Adventures of Huckleberry Huck Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Roughing It, by Mark Twain (1884, 1876, 1872)
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.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)
Here is my second Pulitzer Prize book to read this year. This one is so much more approachable for me, because it is a book of great literature disguised as a book about history. It juxtaposes two lives: a blind young woman from France and a young engineer from Germany during the rise and fall of the Nazi era. It goes back and forth between the two lives, and creates so many stories of sadness, of beauty, and of unimaginable times. I enjoyed every part of this book. It is simply written, and doesn’t contain the beautiful sentences of Less by Mr. Greer, but it is fantastic. Could not put it down, and I highly recommend it.
The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein (2008)
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.
Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival, by Peter Stark (2014)
My brother Bill from Oregon recommended this book. It’s a great companion to Undaunted Courage which is one of my favorite books of all time. Though not as compelling or as historically rich as Undaunted Courage, this is a great story of 1812-era America and the foresight of John Jacob Astor as he tried to be the first to establish a settlement on the west coast. It’s a story of amazing bravery, foolheartedness, and the awesome beauty and power of the American west. If you liked Undaunted Courage, I highly recommend it. And a bonus is that when you travel through Oregon, you will recognize a lot of the names from this book. I biked through the snow-filled McKinzey pass two years ago, and when I do it next, I will have a new appreciation for the hardship that Mr. McKinzey and others endured. Not a beautiful book, but a solid read.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil de Grasse Tyson (2017)
I’ll give you two quotes from the book. One from the intro: “If you’re too busy to absorb the cosmos via classes, textbooks, or documentaries, and you nonetheless seek a brief but meaningful introduction to the field, I offer you Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.” That is completely accurate. When I read that, though, I had the fast impression that it would be Astrophysics for Dummies … no. It’s complicated stuff. When I read it, I have to really think about what the heck these things mean. It’s almost beyond comprehension. That leads me to my second quote: “In the beginning, nearly 14 billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.” If that doesn’t blow your mind, what can? It’s infathomable. Still, the book gives incredible insight into the universe and our small little place in it. I highly enjoyed it, even though I had to read several sections several times to even come close to understanding, or realizing I would never understand. Read it.
Being Mortal, by Dr. Atul Gawande (2014)
I am 55 years old now and I feel very fortunate that both of my parents are still alive and very much a part of my life. But I am at the point in my life where I am thinking about how it will be as they get older, and as I get older. Dr. Gawande writes about that process. It’s a fascinating read.
He talks about the advent of nursing homes which changed how families take care of the elderly. He talked about the dangers of nursing homes and how hospices have addressed many of the short-comings of nursing homes. He talked about communities and families who are figuring out different ways that are more organic and more based on each community’s particular needs. This is an important topic and I appreciated all of the insight and personal experiences of Dr. Gawande.
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.
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)
Manhattan Beach has spent a lot of time over the last 18 months talking about the importance of inclusion. We have seen events in our community and in our schools that make us realize that we need to make sure that every student and every community member do all they can to respect and include every member of the community. This is a book recommended to me by a person on a committee that works on this topic. It is a letter from an African-American father to his son. It let me walk some miles in people’s shoes that I could not otherwise walk in. I think it’s important to see Mr. Coates’ perspective, his challenges in raising his son in America, showing what he has learned, his fears, and his hopes. It’s a powerful book that is in many ways challenging to read, but it is important. I highly recommend it.
Big Green Egg Cookbook, by Sara Levy (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.
The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100, by Dan Buettner (2019)
I learned about this book when I received my Blue Zones newsletter in my in box. I work very closely with the Blue Zones people. Manhattan Beach is a Blue Zones city, committed to promoting healthier habits to help our citizens obtain a longer and healthier life span. I read this book just after I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and it fits. Blue Zones Kitchen pushes a plant-based diet, though not all vegetarian. The recipes are from some of the longest-living areas in the world and I found them enticing. I’ve already cooked a few of them. The minestrone soup from Sardinia was a hit in our family. The cookbook has stories, examples, and authentic recipes. I recommend it!
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.
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.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson (2020)
This was a majorly eye-opening book. To me, the key to the whole book is Wilkerson’s assertion that there have been three caste societies in our last 2,000 years. One is the Indian caste system that we all read about in our textbooks with the brahmin at the top and the untouchables at the bottom. The second is the mercifully short-lived Nazi reign, where Jews, Catholics, gays, and others were in a caste far below the Aryans. But the society that the Nazis studied to try to figure out how to codify a caste system was the segregation in the American south. Wilkerson believes that since 1619, we have developed a caste system in our United States with whites at the top and African Americans at the bottom that has not at all vanished. Her work is convincing, her research is stunning, and it made me look at our country in an entirely different way. When she was introduced by another academic, a former untouchable from India, at a conference on caste systems, the introducer said, “Young people. I would like to present to you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.” Those who are in other caste systems get it. Our job is not just to rid our nation of racism. We have to demolish a 400-year-old caste system.
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.
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.
Creative Schools, by Ken Robinson (2015)
Like most educators, I am a huge fan of Ken Robinson. His famous TED Talk has inspired so many of us in education. At the core of it is his belief that we have to do everything we can to keep our students creative. That means that student-centered education should be what we focus on primarily, and perhaps the only thing we focus on. In this book, he talks about ways we can inspire that creativity.
One of his big themes in this book is knowing and caring for students. This hit home with me as this is one of our huge topics we are pursuing, particularly at our high school. When he says, “Organic education creates optimum conditions for students’ development, based on compassion, experience, and practical wisdom,” it makes me realize that the important part of education is letting students learn for themselves along the way, and with each other, as much as possible. Let the teachers see where students are going, and adjust accordingly. At the end of the book, he reiterates that “the heart of education is the relationship between the student and the teacher.” I could not agree more.
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 â€“ 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.”
