Top Ten Books That Will Impact Your Thinking About Education

There are lots of book lists for educators and they are from varying viewpoints. The list below is a group of books that I have personally found to impact my thinking about education. Each of these books had profound impact on how I think about education, teaching and learning although many were not written for education. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.


The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Sir Ken Robinson

I could not put this book down when I first discovered it. I struggled in math although I was great at the humanities and sciences. Somehow, I always felt like I was stupid and not nearly as good as my friends who were aces at math. This book helped me reframe how I thought about myself and how, as teachers, we think about our students’ abilities. “Robinson’s groundbreaking book is about finding your talents and passions, and by doing so, finding your way in the world. The book explores the multifaceted diversity of intelligence, the power of imagination and creativity, and the importance of commitment to our own capabilities. Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the Element and those that stifle that possibility.”


Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson & Joseph Grenny

When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, there are usually two choices: Avoid a crucial conversation and suffer the consequences; handle the conversation badly and suffer the consequences.” I participated in a two-day training in Crucial Conversations with my entire team and it made a huge difference in how we communicated. At the time, many of us took the tools we learned to our homes and shared them with our families. This book helped us create a common vocabulary and understandings for how to talk about high stakes topics. There are also two more books in the series: Crucial Accountability and Crucial Confrontations. Both equally useful.


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

This story is easy-to-read and a great conversation starter. Although it is applicable to leadership and leading teams, I also found it helpful in supporting classrooms where you have diverse learners needing support on how to work together. “Throughout the story, Lencioni reveals the five dysfunctions which go to the very heart of why teams even the best ones-often struggle. He outlines a powerful model and actionable steps that can be used to overcome these common hurdles and build a cohesive, effective team.”


Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools by Glenn Singleton

Engaging in conversation about race is important. Period. This book has been recently retooled and like the first one is powerful. No longer can ANYONE afford to omit the conversation about race. This book had tremendous impact on my thinking, not just about education, but on how I interacted with the world. Singleton describes the book as providing, “a foundation for those educational leaders at the systems and school level who are willing and ready to begin or accelerate their journey toward educational equity and excellence for all children.” “You can’t read this book and silently do nothing to promote equality. It is a book that demands personal reflection, promotes dialogue and questions, and calls for action.”


When Can You Trust the Experts?: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education by Daniel T. Willingham

I cannot tell you how often I reference this book. If I had to guess I bet at least once a day. Although exceptionally applicable to educators, it provides a deep understanding about why people believe as we do and how deeply entrenched beliefs, like politics, religion, and schooling, are difficult to change. The book offers educators clear, easy to understand principles to spot what’s nonsense and what’s reliable. “Each year, teachers, administrators, and parents face a barrage of new education software, games, workbooks, and professional development programs purporting to be “based on the latest research.” While some of these products are rooted in solid science, the research behind many others is grossly exaggerated. This new book, written by a top thought leader, helps everyday teachers, administrators, and family members–who don’t have years of statistics courses under their belts–separate the wheat from the chaff and determine which new educational approaches are scientifically supported and worth adopting.”


 Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

Of all the non-education books I read recently, this has had the most impact on me. It made me rethink how we build community in our life. It reminded me the importance of honoring people, and it made me dig deep to refresh and refocus the things that I hold as values. I cannot stop thinking about this book whenever I am in a classroom. “Modern society is plagued by fragmentation. The various sectors of our communities–businesses, schools, social service organizations, churches, government–do not work together. They exist in their own worlds. As do so many individual citizens, who long for connection but end up marginalized, their gifts overlooked, their potential contributions lost. What Block provides in this inspiring new book is an exploration of the exact way community can emerge from fragmentation: How is community built? How does the transformation occur? What fundamental shifts are involved? He explores a way of thinking about our places that creates an opening for authentic communities to exist and details what each of us can do to make that happen.”


 Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it. This is a story about tenacity and grit and is a good choice for anyone looking to confirm their belief in the powers of personal fortitude and education.


What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America by Ted Dintersmith

What School Could Be offers an inspiring vision of what our teachers and students can accomplish if trusted with the challenge of developing the skills and ways of thinking needed to thrive in a world of dizzying technological change. Innovation expert Ted Dintersmith took an unprecedented trip across America, visiting all fifty states in a single school year. He originally set out to raise awareness about the urgent need to reimagine education to prepare students for a world marked by innovation. Capturing bold ideas from teachers and classrooms across America, What School Could Be provides a realistic and profoundly optimistic roadmap for creating cultures of innovation and real learning in all our schools.


 Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent.


 Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf

What It’s About: In this sequel to bestseller Teach Like a Pirate, Burgess and Houf apply the PIRATE technique to school leadership.

Why You Should Read It: Whether you are a current or aspiring school administrator, read this book if you need inspiration, motivation and ideas for sustaining a culture of excellence in your school. Burgess and Houf write with a contagious (and hilarious) zeal for strong leadership and dynamic schools. Pirates are on a constant quest for riches, but PIRATE leaders seek even greater rewards: amazing schools, engaged students, and empowered educators who know they are making a difference. In Lead Like a PIRATE, education leaders Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf map out the character traits necessary to captain a school or district. You’ll learn where to find the treasure that’s already in your classrooms and schools–and how to bring out the very best in your educators.


Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People from Liars, Criers, and Other Slackers by Todd Whitaker

Poor employees get a disproportionate amount of attention. Why? Because they complain the loudest, create the greatest disruptions, and rely on others to assume the responsibilities that they shirk. Learn how to focus on your good employees first and help them shift these “monkeys” back to the underperformers.


 The Innovators Mindset by George Couros

In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros encourages teachers and administrators to empower their learners to wonder, to explore–and to become forward-thinking leaders. If we want innovative students, we need innovative educators. In other words, innovation begins with you. Ultimately, innovation is not about a skill set: it’s about a mindset.


For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood . . . and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin

With this fresh and engaging new pedagogical vision, Emdin demonstrates the importance of creating a family structure and building communities within the classroom, using culturally relevant strategies like hip-hop music and call-and-response, and connecting the experiences of urban youth to indigenous populations globally.


The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier

One of my grad students reminded me of this book. This easy to read book teaches leaders how to coach through questions. It’s dramatically increased my ability to help others maximize their potential. It’ll help you coach others to become top performers by developing your own questioning and listening skills. A fresh innovative take on the traditional how-to manual, the book combines insider information with research based in neuroscience and behavioral economics, together with interactive training tools to turn practical advice into practiced habits. “Coaching is an art and it’s far easier said than done. It takes courage to ask a question rather than offer up advice, provide an answer, or unleash a solution. giving another person the opportunity to find their own way, make their own mistakes, and create their own wisdom is both brave and vulnerable.”


The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams

Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than fifty years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—they are two of the most joyful people on the planet. We get to listen as they explore the Nature of True Joy and confront each of the Obstacles of Joy—from fear, stress, and anger to grief, illness, and death. They then offer us the Eight Pillars of Joy, which provide the foundation for lasting happiness. Throughout, they include stories, wisdom, and science. Finally, they share their daily Joy Practices that anchor their own emotional and spiritual lives.

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