Category Archives: Books I’ve Read

Recommended Book: The Hard Break

hard break

The Hard Break by Aaron Edelheit

What do Kanye West, Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Steve Jobs, and Aaron Edelheit have in common? They’ve all been very successful in their lives, and they all understand (or understood) the importance of taking a break from work.

Edelheit draws upon source after source (200 endnotes?!) to successfully back his claim that, not only is time away from work healthy, but being constantly “on call” to your job through texts, emails, or phone calls is ultimately detrimental to your productivity, let alone your health.

Edelheit uses research, anecdotes from other successful entrepreneurs, as well as his own battles with overwork and underperformance to back his thesis. His stories are compelling; after reading his book, I have a much clearer concept of the importance of “R & R”. Furthermore, I can look back and see evidence of overwork and underperformance in my own career. Now I’m convinced that the best leaders work hard and rest hard; in the past year, I’ve cultivated a routine of family time, work time, and rest time that has made me much happier, much healthier, and much more productive than I was in the past. I appreciate the work that Aaron Edelheit put into his book. It makes a profound case for finding an all-important balance in life.

Recommended Book: Learning By Doing

learning by doing

Summary

This is the book on Professional Learning Communities. This book makes PLC members say, “Oh, gosh, did you read page ___?  We’re not quite a PLC, are we?” Rick DuFour et al. outline the four essential questions of a PLC. They discuss the foundations of a PLC. They use case studies to teach educators ways to implement the foundations and essential questions, and they even help the reader circumvent “dangerous detours and seductive shortcuts” in every chapter.

Insights/ Takeaways

I learned so much from this book. I couldn’t begin to list it all. But here are some of the big ideas.

Let’s start with the four essential questions of a PLC:

  • What knowledge and skills should every student acquire as a result of this unit of instruction?
  • How will we know when each student has acquired the essential knowledge and skills?
  • How will we respond when some students do not learn?
  • How will we extend and enrich the learning for students who are already proficient?

The foundations of a Professional Learning Community:

  • Mission: asks why we exist; clarifies priorities
  • Vision: asks what our school must become to accomplish our purpose
  • Values: asks how we must behave to achieve our vision
  • Goals: asks how we’ll mark our progress; establishes priorities

Other great ideas in the book: “loose/tight” leadership (allowing teachers the autonomy to solve problems within well established boundaries); the tyranny of “or” and the genius of “and” (ex. Should teachers work to establish positive relationships with students OR maintain high expectations for proper classroom behavior? Both. Teachers should establish positive relationships with students AND maintain high expectations for behavior.)

“Test scores should be an indicator of our effectiveness in helping all students learn rather than the primary focus of the institution. They should be viewed as a means rather than an end.” Great statement. I’ve heard so much negative talk regarding state assessments, but if used to measure student learning, they can be very useful. They go on to state, “Test scores will take care of themselves when schools and the people within them are passionately committed to helping each student develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions essential to his or her success.” Awesome.

As I mentioned earlier, the lessons learned in this book are way too numerous to list, but my biggest takeaway was this: “teachers teaching teachers” in a Professional Learning Community is the best form of professional development. Why? Because- when done correctly- it is continual (weekly), authentic (all members in a PLC collaborative group know the kids they’re discussing), and it’s effective (positive peer pressure is a real motivator).

How It Builds Leadership Capacity

The authors let you know in advance that the process of becoming a true PLC isn’t easy, but it’s worth the time and effort. They also stress that reading about and discussing PLCs until everybody in your organization is ready won’t get you where you need to go; they call this “paralysis by analysis”.  It takes action- “learning by doing”- researching, using data, implementing, and then fixing those things that require fixing along the way.

Recommended Book: Learning First! A School Leader’s Guide to Closing Achievement Gaps

learning first book cover

Summary

Authors Kelley and Shaw begin by painting a grim picture, albeit a real one: students in the high range of the socioeconomic scale are eight times more likely to graduate from college than students in the low range. Why? “Resource gaps” based on differences in property taxes persist, causing urban districts to receive much less funding per student than suburban districts receive. Within school districts, schools with diverse learners often receive less funding than wealthier schools. But it isn’t always about money. Even within schools, students are marginalized in tracked classes with the teachers who were most recently hired (once teachers have experience, they are able to lobby for classes with less diversity and, therefore, less difficulty).

Even with these challenges, we can minimize gaps in learning. The authors lay out the framework to do so, divided into three intertwined categories.

Socio-Cognitive Leadership defines what leadership looks like when school members collaborate to analyze and address problems. Here’s the process: it begins with establishing a shared vision, then moves to defining the problem with data, build an evidence-based plan, assess the value-added results, reflect for continuous improvement, and then begin the process again (continuous improvement).

The Three Dimensions of Leadership for Student Learning define where leaders focus their attention in order to close achievement gaps and advance learning for all students. It includes engaging the community, building teacher capacity, and aligning resources.

Levers of Change show how leaders transform schools by focusing on specific strategies or shared approaches. Levers include individuals (students, teachers, administrators, etc.), organizations (school, district), and community (businesses in the community, nonprofits, etc.)

Insights/Takeaways

Data profiles allow school stakeholders to assess the current reality of a school compared to the shared vision. They can include student grades, demographics and observational data on teachers, student placement and behavioral patterns and processes, community survey data, budget information, master schedule and curricular information and processes, technological capacity, and curricular information. (The book includes several rubrics for assessing your movement along the Learning First continuum.)

“(Learning First) implies that school leaders and teachers, along with children, families, and communities, have a responsibility for learning outcomes as well as learning opportunities.” (I added the italics.)

Why I Recommend It

I appreciate books that help me organize my thinking. This book goes beyond the assertion that all children must be given the tools to succeed. It goes into great detail about how leaders should view their current reality and work with the other staff members to meet their goals and reach their vision.

Because of its unique way of breaking down the process of leadership, it takes some time to wrap your head around the three major components of the Learning First framework (socio-cognitive leadership, three dimensions, and levers of change). But as you read each chapter, it becomes easier and easier. And it really is a great way to think about leadership.

Recommended Book: Leadership 2.0

leadership 2.0

Leadership 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

Summary

Bradberry & Greaves break “leadership” into twenty-two skills grouped under two distinct categories- Core Leadership and Adaptive Leadership.

Here’s how it breaks down.

Core Leadership consists of:

  • Strategy: Vision, Acumen, Planning, and Courage to Lead
  • Action: Decision-Making, Communication, and Mobilizing Others
  • Results: Risk Taking, Results-Focus, and Agility

Adaptive Leadership consists of:

  • Emotional Intelligence: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management
  • Organizational Justice: Decision Fairness, Information Sharing, and Outcome Concern
  • Character: Integrity, Credibility, and Values Differences
  • Development: Lifelong Learning and Developing Others

Insights & Takeaways

No single leadership skill is more important than the others- great leaders possess high levels of them all. And as leaders, we must be able to build our Core Leadership skills and our Adaptive Leadership skills in equal measure.

Why I Recommend It

We all want to continually improve our “leadership ability”. While we may know leadership when we see it, if we want to improve upon our own, where do we start? That’s why Leadership 2.0 is so powerful. The authors break “leadership” into manageable areas for improvement. An online leadership skills test pinpoints the areas to improve, and the book gives concise descriptions of each skill along with actual methods to improve.

I recommend this book for all aspiring leaders in any field.