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Superintendent's Bookshelf

SUPERINTENDENT'S BOOKSHELF

What I'm Reading Now

Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day, by Andy Puddicombe. (2011).

This year, all of our elementary school students will be taking part in the MindUP curriculum. MindUP is an evidence-based mindfulness curriculum designed to foster social and emotional awareness, enhance psychological well-being, and promote academic success. It is being implemented partially in response to the stress that is so prevalent in our society. We trained all of our elementary teachers last year, and the teachers loved the training both for the potential to help their students and the chance to improve their own well-being. I am very hopeful for the year.

Every year, I have all of our administrators read and discuss one book together. As mindfulness is one of our themes this year, I chose Get Some Headspace as our book. Mr. Puddicombe pushes the idea that just ten minutes a day of stopping and being mindful can change the brain and change our lives. You can see his TED talk here. He gives practical advice and even has ten free guided meditations. I did my first ten minute guided meditation recently and, my goodness, ten minutes is a lonnnngggg time! I like the book, and I look forward to discussing it with our administrators soon.




In this section, I will outline books that guide my thinking. I'm at my best when I'm reading, thinking and pushing myself.  There's nothing more important than teaching literacy - the ability to read and write and advanced levels - and one way we all get better is (shock) by reading and writing.  So I think it's important for me to share what I'm reading and what guides my work.

Books About Teaching and Learning

Books About Leadership

Books About Teaching and Learning

Pathways to the Common Core (2012)
by Lucy Calkins

We have trained almost all of our elementary teachers in writing the way Lucy Calkins and Columbia University teach writing. It’s a method that works to make all students believe they are authors, and takes them through the process of writing, editing, re-writing, editing and honing the process until you come up with a final product. Lucy Calkins, like Mike Schmoker, emphasizes the critical role that writing takes in the curriculum. She’s a great writer, a proven thinker, and she is having a heavy influence on our teaching here in MBUSD.

Disrupting Class How Disruptive Education Will Change the Way the World Learns
by Clayton Christensen (2011)

Michael Horn, one of the co-authors of this book, spoke at Manhattan Beach’s TEDx conference in 2012. It’s a book that makes predictions about where education is going. You all know that MBUSD is pursuing technology through iPads. There are those who are against it, and it is certainly a challenging transition, but there is no denying that the world of learning through technology is coming whether we like it or not. Between Khan Academy and the plethora of free online education, technology is changing the way the world learns. The role of teachers remains a critical one, but any teacher who views their main job as imparting information will become obsolete. Teachers are becoming skill builders, motivators, tutors, coaches and caring experts at determining what each child needs. It’s an exciting time, and this book does a nice job of defining the times that we live in.

Charlotte Danielson, Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching (2007)

We are doing a lot of work on teacher evaluation in MBUSD, and Charlotte Danielson is regarded as one of the foremost experts on the subject. I worked with her many years ago on a teacher evaluation project in Santa Monica – Malibu USD, and I found her to be bright, engaging and completely passionate about teacher evaluation. She has developed a framework for how to define quality teaching, and it’s a great reference point.

The Six Secrets of Change
by Michael Fullan (2008)

Michael Fullan's Change Forces is one of the great educational books, and he continues to look into the subject. In this book, he looks at six secrets:
  1. Love Your Employees
  2. Connect Peers with Purpose
  3. Capacity Building Prevails
  4. Learning is the Work
  5. Transparency Rules
  6. Systems Learn
There is nothing stunningly new here, but there are some great thoughts worth remembering. In Chapter Four, "Learning is the Work," Fullan states, "Successful organizations mobilize themselves to be 'all over' the practices that are known to make a difference." I love that. I've seen Districts move towards this, but the Superintendent did not stay long enough to make it complete.

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Spark. The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
by John J. Ratey, MD (2008)

This is a pretty interesting read. Written by the same guy who wrote the ADHD Classic, Driven to Distraction, this book talks about how our bodies must have excercise to properly nourish and replenish our brains. There's a lot of science in this one: Dopamines, neurotransmitters,cortisol, medications, etc.

The basic premise is simple. Exercise makes us better. Plato had it right when he wrote: "In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and one for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection."

We have been evolving as a species for 500,000 years. It's only in the last 10,000 that we stopped being hunters and gatherers. Our brains have not yet adapted from the amount of physical activity man used 10,000 years ago. So we are obese, overweight, stressed, depressed and unproductive. Dr. Ratey is not against medication, but what he is really for is exercise. It gives us the best chance.

He closely examines the P.E. program at Naperville District 203 west of Chicago. Their PE program is extraordinary. Their obesity rate is very low and their test scores are much higher than would be predicted.
Dr. Ratey's recommendation. 5 days of aerobic activity a week (He's a big fan of the work of Dr. Kenneth Cooper) and two days of lighter activity and weight training. Men should be at 75% of max heart rate, women should be at 65%. Use a heart monitor!

Some thoughts for stress. Stress in moderation is a good thing. It gets your brain working. But chronic stress really hurts you. You produce too much cortisol, resulting in belly fat and memory loss. Exercise can help. You monitor cortisol production and learn to cope.

Some thoughts for ADHD. One of the best treatment strategies for ADHD is establishing an extremely rigid schedule. Regular exercise will also spur the growth of new receptors in certain brain areas, thus increasing dopamine and norephinephrine.

I focus on stress and ADD because I have had to struggle with both of these. I've developed strong coping mechanisms and have managed to be quite successful, but I believe I can do even more.  I've always been an exercise guy, and this makes me realize that I may need to step it up just a little more.