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.
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.
The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson (2000)
My sister-in-law recommended this book to me. It's a science fiction book about a futuristic world where computers and humans are incredibly intertwined. I did not love the book, but there were many interesting elements of trying to bring reality back into people's lives. The fascination of the future with the morality of the Victorian era is another fascinating part of the book. It might be something that grows on me, but for now I liked it, and got a few insights from it.
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.
Edge of Eternity, by Ken Follett (2014)
This is the last in the century trilogy by Ken Follett. I’ve already written about the other two, Fall of Giants and Winter of the World. I love a good historical novel. This is a third book that follows the same four families during the 20th century: one family is from the United States, one from England, one from Germany, one from Russia. It traces their lives through the generations of the 20th century. These books are not short, but if you love historical novels, you will race through them and love it. There are new insights into some historical ideas, and it certainly reminds you of the amazing events of the 20th century. I recommend the entire series. It is great summer reading material. Enjoy!
Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover (2018)
This is a book that has been on the best-seller list for a while, and I saw it in a friend’s house that I was visiting for a few days, picked it up, and read it. It’s a super quick read, mostly because you just can’t put it down. It is the true story of a daughter raised in a right-wing Idaho family. She is homeschooled and has little to do with the outside world, and her only reality is the world in her home. It’s a story of what her world looked like, and how she attempted to find her way out of the home. It turns and twists in the way only real life can, and it is fascinating every step of the way. Like millions of others around the world, I loved the book and highly recommend it.
Emotions, Learning, and the Brain, by Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang (2015)
Manhattan Beach belongs to the 21st Century Superintendents Consortium. One of our regular contributors is a MBUSD parent, Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang. Dr. Immordino-Yang is a USC professor who has written this book and others, and speaks around the country on brain research and what we should know in order to teach children well. One of the points she tries hard to hammer home is the fact that without emotional connections, the brain has a very challenging time learning. There has to be purpose behind the learning. Students have to feel somehow connected to the teaching. It’s yet one more piece of research that helps me realize that if a teacher is teaching more than 25% of the curriculum based on facts, then we are teaching the wrong things. Facts have little or no emotion associated with them. Analysis, discussion, human connection, and emotional reactions all help students to make connections and truly learn the materials. Dr. Immordino-Yang is a great resource, and this is a fantastic book of learning.
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.
Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching, by Charlotte Danielson (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.
Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton (1911)
This year I shadowed one of our junior students at Mira Costa High School. Click here to read my blog entry. One of our big topics here is trying to improve the social emotional wellness of our students, and one of the ways we tried to gain more understanding was to shadow students for a day. As I was preparing to shadow my student, I learned that his class was reading Ethan Frome so I read the book so I would be able to at least know what they were talking about in the lesson. It is not the most uplifting book I’ve ever read. A story of love desired and love not achieved and it’s full of its share of sadness. Set that against a winter in New England and you’ve got a perfectly depressing book of classic literature. Reading books in English class reminds me of how Navin Johnson feels about the blues in The Jerk – “There’s something about those songs. They depress me.” Students in the class were studying different characters in the book, so I felt like I at least knew halfway what I was talking about as they were discussing it.
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 Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, by Robert Dugoni (2018)
This book combines some classic underdog stories in the setting of a traditional Catholic school education. I was reminded several times of some of the stories from my own Catholic school education, and I loved all of the reminiscences. It’s a great tale of parenting, discrimination, and coming of age, and the author ties it all together beautifully. It was one of those books I just could not put down and I loved it all.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (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.”
Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett (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!
Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, & American Business by Chris Fenton (2020)
It’s always nice to gain insight on people you already know from a book that they write and publish. Chris and Jen Fenton live right here in Manhattan Beach, and it was great to read Chris’s description of American businesses trying to work in and with China over the past decade. Filled with personal anecdotes, this book describes how each of us find our way in the world through our successes and our failures. That alone is a great lesson for anyone starting their career, or at a point where they need to change their career. But it’s also fantastic insight into how China is dealing with capitalism, particularly when it comes to entertainment. Chris Fenton does an outstanding job of sharing his story, of showing the challenges he has faced throughout his life, and him talking about he believes we can make a difference in China and in any kind of global cooperation.
Some of the insights that I particularly appreciated: “There isn’t a Chinese citizen who has lived their whole life in China, born around or after June 4, 1989, who has seen the famous photo of the Chinese man staring down a PLA tank in the heart of Beijing.” If that is true, their form of censorship is completely working. That’s depressing. And on the power of commerce and commercial diplomacy could change the world, “One could argue that Big Macs and David Hasselhof have more to do with the end of the Cold War than an arsenal of nuclear weapons.” Chris Fenton has an easy-going writing style, a wealth of personal experience, and a lot of insightful, soul-bearing, and even fun stories along the way.
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, by Loung Ung (2000)
I read this book as I prepared for our trip to Cambodia in December of 2017. I had been trying to get our family to go to Cambodia for three years now. My brother-in-law has been the British Ambassador to Cambodia since 2014. He and his family have been inviting us over to visit them and tour the country, and I knew it would be a great opportunity. I finally convinced my family this year and we went in late December and early January of 2017-18. It was all I hoped it would be, both in terms of beauty and in terms of poignant history.
I know about the killing fields. I did not read the book but was powerfully impacted by the movie when it came out in 2017. One of the things that I wanted to see in Phnom Penh was the Killing Fields memorial outside of Cambodia. I thought this fairly recent book might give me some good insight into it. It did not disappoint. The book begins telling the story of a 5-year-old girl living in Phnom Penh with her well-to-do family whose father/patriarch is a former police officer and now high-ranking leader in Phnom Penh. After a brief description of their interesting and good life, all hell breaks loose, and Pol Pot’s troops come marching in to empty Phnom Penh. That was their strategy. They could not change culture in the city, so they emptied the cities. Her father knew that his plan was to kill all of the educated elite, as well as anyone associated with the former government. So their family had to say nothing about where they came from and say they were peasants and farmers. The family went from village to village, then eventually was separated.
