06/09/2017 by Michael Brosnan |

Summer Reading

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This time of year, we’re usually encouraged to pick up some breezy “beach reading” — easy, plot-driven fiction that will keep one entertained but not challenge one’s worldview. Think: Netflix in book (or ebook) form. While holding nothing against this summer tradition, many of the educators I know use summertime to catch up on professional reading they didn’t have time for during the school year. I checked in with some friends to ask what they are reading now. Below are five books and five articles that stand out.


Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” edited by Paul Hawken

A long-time head of school spoke glowingly of “Drawdown” for both the science underpinning the book’s 100 proposals for reversing global warming and for Paul Hawken’s take on how we proceed. Hawken points out that the science on global warming has long been crystal clear, but that too much of the literature about how we should respond has been couched in the language of doom. Without minimizing the problems of rising CO2 and sea levels, Hawken believes we can address global warming from a more positive perspective. His key point: while science makes it clear what the problems are, science also makes it clear that there are solutions. In other words, we can solve this. With the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Agreement, it’s important that all of us look at what we can do in our spheres of influence. The head of school recommending the book suggests that educators examine the list of “Drawdown” solutions and determine (a) which ones their schools are already addressing and (b) highlight other steps they can address in the coming academic year.

A Colony in a Nation,” by Chris Hayes

Another educator stopped by to ask, “Have you read ‘A Colony in a Nation’ yet?” When I said I hadn’t, he explained why I should. And now, having read it, I’m passing the advice on. Hayes’s thesis, one essentially borrowed and updated from the Black Power movement of the 1960s and ’70s, is that our nation is really two. One is the democratic society of rights and liberties spelled out in our Constitution and Bill of Rights; the other is a colony of suppressed subjects in a police state. Citizens in poor communities — places like Ferguson, Missouri, for instance — are treated today more like the pre-Revolution colonial subjects of King George than citizens of a modern democracy. In the Colony, order is the guiding logic, fear the tool. Here, control trumps civil rights. The book is not only a call for criminal justice reform, it’s also a well-reasoned appeal for a more humane nation. In this regard, it’s a book that belongs on the shelf alongside Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me,” Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” and Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” — to name a few.

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education,” by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

I’ve seen Sir Ken Robinson take the stage often to talk with educators about why and how we can infuse schools with more creativity and student agency. I’ve seen his wildly popular TED Talks, too. But it’s good to have this book as well, in which he and coauthor Lou Aronica dismantle any remaining defenses for the industrial education model and its reliance on standardized tests and argue for the creation of authentic learning communities in which adults build strong relationships with students and students are encouraged to find and develop their passions. The authors want schools to commit deeply to the development of essential life skills — which they describe as “curiosity, creativity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure and citizenship.” They also want schools to develop a new mindset that embraces greater student agency, more interdisciplinary learning and their own continuous professional growth. They also offer up examples of a broad range of schools — public, private, charter — that live this new educational mission.

Rethinking Multicultural Education,” Second Edition, edited by Wayne Au

“Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice” is part of an ongoing series of books published by Rethinking Schools, a nonprofit established in 1986 by a group of Milwaukee educators committed “to equity and to the vision that public education is central to the creation of a humane, caring, multiracial democracy.” To this end, its publications aim to be visionary and practical. “Rethinking Multicultural Education,” a collection of essays, manages to be both. The visionary part is about putting social justice and democracy at the core of teaching. The practical part is about offering advice from practitioners on how be effective multicultural educators. From the first section on “Anti-Racist Orientations” to the last on “Confronting Race in the Classroom,” these essays are bound to help schools improve on their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education,” by Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher, Rowman and Littlefield

Authors Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher work at the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL), based at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Maryland.  The CTTL was established in 2011 to leverage the growing body of mind, brain, and education science to help educators maximize their effectiveness and students achieve their highest potential. St. Andrew’s engaged in this work for its own community, but it has quickly turned into a service for the broader field of education. “Neuroteach,” a spin-off of the work at CTTL, takes a comprehensive look at the research in mind, brain, and education science and applies it to teaching and learning. The book offers practical advice, such as the “Top Twelve Research-Informed Strategies Every Teacher Should Be Doing with Every Student.” It also encourages teachers to think of themselves as researchers and to contribute to the conversation on how to transform the field of education. Given its importance, as one teacher notes, “'Neuroteach' should be the professional book study of the year!”


