating standards, but as I read further, and go back and re-read, I’m constantly surprised by new ideas and diverse ways to apply what we know about good teaching and good interpretation of the standards. This book offered a deeper understanding of the integration of multiple curriculum design perspectives and aspects that enables educators to interpret and translate standards into instructional actions.

Switch by Dan and Chip Heath

This is technically a business book, but there is so much here for educators. It covers motivation, brain-based strategies, success planning, and purposeful action. Through the examples in this book, you get myriad ideas around how to deal with challenges and practical tips on how to move forward. I often quote this book in presentations (with attribution of course!) when I challenge participants to “shrink the change” or “rally the herd.” Additionally, the Heath brothers’ website has book excerpts, tools, and resources to help you put their ideas into action.

Thanks to Megan, Erin, Jeffrey, and Mike for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. As I mentioned earlier, readers’ thoughts will be included in Part Three.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Just a reminder -- you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader... And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first three years of blog, you can see a categorized list below. You won’t see posts from school year in those compilations, but you can review those new ones by clicking on the monthly archives link on blog’s sidebar:

Student Motivation

Implementing The Common Core

Teaching Reading and Writing

Parent Engagement In Schools

Teaching Social Studies

Best Ways To Begin & End The School Year

Teaching English Language Learners

Using Tech In The Classroom

Education Policy Issues

Teacher & Administrator Leadership

Instructional Strategies


Teaching Math & Science

Brain-Based Learning

School Relationships

Author Interviews

Professional Development

Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Watch for Part Three in a few days....

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo 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.