The book tells the sad tale of the separations, of death of family members, and of survival. While in some ways uplifting, it is a horrific reminder of all that occurred.
I read more about the whole crisis. The United States was still reeling from failing to achieve its objectives in Vietnam, and the perceived sense of loss, and therefore could not support a country that Vietnam was supporting. It was the Vietnamese who came to the rescue and got rid of Pol Pot. Walking around the memorial grounds, and seeing 20,000 skulls in a central structure, complete with fractures and holes that define how they were killed, is a stunning and depressing reminder of what happened just a few decades ago. As my 15-year-old son and I walked around the grounds, we became more appreciate than ever of the importance of truth, of the need to stand up for what is right, and the frailty of democracy and government. We have to fight to keep what is good, and we are only a few bad people away from falling into a deplorable state.
The Flip Side: Break Free of The Behaviors that Hold You Back, by Flip Flippen (2007)
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.
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.
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.
Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay (2015)
Some of you who know me know that I love to cook, and I love to barbecue on my Big Green Egg. Whenever I go to any place in the south, and lots of places in Los Angeles as well, I try to find great barbecue. There’s great barbecue in Arkansas where I grew up, but Texas is kind of the mothership for lots of great barbecue. I need to make a culinary journey to North Carolina to enjoy the barbecue and the golf, but that is yet to come. This is the story of how Franklin Barbecue, perhaps the most famous barbecue in Texas, came to be. Franklin is a place where people start lining up around seven in the morning, they start serving around ten in the morning, and they are sold out by 1:00 or 2:00 pm. They cook several things, but they are famous for their brisket. A brisket is cooked in many different ways, but this is all about smoking it until it’s perfect. He tells the story of how he would cook a brisket in his backyard on the most rudimentary and cheap of devices, and invite friends over to try it and critique it. He did this for years, saving up money to buy each brisket, as it’s a good $40 piece of meat and that doesn’t come easy. He shares how he started his restaurant and what they look like today. He also shares his recipes in the book as well. I decided to make 2019 the Summer of Brisket in my home, but I would not say I was overly successful. I only tried to make two the whole summer. They were good, but they were not fantastic. I have a friend in my neighborhood, my friend Chris, who does brisket perfectly, but he has been out of the area for a while. I need his mentorship and Mr. Franklin’s mentorship, and I still hope to be able to pull this off. It’s a good read, if you like barbecue. My vegetarian wife was not particularly attracted to this book, but as always, she puts up with me and my pursuits. Life is good.
From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership, by Harry M. Kraemer (2011)
I read this book in preparation for the fall 2019 meeting of Consortium 2032, our group of seven school districts who work together towards continuous improvement. Mr. Kraemer is a resident of New Trier, Chicago, which is where our Consortium was hosted and has spoken to the leaders of that school district many times. He is a former CFO and CEO of a major American company and has strong opinions on leadership. His basic premise is that there are four principles and those principles are: self-reflection, balance, self-confidence, and genuine humility. Mr. Kraemer goes through all of these different values and discusses them in detail. He puts a lot of value on celebrating the team and I have no argument with that whatsoever. That is critical for anyone’s success. He also pushes the idea that every single person in the organization is essential to that organization, and I wholeheartedly agree with that as well. He speaks a lot about balance. He does not use the term work-life balance, but just balance. That was good as well. And he reminds the reader often that your title or titles do not define you. It is how you treat those who are closest to you that defines you. I think this is valuable for anyone to hear, as I have met plenty of people in my life who think they are something special because of the position they hold or the opposite, thinking they are not someone special because of a lower-level position they hold. Both could not be more untrue. And that leads to the value of self-confidence, which I certainly have experienced is critical for any leader in any organization. Criticism comes from all sides, and you have to listen carefully to that criticism, weigh the options, and make the best decision possible. That takes true self-confidence. It’s a good book, and he certainly is an interesting person to listen to.
Get Some Headspace, by Andy Puddicombe (2012)
In the 2015-16 school year, we made our first foray into bringing mindfulness into our classrooms. We trained all of our elementary teachers in the MindUp program. This program is designed to teach our students about how the brain works, how stress can overload the brain, how having little or no downtime prevents the brain from operating at maximum potential, and how knowing all that can be helpful as students try to be as effective and sane as they possibly can.
When we trained our teachers in mindfulness and the MindUp program, one of the immediate results was they were very appreciative of it themselves! Being a teacher is a very stressful existence. Our teachers can never do enough for their students, and often don’t have any downtime throughout the day and well into the evening. And when there is downtime, there is often stress and guilt associated with the fact that they are not doing even more for their students. I am so appreciative of what all great teachers do to help their students be successful, and I know it can take a mental and emotional toll. This program, which started for our students, I believe also helped many of our professionals.
Get Some Headspace is a book that, again, looks at the brain science behind why mindfulness is good, gives practical techniques for what to do, and I think is a nice intro into this whole subject. There is an app that goes along with it that offers a few guided meditations, and you can pay more in the app if you like it and want to keep on going. I liked the book, but did not love it, but I still think it’s a great intro into mindfulness.
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!
Girl at War, by Sara Novic (2015)
This is a book I read when our English department wanted to make it one of our summer reading options for juniors and seniors. Our English department takes very modern books that have been recently awarded with prizes for adolescent literature as its summer reading books, and since they are brand new, none of us have read them. I offer to help with that process and find the reading highly enjoyable and provide my input to our English department.