On a school leader level, it makes me look at PE in an entirely different way. We can do more using brain research. Paul Zientarski, Naperville's PE Coordinator, said, "In our department, we create the brain cells. It's up to the other teachers to fill them."

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Focus: Elevating the Essentials To Radically Improve Student Learning
by Mike Schmoker (2011)

I love this book.  Love it.  Mike Schmoker, a long advocate of using data to guide instruction, brings so many of his ideas together here.  He has written a simple and direct book that basically says we just need to do two things well: Check for understanding and Promote excellent reading and writing skills.

Some quotes:
  • "Much of good education consists, as it always has, of a simple combination of one or more good texts matched with an interesting question."
  • If we could institute only one change to make students more college ready, it should be to increase the amount and quality of writing students are expected to produce."
    • "The Impact of Formative Assessment and effective Checking for Understanding is:
    • 20 to 30 times as much positive impact on learning than the most popular current initiatives
    • About 10 times as cost-effective as reducing class size
    • Would add between 6 and 9 months of additional learning growth per year
    • Accounts for as much as 400% "speed of learning differences" (4x as fast)"
  • "Simply asking, 'Does anyone have any questions?' does not work.
I liked this so much that I made a presentation to the MBUSD Board of Trustees on March 30, 2011.  You can see that PowerPoint here.

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Horace's Compromise & Horace's School
by Ted Sizer (1984 & 1992)

These are books that came out in 1984, as I was beginning my teacher preparation master's program, and 1992, as I was entering my first principalship. Both of these books have had profound influences on me and my leadership of schools. In short, Ted Sizer gets secondary schools. He understands why it is so wonderful to be in a secondary school, and he understands why it can be so utterly frustrating.

They key to it all is understanding all the demands placed on "Horace", the fictional high school English teacher. He loves his job, but it is impossible. So, he has to compromise. He understands how complex a high school day/night is for a high school student, and he shows how that student often has to compromise. High schools try to do everything, and staff and students pay the price for that. "School people arrogate to themselves an obligation to all." (p. 77)

In Horace's School, Sizer shows a process by which teachers and school officials talk (with "Horace" s the chair of the committee) and talk and eventually get to a place where high school can be fundamentally changed. He shows the factions and problems that will eventually come out in these conversations. Again, his work is very honest. But in this book, he's also ambitious.

One of the key questions that comes out is, "What do we want students to learn, and how do we know they've learned it?" The book goes through several "exhibitions" in which students authentically display their learning/mastery of key concepts. The book also describes the Coalition of Essential Schools, and their nine common principles, paraphrased here:
  • Schools should focus on students using their minds well.
  • Keep it simple. Each student should master a number of essential skills and demonstrate competence in certain areas of knowledge.
  • All students should attain these goals, but they way they get there will vary.
  • Teaching and learning should be personalized as much as possible.
  • Student as worker, not teacher as deliver of of instructional services. Schools should be places of learning, not places of teaching.
  • Remedial work should be provided when students need it.
  • School values should include: unanxious expectation, trust and decency.
  • Principals and teachers should be generalists first and specialists second. All employees play multiple roles.
  • Collective planning for teachers is critical.
I re-read this in 2008, and it rings as true as ever for me. As a principal, I sought many of principles in my school, and had some successes. But again, it takes long term commitment, consistent trusted leadership, and a sense of urgency that the status quo needs to change. Two great books about high school, and even though it's a little outdated, I still rate it highly.

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Books About Leadership

Getting Things Done
by David Allen. (2001)

When I started teaching at age 22, with just two large classes in a high powered high school, I had great ideas. About 10% of my great ideas turned out to be pretty good lesson plans. But behind all of the ideas, there was a jumble. I struggled to keep up with all of the paperwork, grading, recording, communication and everything else. As my career has progressed, those bureaucratic paperwork responsibilities have only increased.

In 2006, I read David Allen's Getting Things Done. I wish I had read it 25 years before.

It's not a Stephen Covey-esque book that helps with prioritizing, nor is it a leadership guide. It is a down-to-basics-where-to-put-all-of-that-paperwork guide. And it's great. You have to buy in. Those of you with adequate systems may think it unnecessary. I love it. I have the audible version in my car (Audible.com downloads it right to your iPod) and I listen to it at least once a year. I buy extra copies of the book to give to administrators struggling with paperwork. And I make time each week at work and at home to keep the system working.

Sit down in your office on a weekend, with hundreds of blank file folders, a large trash can, your calendar and a label maker (absolutely essential) and you are set. Plan on 4-6 hours of time set aside. Then, plan on doing the same thing at home. I'm telling you, it will change your life. After implementing the system at home, my wife told a friend, "My husband has completely changed our home - I think I'm falling in love all over again!" Now that's high praise!

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The On-Time On-Target Manager
by Ken Blanchard and Steve Gottry (2004)

Procrastination damages everything it touches. Schools, kids, business and families. It must be admitted to and dealt with. In this fable, Bob, the always late and disorganized manager, meets with a "CEO - Chief Effectiveness Officer," and hears about the three P's of being an on-time, on-target manager.

