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  • Writer's picturerobertthornelltx

Summer Brain Candy for School Leaders: Books I Have Read and Recommend...

For years when I had an office, either on the campus or at the district office, I would have people stop by and ask about a particular book or seek a recommendation.  I miss that part of not having a specific learning community. However, as someone privileged to work with schools around the country, I am now in a position to talk books with colleagues from various locations, with different backgrounds and experiences.  I assure you this has opened my eyes to a whole new library!  Just by chance, I have had several current and aspiring leaders ask me for summer reading recommendations. Each time this happens, I am both honored and flattered. I consider a book recommendation a very personal thing and for someone to ask for mine is one of those small moments of gratitude that is hard to explain.  It matters to me.

If you have ever been on in a virtual meeting with me, you have seen a portion of a room that is wall-to-wall books.  I don’t consider myself an expert in any particular endeavor, but I very much enjoy books and when it comes to professional reading I do subscribe to the mantra that “Leaders are Readers”.  I have also found that in a day and age when you can Google the term “Instructional Leadership” and receive over a million resources in less than a second, it can be overwhelming to discern what you want to read and what may resonate with you.  Everyone is different and a lot of it depends on where your interests lie and what you may have found successful in the past.  I hate to admit this, but I start some books I abandon and never finish. Not because they are bad, but for whatever reason they do not connect with me at that particular time.  It is okay to abandon books. Life is too short and there are always others out there to read and time is too precious to force yourself to read something that is pure torture.  On the other hand, I do find it valuable to intentionally seek out articles and books that have a different perspective than I do or come from outside of education, if for no other reason than to challenge myself to argue the other side of an issue.  I think this helps me value what I believe, but also serves to help me see things from another point of view.

With that in mind, and to all the current and future principals I know (and those I do not), I have put together my version of a Summer Reading List for School Leaders.  I offer these up in no particular order and with no affiliation to any of the authors or publishers.  Just some books I have read and reread because they make sense to me.  I hope they help.

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger.  

This book probably holds the title of “Most Highlighted Text” in my collection. I could not put it down.  It’s not about education, but it has several educational stories in it.  For anyone who fancies themselves as someone who asks questions about why and how we do things, this one could be for you.  I loved it and I use the stories and examples it contains all the time.

Schools That Succeed: How Educators Marshall the Power of Systems for Improvement by Karin Chenoweth

I tend to gravitate to books that have practical ideas and concepts that I can use immediately.  This is one of those.  Chenoweth highlights the characteristics that make schools successful with real examples of how to implement them at the campus level.  This book would make a great book study with a campus leadership team or by yourself and you work on your instructional leadership.

Start. Right. Now. Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffery Zoul, and Jimmy Casas.  

What a fun book about schools and how they can develop effective learning cultures. Another one that I think would be great for any leadership team to read together.  I often share this book with aspiring principals because there is a lot to share about knowing what you believe and why you believe it.  All three of these authors are well accomplished and this collaboration has a reader-friendly style and is packed full of ideas and reminders of how to transform the collective efficacy on your campus. 

Juggling the Elephants: An Easier Way to Get Your Most Important Things Done - Now!  By Jones Loflin and Todd Musig

This book is written in the parable style much like other popular books such as Who Moved My Cheese?, The Coffee Bean, and Our Iceberg is Melting, but it is my favorite in that category by far.  Maybe it is the title, because I love juggling myself, or because I often hear principals refer to their campus as a three-ring circle, but the messages in this book resonated with me. Quotes like “The ringmaster has the greatest impact on the success of the circus,” helped me frame my perspective of who is responsible during good times and bad.  If you like the parable style, I highly recommend this one. It is an easy, quick read that helped me focus on what is most important and release the things that are not. 

The Instructional Change Agent: 48 Ways to Be the Leaders Your School Needs by Adam Drummond

This book is not one of those shallow “list” books. While it is written as a list, Drummond dives into both research and shares personal experiences as an educator that make it invaluable to a campus leader.  I am currently using this book as a guide with an aspiring school leaders academy and would recommend it for any school leader induction program. Some of the activities are reflective and personal while others simply outline ways to get the work completed on your campus. This is the book I wish I had had both as a principal and as a principal supervisor. Principals, buy a copy for you and your assistant principal and read it together. I promise you won’t regret it.