This book is about a 17-year-old in the Yugoslav civil war in the 1990’s. There is clear reference to the atrocities of war. There are stories of relationships developed and relationships lost during the war. And in my opinion, it’s a book that I highly recommend for our 16-, 17- and 18-year-old students. There are some more mature themes, but I believe juniors and seniors are ready for those. I thought the book was beautiful, I thought it was instructive in terms of modern military conflicts and how real people are affected by that, and I thought it would be an excellent book for interested teenagers to read.
Golf in the Kingdom, by Michael Murphy (1971)
I started playing golf when my older son was nine years old. He wanted to play so I started playing with him. He was beating me by the time he was 12, but we still love playing together. It’s a fantastic game that takes way too much time but I don’t know anything better for creating an amazing setting for father and son conversations. My younger son is now 14 and has finally decided to start playing as well. I look forward to many years of playing golf with my sons and getting beaten soundly by both of them.
This book is a great book about the mystery of golf. It’s a story about a mythical Scottish golfer named Shivas Irons who talks about the fact that our heads get in the way of us playing good golf most of the time. I know that to be a fact. Great book, great read, and a great reminder of what is wonderful about golf.
Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, by Bob Rotella (1995)
Here’s another golf book that deals very little with technique. Nothing about backswing, follow-through, speed of the swing or any of those things. It is just about mindset, focus, and attitude. Having that concentration it takes to do a job well and then enjoying the rest of the time with whomever you are playing with. Another great reminder of how to focus, not just in golf but in life. It’s a good read and a good reminder book to come back to every once in a while.
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.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth (2016)
Grit is the story about how we often are quick to praise students for their natural ability. We don’t as often praise students for the hard work that it takes to be successful. Grit gives example after example of how successful people in our world today may certainly be impacted by their level of natural ability, but are more often impacted by the hard work, passion, perseverance, and grit that they develop throughout their young lives. Ms. Duckworth is very clear that grit can be learned. She is adamant that teachers and parents play a critical role in helping children to learn how to be full of grit. I loved the book. I thought it was highly readable. I recommend it for anybody in the teaching or the parenting business. It aligns closely with many of the other ideas we are talking about in Manhattan Beach, such as growth mindset.
Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance (2016)
This is a New York Times Bestseller book about a lawyer in San Francisco who grew up in the hillbilly lifestyle in the Appalachian Mountains. My dad recommended it to me and he was right! It’s a great reminder of how cultures can stymie us into not wanting anything beyond what we have. It shows how cultures can blame others for their misfortunes, and advocates the old “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude. The hard thing is, you may be the only one among your family, your friends, and even your schools who believe that you can pull yourself out of this situation. Great book, lots of humor, no small amount of sadness, and I have a lot of admiration for Mr. Vance and what he has accomplished. I highly recommend it.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (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.
The Hobbit, by JR Tolkein (1937)
My 25 year old son, who just graduated from law school, 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.
Horace's Compromise and 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:
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.
How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi (2019)
As the George Floyd protests rated in 2020, I made a commitment to read and learn more about how to address racism in our country. In terms of their impact on me, the two most influential books I read were this one and Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson. The premise of Mr. Kendi's book is simple: Not being a racist is not enough. If you are going to be part of the change, you must be an antiracist. "What's the problem with being 'not racist'? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: 'I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.' But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of racist isn't 'not racist.' It is 'antiracist.'" The book then goes into how to be an antiracist. A few key takeaways, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. This is a book worth reading more than once.
I'll stop there. But there's more. I have work to do, and I know I'm not alone.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell (2019)
I can’t remember how I came across this book, but I’m glad I did. This is a very intellectual book that combines economics with art, literature, poetry and more. I think I understood the majority of it, but it will take a second read for me to get it all. The author’s main point is that our economy survives by large companies gaining our attention through clicks on social media through alerts we see while scanning the internet. These companies know our preferences and push us to make purchasing, lifestyle, or other time-sucking decisions based on their efforts to gain our attention, making money on our purchasing decisions, or just on what we click. There are so many ideas in this book. First and foremost, she pushes us to just pay attention to reality around us. Pay attention to nature. To plants. To the animals and the people that are around us. She uses Thoreau and Epicurus to talk about the importance of rebelling when necessary and having enough control to limit our desires. She urges to have push for simplicity and more control in our lives to combat the omnipresent desire for our attention. It was a very thought-provoking book, and as someone who does not post on social media but gets my news from various feeds, it gives me pause as well. Like I said, I’ll be reading this one again.
How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims (2015)
I had the chance to hear Julia L-H speak near Stanford University last year. She is a highly enthusiastic person who has seen first hand the impact of children who are raised with helicopter parents. This book is about trying to avoid that helicopter syndrome, and helping your child to lead an independent and strong life. I loved it. If you want to read more about my impressions about the book, I wrote a blog entry here. I say it’s a must-read for all parents.
How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Clay Christensen (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:
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?
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins (2008, 2009 and 2010)
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!