  • Prioritize. Just as an emergency room triages its priorities, so should any manager. Decide what is most important and focus on it. Make time each week to do this. This is nothing that Stephen Covey has not stressed. It's a key to any effective leader. Bob learns to "triage everything!"  And, it is critical to be able to say, NO! If you don't say no, then you always say yes, and you don't get the right things done.
  • Propriety. Do the right thing, with the right person, at the right time, in the right order, for the right reasons for the right results. And do it all with intensity. I loved the intensity part. Sometimes we educators can feel sorry for ourselves. There are too many demands on us. People (and we ourselves) expect the impossible. And sometimes we feel like we deserve a little break. If we have a job to do - educating our students - then we should do it by the code above, and above all, we should do it with intensity. Do it as if every second of class time matters. If we really have a sense of urgency about the fact that a child's failure is a terrible thing, then every moment is precious. We often lose sight of that sense of urgency, and the intensity is often missing. If our unions were as intense about every child learning as there were about every process being followed before a teacher can be urged to improve, we would have better schools. If our administrators focused with intensity on instruction, instead of getting bogged down in bureaucratic nonsense, we would have better schools. Do the right thing, for the right reasons, with intensity.
  • Commitment. Ha ha, it doesn't begin with P. Bob learns about the custodian who wrote "ya gotta wanna" on the white board every day after he cleaned a classroom. It made a difference with kids. There is a big difference between being interested in something and being committed. How committed are you?
A very good fable, and a way to live every day. I like it.
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Know How
by Ram Charan (2007)

I actually did not find a lot of application for this book for the public education sector. If I were starting a charter school or an internet-based school, two ideas that will continue to grow and shape the education scene, then I might be more interested in examining this book more closely. But I did take a couple ideas from Mr. Charan's book as worthwhile. He focuses on building strong leadership teams and setting goals and priorities. Those are both worth looking at closely.

"The job of a leader is to see the person as a whole, over time, in a variety of situations, and work backward from what you observe to determine what the person's individual gifts really are." You do that by spending a lot of time with your direct reports, talking with them and focusing on their positive attributes. In a large company or district, you should be able to build a pipeline of leaders.

Mr. Chamran likes teams that demonstrate "unity without uniformity." If one of the team members has behavior that hurts the team, the leader has to confront it. Identify the "energy-drainers and energy-generators."

Mr. Chamran likes the idea of setting both clear attainable goals and "stretch goals." Stretch goals show people that they can accomplish more than they thought possible. The next step is pretty obvious - setting priorities, assigning the right people to be in charge, communicating the priorities and assigning resources towards those priorities.

Mr. Charan gives nice examples with all of his chapters. Some are fictional and others are related to actual businesses.
I found this to be a nice "reminder" book, stated in different ways, about leadership and leading. I give it six gold stars.

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Good to Great
by Jim Collins (2001)

This is a spectacular book that contains so many gems. Mr. Collins has researched successful companies and come up with criteria that make them great. Some of the best ideas in the book:
Good is the enemy of great.
I've seen so many educators settle for being good. They often think that greatness is impossible. That alone means that many children are forgotten and given up on, because the professionals simply don't believe we can help all students be successful.
The Hedgehog Concept.
I am such a believer in this. Schools are places of great inertia. Usually that inertia follows the rule, "a body at rest stays at rest." But, if a school can follow the same hedgehog concept for three or more years, change can occur, and the school can become a body in motion that stays in motion. The hedgehog concept is simply this, the hedgehog thrives because it does one thing extraordinarily well. In its case, it protects itself well. Schools are famous for having new directions every year. Find one, two or maybe three things to work on, and stick with them for years. Make sure everyone is speaking about the same thing. Be great in those three areas. Have all staff development focus on those three areas. You get the idea. It sounds simple, but very few schools do it. Very few.
Get the right people on the bus.
The best thing a leader can do is focus on hiring the absolute best people. If your probationary teachers are not wonderful, say goodbye and find someone who is. If you have a teacher or staff member who is hurting children, make the efforts to change the person or make the supreme efforts to dismiss them or counsel them out of the profession.
There's much more in the book, but as you can see, I found great application to schools. Mr. Collins wrote a separate book for non-profits, but I found this book to be more than enough.

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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
by Stephen Covey (1989)

This is another one of my bedrock books. Stephen Covey has had such an influence on my personal and professional life.
The seven habits:
  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. First Things First
  4. Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw
From "Beginning with the End in Mind" which forces you to think about where you are going - both professionally and personally, to "First Things First," making sure you prioritize correctly, to "Sharpening the Saw," reminding you that if you do not practice self-improvement, you will wither away. I believe in all of these things, and I have to remind myself of them all the time.
For me, no other author does this as well as Stephen Covey. Read it, or Listen to it, and most of all, do what he advises and try to make habits out of his maxims. I do best when I have habits such as exercise, time away from work, time with family, planning my week/day, and I do worst when I get overwhelmed or sick and drop those habits. It's a struggle for me, but I use Mr. Covey to help me with that struggle. When I'm at my best, fully employing these habits that I believe in, I feel like I can accomplish anything.

This is a book you read and reread.
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Quiet Strength
by Tony Dungy (2007)

I listened to Mr. Dungy read his books while driving back and forth to work. Again, www.audible.com for great downloads right to your iPod. I've always admired the man and did not know much about him. A very successful, and once very publicly fired, NFL head coach, and in 2007 the winning coach of the Superbowl. He was the first African-American coach to win the Superbowl.

Two things struck me in this book. First, his commitment to faith and family. It is overwhelming. It's where the title of the book comes from and it is real. He is a high quality man with deep beliefs and he lives his beliefs every day.

Second, he believed that the plan of action he brought for his team would pay big dividends, and he never wavered. His assistant coaches and his players heard the same values/commitments in the first team meeting, and they heard the same ones four or five
 years later as the team headed to the Superbowl. I love that. In fact, when things got tough for his teams, one of his mantras was, "Do What We Do." It's not time to panic, it's time to do the things that we as professionals have worked so hard to learn and practice. Do What We Do.