Disruptive Thinking: Preparing Learners for Their Future by Eric Sheninger 

If you haven’t read a Sheniger book, you should.  He has a great way of articulating what our schools need and envisioning the types of classrooms that can make it a reality.  Because I believe that a school’s success begins with its leader, I think a principal has the responsibility to set the tone for classroom expectations in pedagogy and this book can help you do just that.  If you do not take anything else away from it, just remember that learning is a process, not an event! As a leader, you set the tone and cultivate the environment that allows teachers and students to thrive. (Sheniger just released a new book and I am anxiously awaiting its arrival.)

The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

It's quite possibly my favorite book of them all.  The Power of Moments shares so many great ideas about why it is important to set up memorable experiences in a variety of organizations. From an education perspective, this could be doing something for your teachers to make them feel special or a way to encourage them to create moments for their students. This book changed the way I approach and design professional learning.  Be bold and make people’s experiences memorable. 

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

This is such a powerful book. The insights, stories, and practical steps to building a supportive and successful group in this book come from all walks of life and diverse organizations. If you like some of Simon Sinek’s TED talks, this is written in a similar style but with more detail and practical ideas. I do not always listen to audiobooks, but I have listened to this one twice…the first time had me hooked and the second time I followed along with my hardcopy just to make highlights.  If you are someone who is leading a team or facilitates training for other leaders, read this book immediately. 

Results Now 2.0 by Mike Schmoker

I can just admit this upfront, I read anything I can get my hands on by Schmoker.  His latest book in the Results series is packed with useful reminders and ideas on how to keep your school/district on track.  This book would be another perfect book study or perhaps a way to craft your message to your staff for the upcoming school year. His message of closing the gap between “proven practice” and “common practice” is an easy way to start the conversation of how to shift the sacred cows that may be getting in the way of true progress. 

The Impact Cycle by Jim Knight

I recently had the opportunity to hear Jim Knight speak (again) and his style, humor, and insights are invaluable to me. Unmistakable Impact is one of his older books now, but it will always have a prominent spot on my bookshelf but I have spent a tremendous amount of time over the last couple of years as a coach, using and referencing The Impact Cycle. Great practical ideas on how to determine (with your staff) which areas to focus and what type of coaching style might be needed. An essential book for instructional coaches and anyone who coaches/supervises instruction at all.  

Collective Leader Efficacy: Strengthening Instructional Leadership Teams by Peter DeWitt

Can you have a book list for educational leaders and not include Peter DeWitt? His work and the way he has transformed John Hattie’s research into practical ideas for educators is a gift to us all.  In this one, he stresses the need to build capacity in the instructional leadership team and uses real-world examples of schools that are working collectively to improve student outcomes.  I would take a long-term approach to this book and use it to challenge existing processes and create new ones on a campus.  A must-have for any successful leadership team!

Fierce Conversations - Susan Scott

This book helped “rip the Band-Aid off” for me when it came to developing and growing as a leader.  Fierce conversations do not have to be ugly or hurt feelings, but as Scott points out, we have to get to the “ground truth before you can turn anything around”.  If you are someone who needs to work on critical feedback or just having meaningful conversations at work, this book is one of the best.  I have reread it multiple times over the years.

Lead Like Lasso: A Leadership Book for Life. Your Life. - Marnie Stockman and Nick Coniglio

A principal friend of mine gave me this book recently and I immediately loved it.  To be fair, I love the Ted Lasso show so I am biased, but the authors do a great job of translating the Lasso way into practical, real-life ideas that make this a fun read.  Warning, if you haven’t watched the show, some of the humor and reflection in this book may be lost on you, but do yourself a favor and when you aren’t reading this summer, binge-watch the best show ever!!!

Happy reading and please pass on any book recommendations for me! Thanks!

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