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, by Hampton Sides (2015)
My wife recommended this book to me. It is a nonfiction story of an ill-fated journey to the north pole in the 1870’s. There were many theories about the north pole at that time, and one of them was that there was a large ring of ice around the arctic circle but inside that, once you broke through, was a great polar sea waiting to be explored. Easy for us to say that’s not true now, that we have pictures from space, but commonly accepted at that time. Though the journey was supposed to break through that ice and make it to the top. It failed miserably, but there’s so much interesting information about what led up to the journey, the people who made the journey, the bravery and courage of those on the journey, and the love of families and those left behind. A solid read that is well-researched and highly enjoyable.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson (2014)
I don’t know why I have not read this book until now. But Bryan Stevenson has been someone who’s been mentioned to me by several of my friends in the last six months, and there’s a movie coming out based on this book, so many forces conspired to have me read it. And why did I wait so long? It’s a story of Mr. Stevenson’s journey that has led him to be one of the great change agents of our time. Since leaving Harvard Law School, he has dedicated his life to helping those sentenced with the death penalty or juveniles sentenced to life without parole. His book is filled with many of his stories, some of which ended with success and the person being freed, and others with him watching the person die by injection or electrocution. It’s brutal and uplifting at the same time. His decades of work with the Equal Justice Initiative have taught him so much about the concepts of justice and mercy. This book will change you. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain (2000)
After the untimely death of Anthony Bourdain, I began to learn a lot about this TV celebrity that so many in the world were inspired by. I have to admit that I am not a very good TV watcher. I have missed so many great series. Dr. Dale recommended that I watch West Wing and I “binge watched” the entire seven seasons of West Wing in just over seven years. That’s not very good, by the way. So, I have never seen an episode of Mr. Bourdain’s show, but I do love cooking and I am fascinated by the idea of what restaurants are really like. I sometimes wonder if I can take my recipes from my cooking website, principalchef.com, and turn it into something else. After reading this, I know I have no hope of doing that at all, so I’ll just keep enjoying cooking in my backyard and in my kitchen. Bourdain’s book is absolutely fascinating. Often profane, and drug-laced throughout the first part of his adult life, it’s a miracle that he lived through it, and a bigger miracle that any food of quality at all emerged from the kitchens he was in. Yet it did because of his sense of adventure, his love for food, and the long-lasting friendships that he developed with high-quality people in the kitchen. He tells of ill-fated restaurant dreams, of improperly managed restaurants, and of the occasional restaurants that were big successes. He is an outstanding storyteller, and an excellent writer, which, I guess, is why his TV show was such a success. If you can get past the profanity, not be turned off by his addictions, and be ready for the misogynistic nature of the kitchens he worked in, it’s an excellent read.
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.
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver (2009)
I don’t get a chance to read much non-fiction, but when I do, there’s not much better than a Barbara Kingsolver novel. My wife read this one for her book club and I jumped on it once I heard it was Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a fantastic book set in the first half of the 20th century mostly in Mexico, but a little bit in the United States as well. As usual, she creates fantastic characters and vivid visuals. It’s a bit of a historical novel, involving eventually people like Trotsky and a few other famous men of the World War II era. She combines art and politics and adventure, and I was thoroughly entertained the entire read. I haven’t read of a book of hers yet that I did not love. And I recommend this one highly.
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.
Leading with Focus, by Michael J. Schmoker (2016)
Schmoker’s original book, simply called Focus, remains one of my favorite educational books of all time. Schmoker’s point remains the same: schools need to narrow their focus on what they are trying to do. His three major pushes are for schools to have a coherent curriculum, have sound lessons, and teach literacy. In other words, have a very limited amount of what we teach. I always see this as, again, limiting the facts that we teach, and truly identifying the skills and mindsets that we want our students to have. Fewer facts, more skills, more connection. In Manhattan Beach, that’s how we teach writing workshop, reading workshop, cognitively guided instruction in Math, and any other technique we believe is worthwhile and inspiring. Finally, literacy – the idea that if our students are not reading and writing as much as possible, then we are failing them. This is especially challenging to do in high school when you have many students, but it is critical. As always, Schmoker gives a great reminder, but this book is not a radical departure from his original book, and does not provide that much more insight.
Less: A Novel by Andrew Sean Greer (2018)
This is a book my wife read with her book club. It’s not my typical read. It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner which means it’s pretty “literature-y” for my tastes. I know, not a very good thing to say. In spite of all that, I loved it. It’s an insightful tale of a middle-aged man in search of himself through an around-the-globe journey. First and foremost, the language is fantastic. I have to slow down when I read literature like this, because if I don’t, I miss so much of the beauty of the book, which is probably the main point. I enjoyed it, and enjoyed the reflections of Mr. Greer all the way through. It’s one of those books that make you realize that outstanding writing is truly hard work. You just know he labored over every word. Enjoyable, and it’s actually a book I will read again.
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 Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo (2011)
I was listening to an architect who specialized in building new schools talk about what classrooms should be. One of his pet peeves was all of the nonsensical and nonpurposeful clutter that occupies many classrooms. He thought that every classroom should contain only those items which are useful for teaching and learning or inspirational for teaching and learning. He said that one of the books that inspired him the most in this area was The Magical Art of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. So, I bought it and read it. And my life is different because of it. It has become one of my major sources of inspiration, and perhaps at least a minor irritant to others in my home.
Here is the basic premise: throw out anything that does not give you joy, then take all those things that give you joy, and store them properly. She thinks this takes strong commitment, but once you commit, it’s easy to do and you don’t need anyone else to help you do it. Yet, she makes a great living by standing next to people and helping them to make the decisions that need to be made to get this done. So far in my own home, I have emptied our closet, our bathrooms, and our indoor and outdoor kitchens. Through it all, I have probably donated 15 or 20 large trash bags full of clothes, kitchen utensils and small appliances, books, and other assorted items. I have thrown away almost as much. It is absolutely crazy how much we all accumulate. I have learned how to fold clothes and towels in a different way that makes them highly accessible and makes my closets and kitchens beautiful. If my 18-year-old self could hear my 56-year-old self saying all this, he might try to come and kick my butt. But he’s not here anymore, is he? So my 56-year-old self is enjoying this new ride, enjoying walking into and living in the rooms that contain only the things I truly love, and finding things much more easily everywhere. I highly recommend the book, and I encourage you to take the plunge!
The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly (2011)
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.
Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want, by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy
I am a big goal-setter. I find that I am much more focused and driven when I write down my goals or when I have target events to shoot for. If I have neither, I can kind of drift. This book caught my attention because it was recommended by many and it clearly focuses on the idea of drift and how to avoid it. I think the book I have relied on the most for goal-setting in the past has been my Steven Covey bible. This certainly relies on many of the tenets of Covey, but it is a new perspective.