But you can't "Do What We Do" if not everyone knows what that is. That's the problem with education.  I've said it before, but we as educators are famous for blowing in the wind. The prevailing philosophies change, and we change with them. We don't have what Stephen Covey would call "True North" on our internal or educational compasses. Teachers don't believe that any new philosophies will stay, and therefore they develop their own. When teams/schools are operating without one compass, they cannot move forward as a unit, nor can they learn from each other. Reading Mr. Dungy made me recommit to my philosophy of communicating often, communicating clearly, and never having more than two new things we are working on, and always being clear on what we stand for and strive for.

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Switch
by Chip and Dan Heath

This is a very cool, clevelry written book. Written by two brothers who are professors at Stanford, they look at how people accomplish change. An old topic (and my favorite) with a new twist. It's centered on the idea that humans have two sides: a rational side (the rider) that plans and knows what is best, and an emotional side (the elephant) that actually get things done. The Heaths push us to make sure that the elephant and the rider are in sync, so that things can actually happen.

Some of my favorite ideas:
  • Don't blame people first. Look and see if it's the situation that needs fixing.  If the elephant and the rider disagree on what to do, the elephant will always win.  For change to happen, you have to (1) direct the rider, (2) motivate the elephant, and (3) shape the path.
  • Find the bright spots. This is a great way of directing the rider. Knowledge or theories do not change behavior. Showing others the bright spots can give hope. (Hunger in Vietnam,
  • "Solutions-based therapy." If a miracle happened while you were sleeping, and all of your troubles were resolved . . . when you wake up in the morning, how will you know?  Big problems are rarely solved with big solutions.
  • Script the critical moves. Too many choices lead to decision paralsis. The Food Pyramid does not work. "Until you can ladder your way down from a change idea to a specific behavior, ou're not ready to lead a switch."
  • Point to the destination. Call your students "scholars". BHAGs. Destination postcards.
    • "When you're at the beginning, don't obsess about the middle, because the middle is going to look different once you get there. Just look for a strong beginning and a strong ending and get moving."
    • Shrink the change
    • If a task feels too big, the elephant will resist.
    • Hope is elephant fuel.
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Rich Dad, Poor Dad
by Richard Kiyosaki (2000)

It's been on the best seller list since it came out. It's corny and very simply written. But as a parent and an educator, there's not better book to give you the big picture of money. We educators don't think about money. We think about how overwhelming our job is, how wonderful it is to make a difference, and sometimes just how to get through the week or the day, or maybe just that 4th period class that is oh-so-challenging.

You won't leave this book knowing exactly what to do. But you will leave it believing that you have to become financially literate and that you have to start taking steps to gain wealth.

I made my 13-year old son read it (His response - "Really?") That was back in 2003, and he abides by it now. We still discuss it often.

This book is a motivational gem. It's not a how-to manual, but it's a necessary first step. I've read many of his follow-up books and been less than impressed. Perhaps that's because I have not taken his advice and owned a business, or perhaps it's because they just don't grab me. But his first book, it's perfect for us educators.

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Death by Meeting
by Patrick Lencioni (2004)

I've always thought of myself is an excellent meeting manager. In fact, I've often joked that my ideal job would be a professional meeting runner. I believe in the theory of a well-planned agenda, an easy beginning and end, and a solid meaty middle part where difficult problems get resolved. But I've been in plenty of meetings that are pretty darned painful.

Like it or not, meetings are a big part of what I do. That's how Lencioni begins. Lencioni pushes us that how sad it would be if professional baseball players said, I like my job except for the stupid games. As leaders, a big part of our job is planning, running and following up on the meetings. We often don't do the work, we simply lead it, guide it, and make sure it happens like we want it to. If we don't like the meetings where we discuss and lead those things, then we really don't like the job we have.
  • Conflict. Just like any good movie is based on conflict, a good meeting is based on it as well. People have to be willing to be honest, open and willing to voice opposition.
  • Structure - Just like in TV you would not mix a movie, headline news, sitcoms and mini-series, maybe one meeting should not include all of those things.
  • Daily "Headline News Meeting" - A Daily Check-In - A 5 minute meeting where the day is reviewed. 
  • Weekly 30 minute "Sit Com" meeting. Weekly staff meeting focusing on tactical issues - 30 - 90 minute with no pre-set agenda. Start with 60 second report from each person on the up to three projects the person is working on this week. Then, the team would review a scorecard of where we are relative to the company scorecard. From that point, the team would determine the content of the remainder of the meeting.
  • Quarterly Offsite Meeting: Meetings should not be a chance to step away from day to day bothers, and look at the big picture and long-term impact stuff. One to two days. Best people, strategies, successes, failures, repositioning, maybe with an outside consultant, particularly on the offsites.
  • Monthly strategic meeting. When you have topics that are about changes in strategy, new projects, and new goals, they should be saved until the monthly strategic meeting.
This book is a much needed book for any executive. We don't think about our meetings enough. We don't think strategically and we don't plan the meetings. We can't hate these meetings. Department meetings, Faculty Meetings, Principals' Meetings and Cabinet Meetings. Not to mention, what typically are the least productive meetings of all, Board of Education meetings. All of them can be better. Plan it, give it meaning, conflict and context, and make them effective.