All Extremely Confident People Give Up These 13 Habits,” by Matthew Jones, Inc.

This is a quick read, but I need to warn you — it cuts close to the bone. There’s nothing on this list of bad habits that I haven’t seen before. On the other hand, there’s nothing here that hasn’t tripped me up at some point. And I don’t think I’m alone. Who hasn’t engaged in the occasional unhealthy dose of “negative self-talk” or cared too much about what others think? For educators at the start of their careers, when it’s easy to be weighed down with self-doubt, this list is particularly valuable. It can remind you to moderate the self-criticism — when a class doesn’t go well (this happens to all teachers at all stages of their careers) or the whole process of teaching feels more challenging than expected. By avoiding these bad habits, you can focus not on your shortcomings but on the opportunities to learn (think growth mindset). Having confidence is not about being narcissistic, Jones tells us; it’s about building “unwavering self-trust.”

Goodbye ABCs: How One State Is Moving Beyond Grade Levels and Graded Assessments,” by Sydney Johnson, EdSurge

Johnson investigates an underperforming public school that turned things around by dropping grades and focusing more on competency, if not mastery. In some NG2 schools, as they are known, students engage in project-based learning and performance assessments. One school went from among the lowest ranked schools in the state in 2012 to the winning the National School Change and Innovation Award in 2016. The notion of not giving out grades is not new. Many progressive schools have been doing this for decades, and with great success — instilling a love of learning and genuine inquiry rather than the pursuit of a high GPA. But most schools are still deeply dependent on letter grades — and many are uneasy about it. A spotlight article like this can help think through the alternatives.

Could a Different Kind of Transcript Revitalize High School Learning,” by Ben Rosen, Christian Science Monitor

This related article portrays a new group of independent schools, The Mastery Transcript Consortium, that is shifting to a focus on mastery learning, using a carefully structured digital transcript that tracks “whole student” progress. The consortium, the brainchild of Scott Looney, head of Hawken School outside Cleveland, Ohio, includes 100 independent schools nationwide — all longing for something more effective than traditional grades as the measure of learning. “The problem with a grade,” Looney told the Christian Science Monitor, “is it doesn’t feel like coaching and guidance to kids — it feels like a judgment.” As for the new digital transcript, the educational community is watching with interest. The Edward E. Ford Foundation has given the consortium a $2 million matching grant. We should all pay attention.

Eight Lessons from Gallup’s 2016 Student Poll,” Gallup

When thinking about how to improve schools, we often forget to ask our key constituents — students — what they think. Gallup, thankfully, has done it for us. This article is part of a series that explores what students have to say about school and education. On the plus side, we’re reminded that engaged and hopeful students fare better on desirable school outcomes. But we’re also reminded that students become less engaged as they move through school. The one that gave me pause: “Many students have a best friend at school, but few get to do what they do best every day.”

Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It),” by Jennifer Porter, Harvard Business Review

Executive coach Jennifer Porter reveals that the hardest leaders to coach are not new leaders or the know-it-alls or those who waffle over big decisions, but rather those who do not take the time to reflect — especially those “who will not reflect on themselves.” Research makes it clear that reflecting on your work and yourself will help you improve and will lead to greater job satisfaction and personal happiness. Porter clarifies the value of reflection, outlines the faulty logic of those who don’t carve out time for reflection, and offers the essential steps leaders — including school leaders — can take to develop habits of professional reflection. Her final advice: when you need help, reach out to a friend, colleague, therapist…or coach.

Michael Brosnan is the former editor of Independent School, a quarterly magazine on precollegiate education. He is now an independent writer and editor, with a particular interest in education and social change. He can be reached at michaelbrosnan5476@gmail.com.

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