Hyatt begins with the end in mind (that’s a definite Covey reference). In fact, he says start with the people who you think you would want to speak at your funeral. He asks what statements they would make in a eulogy about you, or more pertinently, what statements would you want them to make about you. So you have to think about your parents and your siblings and your spouse and your children and your friends and your work colleagues and the impact that you want to have. You could look at it as pretty depressing or you could look at it as just another way of looking at what’s important in life and how you need to refocus on that. He actually has you write those statements out.
Next, he relies on yet another Covey concept, the idea of the bank account. Covey talks about having to invest in a bank account so that when you mess up or when you don’t have time, or when you need something, those accounts are not only paid in full, but they have reserves in them for you to draw upon. Hyatt has you create “life accounts.” There’s a life account in my case for my spouse, for my children, for my parents, for my siblings, for my friends, for my work colleagues and you have to discuss what your target is with each of those and what your specific goals are for each of those life accounts. You also need to refer to the current state in those accounts. Again, it makes you think rather deeply about what is going on in all aspects of your life. This is where you might put bucket lists for all parts of your life in the goals section.
That is the bulk of the work. What comes next is a traditional goal-setting. But not only is it annual goals, but it is monthly and more importantly, weekly goals. So the end result is a process where each week, you look at all that you set forth in this process and determine what you can do that week to move forward or to maintain your progress towards improved relationships and goal targets.
It’s a fascinating approach and it took a lot of work. He suggests reserving at least two full days for all of this. I did it over winter break on some long flights that I had and in some other time that I had and then broke up into 3-hour chunks. I like it, I recommend it, and I will see if I go back to it next year after a full year of being with it.
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.
Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven (2017)
I’ll get to the title of the book later. This is written about the trials and travails of life. It’s about how life can kick you in the teeth, whether or not you deserve it. He writes about Naval SEAL training and the strength you need to get through that. SEAL training prepares our young men and women to be ready for the worst that could be inflicted upon them. He finds many ways to say this in the book, but a summary he writes is, “Of all the lessons I learned in SEAL training, this was the most important. Never quit.” He talks about that many times.
As for the making of the bed, he says it’s our routines in daily life that can get us through when times are particularly difficult. Even something as simple as starting each day with a success, such as making your bed, can give you a feeling of success in a day when you might not have much otherwise. Simple and profound. My new daily habit after reading this book is something my wife is quite thankful for, and that is, I do not leave the house in the morning until the kitchen is spotless from the night before. Dishwasher emptied, sink cleared, counters perfect, and then and only then am I off for the day with one success already under my belt. And, oh yeah, never quit.
Master of the Grill, America’s Test Kitchen (2016)
This is another book from the good people at America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated. So I do a heck of a lot of outdoor cooking. I even built a new outdoor kitchen this year which is something I’ve been wanting for a long, long time. It features my barbecue grill and my Big Green Egg smoker/grill. I even have a website where I keep a lot of my recipes – www.principalchef.com. This is a fantastic book for people who like to grill. Good, clean instructions. Research-based. Well-written. And it shows a wide variety of recipes. This will be the companion book to the book above, 100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways To Make The True Essentials, that I will use for gifts from now on. Again, highly recommended!
Media Moms and Digital Dads, by Yalda Uhls (2015)
Our Education Foundation brought in Yalda Uhls to speak to our parents about students and technology. I introduced her and to do so felt a need to read her book prior to that, again it’s a great read about parenting in this age, which is no easy thing. I love the fact that Dr. Uhls is not a Luddite. In fact, she fully recognizes that technology will be a part of our students’ lives. She just works on making sure that parents are aware of the important that it plays and that the potential dangers that digital life can play in our children’s lives. It is straightforward, gives good advice, and is a great conversation starter. One of the things that we are working on here in Manhattan Beach is getting our parents together to talk about the increasingly challenging job of parenting. Our parents don’t communicate as much as parents used to communicate in my opinion. And parents often know far less about their children’s lives than they used to, and the ability of other people far outside of the geographical area that we grow up in, have the ability to majorly influence our children’s lives for better or for worse. We as parents must be involved. We are working to get parents together to talk about issues such as drinking, drug use, safety, digital lives, video games, and much more. I do encourage the book as a solid book that can help get the conversation started.
Montana, 1948, by Larry Watson (1993)
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.
Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job, by Yong Zhao (2015)
This is a thoughtful book about how technology should be used in education and learning. In spite of increasing amounts of money invested in technology in schools, there have not been major shifts in student achievement. This book talks about five reasons that may have happened and offers recommendations for how technology can positively impact student learning. For me, the most important aspects were teachers should focus on what makes them irreplaceable. (This will seem like this should be a recurring theme if you’re reading all of my entries.) Teachers are irreplaceable in their abilities to motivate, inspire, encourage, and know their students. Teachers who invest their time in their students and personalize learning for that student, can do things that no computer can ever do. Another point that I appreciated from the book was the idea that if our students are already living in a digital world that will only become more digital over time, we should spend a whole lot of time helping students to be digitally literate and competent. The recent election and fake news brought on by the Russians is a perfect example of that. We need to be able to discern what is real and what is not real. We need to be able to discern opinion from fact. We need students to be able to ascertain the value of what they find in the world of technology. A big task, and we should be teaching it. It’s a very good book, but it does not give clear and direct answers. It provides a framework for asking a lot of strong questions and that is a good start.
News of the World, by Paulette Jiles (2016)
This was recommended to me by my father. It is a story of a 70+-year-old cowboy and war veteran whose main occupation was going around Texas and other western states reading citizens the news that they cannot get otherwise. It was a time when literacy was very low and news publications could not be accessed so his services were in demand. Along the way, he meets a man who has a girl who had been abducted by Native Americans and recently taken back from that tribe. He agrees, reluctantly, to return her to her family in Texas. This book is about that journey. This fascinating, tender, exciting, and a great combination of a western and a heartfelt story. I loved it all and highly recommend it.