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Books Recently Read

The 2014-15 School Year

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz (2014).
This book was recommended to me by a Mira Costa graduate who is now a college sophomore. It is a damning report on the level of instruction at the college level. Having had a son just go through college, I believe that great teaching in many colleges is the exception. It also discusses how our students play the game of getting into college, and that is no easy thing to read. It’s a great book for parents and educators. Let’s help our students to be their best and more importantly, to find out who they are. Their focus should not be impressing other with achievements that may or may not matter. This book certainly has thoughts on that. I recommend it. Look up Stephen Colbert's interview of Mr. Deresiewicz for insight and laughs.

The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, by Amanda Ripley. (2013)
This book takes three exchange students from the US and compares their experiences at home and abroad, while looking carefully and the Finland Education System as a model. It is a compelling read, and sends some strong messages. First – the level of challenge in American classrooms is not as high as it should be. Most of the challenge focuses on memorization, when it should focus on higher level skills. Second, homework is overrated. Students having lives outside of school is essential. Third, training and hiring high quality teachers is an absolute necessity. Finland is much more selective than most nations.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. (2015)
My dad recommended this one to me. I don’t think I liked it as much as he did. Mr. Harari examines the cognitive history of humans, and basically argues that we have not become any happier due to all of our cognitive development. In fact, we may very well be more unhappy than ever. He is very concerned about the science of man creating his/her own happiness through chemistry and cloning. I did not see a whole lot of answers or solutions. Highly interesting? Yes. Helpful – not so much.

Cool: How the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes Our World, by Drs. Steven Quartz and Annette Asp. (2015)
Steven Quartz is a very good friend of mine, and my wife and I were excited to be able to read this book before its publication. This is a big brain research book. Brain research is increasing its role as a shaper in education research and policy. This insightful book examines why people make the economic decisions they do, and what role the brain plays in all of it. It is heavily research driven (what else would you expect from a professor at Cal Tech?), and incredibly insightful. One of my thoughts as I read it was that great teachers somehow make learning cool for everyone. They create a culture of cool that everyone wants to be a part of and they make it special to achieve.

The Swerve: How the World Became Moderns, by Stephen Greenblatt. (2011)
A fantastic book. It is a lesson in Greek History, Roman History, the Catholic Church and the Middle Ages. It is a lesson about how civilizations can be ruined by fanaticism. It is a lesson about the importance of ideas and the power they have. And for some, it is a lesson on how to make the most of life on this planet. I highly recommend it. I will be rereading this one.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, by Laura Hildebrand (2010)
I read this because (1) it is a big movie this year, and (2) it is a local story of a man from Torrance. My friend Paul told me about the book, and how it told so much more in the movie. He was particularly angered by the fact that the movie removed the importance of his Christianity in overcoming the demons of Louis Zamperini's imprisonment and torture. It's a good read and an amazing story. It is yet another reminder of our greatest generation and the sacrifices they made for freedom and democracy.

Rookie Smarts, by Liz Wiseman (2014)
Liz Wiseman is a great author and an even better speaker. I heard her at an ACSA Conference in San Diego and saw her in a whole different light. She is funny, positive and incredibly real. This book has struck a chord with me. Ask any leader who is actually trying to make change, and they will tell you that all change is met with resistance, and that resistance will do its best to wear you down and halt you. Liz Wiseman talks about the power of “rookie smarts” and how to keep that rookie mentality. Solid book and a great guide.

Better Learning Through Structured Teaching, by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey (2013)
This came to my attention from a USC doctoral student. It is a fantastic book that brings together many of the best ideas and research in teaching. Mike Schmoker's ideas on direct instruction; Lauren Resnick's ideas on accountable talk, the role of independent learning and the use of technology. It's a strong book, and I kept on saying, “Yes!” as I read along.

Building a Better Teacher, by Elizabeth Green (2014)
This book, by a journalist and not an educator, hits the nail on the head when the author states that our educational research in the US is fantastic, and the level of implementation in the classroom is deplorable. I remember a phrase from Richard Elmore that talked about the stormy sea in which educational research is being debated, with fierce battles between researchers and politicians and district leaders. But as you go down below the surface of that raging storm, you go to the bottom of the sea, where instruction is actually happening, and all you see is a little swaying back and forth. Nothing really changes. The question Ms. Green asks is why is our math instruction so static, when it goes against all of our own research. I loved it.

Leverage Leadership, by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo (2012)
This book tells the story of the power of data in transforming schools and helping all students to achieve. I am a bit ambivalent about this one. While I agree with the premise, my philosophy of learning leans toward the more holistic side. I do not relish the idea of making learning about testing. I am more on the side of supporting teachers who ignite a passion in students and make going to school a great experience every day. I will keep coming back to this idea, because I know that accountability is essential, but I do want to draw limits.

Still, one of our goals in MBUSD with the implementation of the Common Core is to develop a series of common assessments. Wisely used, we can use this data to maximize student achievement. This book will be a good guide.

The 2013-14 School Year

10% Happier, by Dan Harris (2014)
My father recommended this book to me. I try to always follow his recommendations. He is still a voracious reader, while continuing to practice law. He is keenly interested in my career and in public education. He lives back in Arkansas, but we talk regularly about life, law, public education and anything that resembles good humor. I am fortunate to have a mentor and friend in my father, so when he recommends a book, I'm always in.

Dan Harris is a news guy, who got a shot at the big time as a national television news anchor. It did not go well. In his attempt to get his life back, he learned a great deal about himself. After stopping his use of drugs (good call Dan), he started looking a meditation. He tells an amazing story of his journey with some of the leading meditation/centering leaders of our time. He finds his way, saying that it doesn't solve all problems, but it can make you 10% happier.

To be a leader in public education today, you need so many things. First, you must love public schools. You must love great teaching and passionate learning, and you have to be willing to do all you can to develop both of those school wide or district wide. You need a clear focus on what you are trying to do. Those are the great parts of the job. You need incredible stamina to work crazy days and nights, and you have to be positive every single day. Finally, you need to be able to withstand the slings and arrows of many. In this age of email, social media and transparency, educational leaders today endure constant attacks, public and private.

So how does one survive and prevail? Steven Covey calls it “true north.” Harris and those he discusses the clarity and serenity gained by focusing on living in the moment and not beyond. Power from within from religious faith gives many the strength they need. I have such admiration for those in educational leadership, and for those willing to look at this kind of path to strength, this is a great read.

The Power of Collective Wisdom, Alan Briskin and Sheryl Erickson (2009)
I read The Wisdom of Crowds a few years back. It told of the mathematical wisdom of crowds. Give enough people a chance to have input, and the right answer emerges. It's why democracy works . . . most of the time. The average guess of thousands of people regarding the number of marbles in a jar will best expert marble counter people . .. whoever they are.

This book has similar ideas, but it focuses on leadership. The authors begin with a focus on listening. That evolves into total presence, so that you understand both what is being said and what is not being said. They speak of understand group consciousness and using that to raise the group to a new level. There is a lot of good in this book, and there is some that is pretty far out there. They never use the phrase “May the Force be with you,” but if I'm listening correctly, even though it wasn't said, it was said.

Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation at a Time, by Linda M. Gross Cheliotes and Marceta A. Reilly (2010)
This book was recommended to me by Dr. Brett Geithman, MBUSD's Executive Director of Educational Services. Brett is one of the finest instructional leaders I know. I first saw him as a principal in Long Beach. We sent teams of teachers to his school to learn about how they were teaching writing with incredible success. I witnessed Brett coaching teachers as they were teaching, and was impressed by his remarkable focus on improving instruction for each teacher.

Since Bringing Brett on board, all of our administrators have read this book. The book discusses importance of a laser focus on how each educator wants/needs to change instructional practice. It is essential to listen to the struggles and needs of each person, and work with them to find solutions. Solutions are not handed down, they are developed for each person. There is not one golf swing for all golfers. There is not one best way for all teachers. Listen and coach. Listen and coach. Repeat forever.

Daemon, by Daniel Suarez (2014)
This is another recommendation from my father. I call these types of books pure fun that can be read on a weekend or on a night when you don't need to sleep more than a few hours. Suarez writes stories similar to Michael Crichton in their pace and use of science. This one is about a computer gaming genius who uses technology, even after his death, to change the world – not necessarily for the better. There's just enough truth in this book to be justifiably worried about our dependence and interdependence on technology. From War Games to Terminator to Failsafe, we have been living with stories about how the world could end as we know it. So if you are into books about the world almost ending, then, as drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs would say, “Check it out.”

A Leader's Legacy, by James Kouzes (2007)
This book focuses on the personal legacies of our leadership. How does our relationship with those we lead help them to grow? “The most significant contributions leaders make are not to today's bottom line but to the long-term development of individuals and institutions that adapt, prosper, and grow.” I have had many wonderful mentors in my life, and I hope that I can continue to help those I work with grow and develop.

Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor, by Warren Bennis (2008)
A major premise of this book is that the higher the leadership position, the less honest feedback the person receives. Their remedy: free flow of information and finding ways to hear directly from all levels of the organization. It's about abandoning ego, hearing good and hard feedback, and giving the same.

The Flip Side: Break Through The Behaviors that Hold You Back (2007), Flip Flippen
I heard Flip Flippen speak at a conference. He's an incredible force. He's adopted children from around the world and made an incredible difference in their lives. His message is one of caring, building relationships and leading with the heart. He also has many ideas for maximizing our own potential. He has programs for schools, and programs for businesses.

The Long Walk to Freedom (The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela), by Nelson Mandela (2013)
I read this book after the great Nelson Mandela died. I'm so happy that I read it, but it took me forever. I would not call it an engaging book, but it is certainly informative. I think he is one of the great figures in modern history, and an inspiration to any who face seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

His long time in prison made him like a time traveler who is acutely aware of major changes that have snuck up on the rest of us. What struck me so forcefully was how small the planet had become during my decades in prison; it was amazing to me that a teenaged Innuit living at the roof of the world could watch the release of a political prisoner on the southern tip of Africa. Television had shrunk the world, and had in the process become a great weapon for eradicating ignorance and promoting democracy.

You see this amazing man go from a boy in a tribal village to a position on the world's Mt. Rushmore of global change. It's worth the difficult read.

Building The World's Greatest High School, by Richard Parkhouse (2013)
I love this book. I love it so much and it has truly inspired me. I met with a group of leaders to share my enthusiasm for it, and I found that I'm kind of alone in my love for it. But I don't think I'm wrong.

Perhaps I love it because it rings true with what I believe. When the author is faced with the realization that he is a great coach and a mediocre teacher, he rethinks everything. “One day, one of my fellow teachers, truly a mentor to me, came in and said, ‘Parkhouse, I have seen you out in the field coaching baseball, and I have seen you in the classroom teaching – you are two different people!” That's just it. Coaches keep teaching until everyone learns the tactic, skill, or lesson. Many teachers teach, test, and move on, regardless of who has learned, or who has not learned, that material.