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead (2019)
I “read” this book via an audiobook. I love audiobooks when I am traveling. I listened to this one as I drove up and back from visiting my son up in Sacramento. It’s a historical fiction book, but it is based on research and in my mind, highly believable. If it did not happen exactly this way, it was close. It’s a story of a promising young African-American boy who is arrested in assigned to a reform school. This “school,” based on the Dozier School in Marianna, Florida, was really a prison full of torture, murder, profiteering, and flagrant law breaking, all right under the nose of the Florida state government. And they knew. This is a powerful book - it’s sad, shocking, and in spite of the small rays of humanity and hope that sometimes appear, it beats me up that this is our country, 100 years after the Civil War.
Nova Scotia, by David Orkin (2009)
Our summer trip this year will be a bicycling trip to Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. We take big biking trips every other year with a close group of friends from our neighborhood. It’s five couples who enjoy riding around the country. We’ve ridden in Vermont, New Hampshire, the Finger Lakes of New York, the San Juan Islands, and now Nova Scotia. I get to map out the rides and my friends get to complain at me when the rides are way more long or hilly than any of us expected. I welcome the criticism and always enjoy the ride, the food, and the company.
The Obesity Code, by Jason Fung (2016)
I am always on a quest for fitness. I know that if I let up, I will get big. This is a book that talks about the radical idea (not really that radical) that if we eat when we’re not hungry that creates a problem. Much of America just does not get hungry. There is food everywhere, and we are always encouraged to snack. Fung views the idea of eating six meals a day as lunacy. In fact, his recommendation is to eat two meals a day as often as possible and sometimes just one. He’s a big fan of fasting. It gets our body back into the cycle it’s supposed to be in. There is lots of controversy in this book, but again, good insight for me as I stay mostly vigilant in my task to be fit.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan (2007)
If you have looked at my book list before, you have seen a lot of books on the art of cooking and grilling and smoking. I am certainly an omnivore. My wife is a pescatarian, my younger son is a picky eater, and I eat all of the above plus some. (I could probably do with a little less some). The Omnivore’s Dilemma is written by a carnivore who seeks to learn more about the nature of food in our country.
The author’s chapter on the role of corn in our food economy and our economy in general is brilliant. I learned so much about the dominance of the corn industry in our economy. One of the questions my older son ponders about the $5 Costco rotisserie chicken is, “You’d think a chicken’s life would be worth more than that.” When I read this chapter, I began to understand. Between government subsidies and the massive amount of corn that is produced and utilized in this country, I start to get it. Pollan also goes into the details of large-scale farming, which I know something about, and which are never enjoyable to read. He has a spectacular chapter on sustainable pasture-based farming that, if you have the means, is clearly the way to go. I will be paying more for the farm products that I buy, making some adjustments in what I eat, and I found this book incredibly motivational in doing both of those things.
The One Thing, by Gary Keller (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 Brain Health 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:
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.
A very good fable, and a way to live every day. I like it.
100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways To Make The True Essentials, America’s Test Kitchen (2015)
This is a great cookbook from my favorite cooking magazine people – Cooks Illustrated. They always explain the science behind why a recipe works and show what they tried and what they did not try. This is such a great book that it is now my go-to wedding/house warming gift for young people just starting out in life. It’s a great resource for anyone, and has fantastic recipes that can be used for anything.
Overloaded and Underprepared, by Denise Pope, Maureen Brown & Sarah Miles (2015)
This book has become a very important book in our district. Written by a group of Stanford University School of Education leaders, and former teachers, it talks about the fact that the stress level of our students is extraordinary, and we’re often overloading them with the wrong things. The blame is placed in lots of places: the students themselves, parents, teachers, colleges, and more. The writers have started a group at Stanford called Challenge-Success. Its organization invites high schools to send in teams of teachers, counselors, parents, and administrators to develop plans for how schools can become more healthy places for students in their quest for education and a bright future. Manhattan Beach is sending a group from Mira Costa High School up to Challenge-Success this October. We look forward to coming back with more ideas as we try to become a healthy and well place for our students. The book is practical, well-written, and I highly recommend it.
Pathways to the Common Core, by Lucy Calkins (2012)
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.
The Power of Collective Wisdom, by 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.
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 Super Bowl. He was the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl.
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.
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.
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.
Salt: A World History, by Matt Kurlansky (2003)
I saw this book in the airport bookstore, and bought it for my Kindle. I love reading on my Kindle, as I can always go back to the book, I carry it with me at all times, and I can take my notes from the book and my highlights from the book and upload them to Evernote, which is my filing system for just about everything. When I took history courses in college, once I got beyond the western civ courses that were requirements back in the early ‘80s, history teaching started to look a lot different. The professors never presented just the historical facts and stories. They always presented their facts with a slant on how students should view it. It could be a Marxist teacher, showing that every single historical decision and event was guided primarily by a desire for economic improvement. It could be from a humanitarian viewpoint, showing that humans throughout history have tried to be better towards each other and to make the world a better and more humane place for all. There were many other ways, but it took me a while to see that that kind of perspective allows for greater insight into how history occurred. Mr. Kurlansky writes the book Salt, showing that this precious mineral (which you can buy in a nice blue box for just a couple of bucks) was the key to much of our human history. I was taught that the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were where our earliest humans settled because of the water. He writes it was really the salt that was there. He looks at the Civil War from a salt perspective. He looks at so many different things, and it’s all fascinating. He talks about how salt played such a role in the Roman history, in the explorers history, the United States history, and more. It is totally fascinating.