The other key idea is that most high schools have a ‘royal family.” These are the scholars, athletes and leaders who get almost all of the accolades and attention. That cannot be the case. Every student deserves attention, and the authors have ways to do just that.

Any school, or any organization, which believes it is “good enough,” is going to fail. This book is a great source of inspiration. I may be in a minority for loving it, but again, I know I am right.

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card (1985)
Somehow I missed this when it came out. I am a fan of this genre and this book was a true though provoker. I only climbed from under my rock when the movie came out. So my son and I read it, discussed it, and saw the movie.

Two main thoughts. First - The idea that an adolescent can save the world goes to Liz Wiseman's Rookie Smarts. Second – they are trying to defeat the ultimate enemy, who in the end, may not have been an enemy at all.

Wired, by Douglas Richards (2012)
A thoroughly enjoyable bio-tech thriller of a book.

The 2012-13 School Year

Gary Keller, The One Thing  (2012)
First and foremost, any book that contains a reference to any of my amazing family is a great book for me to to read. Mr. Keller praises my artist brother Pat Matthews, and his focus and ability to paint one painting each and every day.  Way to go Pat!

As you can see from this section of my website, I love reading of leadership books. Some of my guiding thinkers include Steven Covey, Daniel Pink, Chip & Dan Heath, David Allen and Jim Collins.  I read Keller's book shortly after visiting and speaking with brain scientists from The Center for BrainHealth in Dallas, Texas then reading Make Your Brain Smarter, by Dr. Sandra Chapman.  Both books hit hard campaigning against the idea of multi-tasking. Both say there is no such thing.  Both hit on the idea of spending sustained time on one complex task. Dr. Chapman says to do it to make your brain smarter,while Gary Keller says to do it to be more successful in everything you do, 

Some of the main points of Keller's book:
  • "Don't fear big. Fear mediocrity."
  • What is the one thing I can do such by doing it that everything else will become easier or unnecessary.   See chart below. 
  • Step one is often to find out what others have learned. 
  • Priority matters. Priorities don't. 
  • Productivity is not about working hard. It's about priorities, planning and fiercely protecting your time.  - Margarita Tartakovsky
  • Block four hours of time early in your day. Or as much as you can
  • I love the chart on the limits of intelligence without a clear sense of purpose. Only purposeful work allows for great breakthroughs. See chart below. 
  • Take care of your body with diet and exercise. If nothing else, get 10,000 steps a day. 
  • "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.   Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the sail winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover."  Mark Twain


Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
My dad recommended this book to me.  It's a combination of science fiction, sixties mentality and utopian society thinking that had me going back and forth between wanting to stop reading the book but also wanting to see the full evolution of the thinking of Mr. Heinlein.  The hero, a Martian, tries to (1) adapt to our society and (2) get us to see why his society has advantages, changes lives and then frightens the whole world with his radical thinking.  There are some things we are just not ready for.  

Charlotte Danielson, Enhancing Professional Practice (2007)
We are doing a lot of work on teacher evaluation in MBUSD, and Charlotte Danielson is regarded as one of the foremost experts on the subject. I worked with her many years ago on a teacher evaluation project in Santa Monica – Malibu USD, and I found her to be bright, engaging and completely passionate about teacher evaluation. She has developed a framework for how to define quality teaching, and it’s a great reference point.

Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1980)
Kind of a Catch 22 for Science Fiction.  This is a book I've heard much about, but I've never read.  The author is crazy, and I thought it highly entertaining and though provoking.  Earth being blown up is really not even a passing thought, and it goes haywire from there.

William Davis, MD, Wheat Belly (2013)
After reading this, my weight dropped from 205 to 197.  If I was truly dedicated, it would go even lower.  I recommend it for a very quick read.  I don't think he is wrong.  My favorite line is when Dr. Davis talks about all of the marathoners and triathletes who have a paunch.  How can that be?  Carbs and wheat he thinks.

Ken Follet, Winter of the World (2012)
If you liked the Fall of Giants (I did), then you will like this one too.  The same families in the first book now witness the rise of the Third Reich, World War II, and all of the surrounding events of the 30s and 40s.  A great page turner.  I look forward to reading the last book in the trilogy soon.

JR Tolkein, The Hobbit (1937)
My 22 year old son, who just graduated from UCLA in 2013, was my companion as we watched all of the Lord of the Rings movies come out during his time in high school.  Between the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, we read some really fun books and got to see some highly entertaining movies.  One of my best memories is going to Walmart in Arkansas and purchasing the final Harry Potter book.  We then went out on the lake to water ski and play.  By the end of the day, both Ryan and I had finished the book.  He read it in the early morning, and I read it after he was done, and we talked about it the rest of the day.

For my younger son, the Hobbit movie gave us the opportunity to re-read an old classic.  I read it first in 9th grade as a part of a history class.  I still don't get why, but I loved the book.  We then saw the movie.  We saw it first in the 48 frames per second mode, and hated it.  Then we saw it in normal mode, and thought it most excellent.

Sara Levy, Big Green Egg Cookbook (2009)
When I’m not being a school administrator, I love to cook. I cook all kinds of things, but what I really love to do is to grill and smoke foods. For my 50th birthday, my wife bought me a Big Green Egg. It is a smoker, grill and pizza oven, and I recommend it to anybody. They are expensive, but they last forever and they can do it all. My friend Greg Geiser and I talk Big Green Egg (bge) all the time. It can become a way of life.

If you want to see my recipes, you can check them out www.principalchef.com. Really. If you want to see what the BGE can do, take a look at this book. I’m telling you, it’s great stuff.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1951)
I reread this book after Ray Bradbury died. It was my way of paying homage to a great thinker. I was struck by his prediction of reality TV, something that existed neither when he wrote it nor when I read it in the 1970s, and how it sucks people in. His version of Big Brother is a government that makes the people think about trivial nonsense so much that the realities of the world are almost completely ignored. TVs influence is so strong that we don’t see the beauty and pains of the world.
One great quote from Faber, the English professor in the book, “I don’t talk things sir. I talk the meaning of things. I sit here and know I’m alive.”

Clay Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life? (2012)
I had all of our administrators read this book this summer, and they loved it. He asks and advises on three questions. How can I be sure that:
1. I will be successful and happy in my career?
2. My relationships with my spouse , my children, and my exteneded family and close friends become an eduring source of happiness?
3. I live a life of integrity – and stay out of jail?
He is a quality researcher and he wants us all to be great workers and even better people. Why wouldn’t you want to read a book on that?

Anne Rice, The Wolf Gift (2012)
This was a book that my wife Jill was reading for her book club near their Halloween meeting. Although I’m a fan of science fiction, I’m not much into the Werewolf/Vampire genre of books. I certainly appreciated Lupin the werewolf in the Harry Potter books, but this book focuses entirely on it. I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed the book and found it to be a great read. I particularly appreciated the idea that we as humans have dulled our senses to our environment, and we neither notice nor appreciate what the world feels like, smells like, and tastes like. We are in such a hurry that we ignore most of what is around us. It reminded me of The Power of Now. I’m probably reading too much into that, but it did cross my mind a few times while reading. Fun read.

Ken Follett, Fall of Giants (2010)
It’s been years since I read Pillars of the Earth, but I remember loving it. He’s published two books recently: Fall of Giants, a WWI book, and Winter of the World, on WWII. Fall of Giants is historical fiction were characters from the US, Russia, Germany and UK. It was one of those books I reached for whenever I had a free moment and it was a great read. I’ll move quickly to the next book. I highly recommend it!

The 2011-12 School Year

Steve Jobs, by by Walter Isaacson.  I downloaded this on the first day it was available.  I said at the TEDx conference that I think Steve Jobs will go down as one of the great educational heroes of the 21st century.  He may be responsible for actually changing the way the classroom looks - something no one else has done.  By putting education into the hands of students, he may be the one who makes this change happen.   Although I am "bilingual" (I used Macs and PCs interchangeably), I am a fan.  I owned the very first Mac in 1984 and I have always admired the creativity, simplicity and beauty of Steve Jobs' creations.   

My big takeaways from the book.  He was personally involved in so many steps.  He did not delegate any final decision making.  He did it all.  His standards were incredibly high, and anything that did not meet his standard was described as lousy.  Finally, he thought that design was critical, and would never stop until he believed the design was perfect.  This is a great and inspirational book.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
I just finished reading this three part series that young adults are crazy about. I can see why. It's a bleak vision of our nation in the future, and it is a teenager who gives hope to the world. I loved it. Keep in mind, I do love the fantasy books like the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, so this wasn't a stretch. It's a page-turner that actually raised my heartbeat as I read it. I finished all three quickly because I wanted to get them done.  They're not well written, but the story is awesome. The movie comes out soon - I doubt I'll see it, but at least I'll know what everyone is talking about!

Summer, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly. I know it's summer when I'm reading a Michael Connelly novel. It's not great literature, but it's always fun. This is his first legal novel. By the way - Mick Haller - our lawyer hero - is not a "Lincoln lawyer" because he works in the traditions of our 16th president. He is called that because his office is the back seat of a Lincoln Contentental. Classy. Good summer reading.
 
The Art of Driving in the Rain, by Garth Stein. It's a sad history told by Enzo, an amazing dog destined to be a human in his next life. Enzo, like his human companion, has a deep passion for race car driving.  It is a quick, sad and wonderful read.   I've seen it again and again in my own life.  Life will kick you in the teeth sometimes, but if you let it happen, there are wonderful moments to be enjoyed.

I read lot of Mark Twain this summer.  My dad has always loved Mark Twain, so I reread or read for the first time - Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Roughing It were all wonderful.  I laughed out loud on several of the passages.   Common sense goes a long way, and Twain loves characters who either mock or defy common sense. 

Slaughter House Five, by Kurt Vonnegut.  Continuing my "summer of satire."  This is a book on MBUSD reading lists that I had never read, but had always meant to.    It is not the most uplifting of books.  The hero is crazy, the aliens question our focus on linear time, and the insanity of war rips throughout the book.

Montana, 1948, by Larry Watson.  This is another book on the Mira Costa reading list that I had not yet read.   It deals with difficult family issues, coming of age, race and rural living.  I can see so many ways to use the book in the classroom, and I know it is powerful enough to spark thinking.

Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse.  From rural living to the search for Buddhist meaning in India.  If you have read the Power of Now and you liked it, you may find this book meaningful as well.  Even if you do not find it meaningful, it does provide a window into Buddhist culture that most school books do not.


Spring, 2011
Truman, by David McCullough.  I am in awe of this ordinary man who became an extraordinary leader.  Some of my favorite quotes. 
  • "An optimist was a person who thinks things can be done.  No pessimist ever did anything for the world."
  • Near his death, Truman was asked by someone if he read himself to sleep at night.  His answer, "No, young man.  I like to read myself awake."  I love that spirit.  Give 'em hell Harry.

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