As a cook, I think that salt is underrated. People warn us to be careful with salt, but as my friend and true chef, Antonio, told me, if you just add salt and pepper to most things, and you add enough of it, food can be just about perfect. So yes, I love salt, and I really liked this book. It gave me a lot more insight into one of the things that I use every day in my house. I have not yet read his Cod book yet, and I may, though cod is not as big a part of my life as salt is. Good read, if you like this kind of stuff!
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.
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:
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.
Shantaram, by Gregory Roberts (2003)
I read this book at the recommendation of some friends in the District. It’s a book of fiction about the life of an Australian refugee in India. It gives amazing insight into the slum life in India, some of the political and international battles being fought in India, and life overall in India. It is something I have not been exposed to at all, so I loved learning about this life. It is a long book, but enjoyable.
The Short Bus, by Jonathan Mooney (2008)
I learned about this book when I heard about Jonathan Mooney speaking to a group of educators locally. I learned that he was a elementary school student and high school student with us before going on to Brown University. I learned that he faced many challenges as a special education student and that he had written several books. I read this one and afterwards decided that he should be speaking to all of our employees.
The story is basically his journey in a short bus that he purchased and refurbished across the country meeting with students and adults who were clearly different types of learners. Some had been in special education classes. But all had faced unique challenges. His main theme is that there is no such thing as normal. When people are made to feel abnormal or different than the norm, that can be a feeling of inadequacy. I was struck by many of his experiences with the families of the students he visited. Many of those families were full of love and appreciation for his subjects. The families talked about how they added so much to their lives. There is a lot that he had to go through to get where he is. And he shares that he may have been just as guilty about making other students feel different than the norm. It’s a protective mechanism that we all have. This book gives great insight. It’s from one of our own here in Manhattan Beach, and I want to celebrate the book.
Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse (1922)
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.
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:
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.
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
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.
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.
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."
Spark Joy, by Marie Kondo (2016)
The introduction to this book has Marie Kondo saying, “I don’t really see a need for this book. I told you everything in this first book but people keep writing me asking for details on how to do stuff, so here it goes.” I raced through this book and when I was done, I firmly agreed with Ms. Kondo. This book is not necessary nor is it too useful. The tips that I saw in the book I had already seen her give on YouTube videos that I had searched (yes – I admit that I looked for YouTube videos on how she folds clothes. I’m a little ashamed of that, but it is awesome and super helpful). So if you can’t get enough of Marie Kondo, yes go ahead and read this book. But it is, as she states in the beginning, unnecessary.
Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson (2011)
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.
Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein(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.
Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Character) by Richard P. Feynman (1997)
My dad recommended this book to me because he thought it pushed the idea of what good and bad teaching is. Richard Feynman was an amazing physicist who won the Nobel Prize at some point. He is kind of the Forrest Gump of physicists because he was always in the right place at the right time. He was a young man when they tapped his shoulder to help out on the Manhattan Project. He got to work with some of the most amazing people of our time. And he is a character. He is not in any way politically correct; in fact, some of his views are downright backwards. Still, it’s a great examination of how physicists think and anyone considering that field should look at this life. Good book. Oh, and the reason I like his views as a teacher was that he believes that textbooks bring nothing additional to the classroom, and only a great teacher bringing a subject to life matters. Word.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, 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.
Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath
This is a very cool, cleverly 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:
Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell (2019)
In recent months, I have become a fan of podcasts. I have a long commute so I enjoy getting to listen to them on the way to or from work. They’re usually about 20 minutes in length so I can listen to one or two on my drive. This latest “book” from Malcom Gladwell has a hard copy version, but the audiobook is not your typical audiobook, where the author simply reads aloud from text he or she has written. This audiobook is more like a podcast, in which he incorporates transcripts of court cases, interviews with subjects in the book, media broadcasts, and more. It’s a full, book-length podcast. I enjoyed the format and I hope more audiobooks get done this way. For some reason, I am not a fan of the typical audiobook. I would much rather read a book than listen to it being read. But this form – I like it.
Talking to Strangers is probably the most difficult Malcom Gladwell book I have read. And I think if you asked 10 people who read it what they took out of it, you might get 10 very different answers. His premise is that we’re not very good at talking to strangers. We as a culture either assume the best in people and listen to them that way, or we assume the worst in people and listen to them with that lens, and either way, there are often mistakes in the lens that we utilize. Gladwell looks at very challenging case studies, such as Black Lives Matter, USA Gymnastics, sexual crimes committed at fraternity parties in colleges, and torture tactics used by the U.S. intelligence agencies, and examines how often the information we think that we are perceiving correctly is wildly incorrect. He tries to discern how that miscommunication happens. For the most part, Malcom Gladwell assumes the best in all people. He makes some surprising accusations, and defends many people along the way. He’s very objective, and it’s an eye-opening book. At a time in our history when talking to people who are different than we are, whether that difference is in how they look, what they believe, or any other difference, is more difficult than ever, I believe this is an important book and I’m glad I experienced it.
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.
Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything by B.J. Fogg (2019)
This book has been mentioned in several articles I have been reading and so I thought it was worth a quick read. Dr. Fogg writes that in her research on forming habits: “There are only three things we can do that will create lasting change: have an epiphany, change our environment, or change our habits in tiny ways.” This book is about changing habits in tiny ways. And no way is too small. It reminds me when a friend of mine wanted to start doing triathlons. He was a decent runner and biker, but swimming terrified him. I gave him a workout schedule that began with him moving his arms in a swimming motion while taking a shower. He laughed, but you should have seen his smile when he came out of the ocean at his triathlon. That’s how small Dr. Fogg often starts things. Tiny changes help form new habits and keep us from being overwhelmed at the magnitude of change. One of my favorite sections was her advice to create a “swarm” of tiny ideas, then pick the ones from those that are most doable. We pick the ones that are not only easy to do, but actually have the greatest chance of success. It’s a quick read, it’s well thought out, and it might just make the difference.
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.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger (2014)
Tribe is a compelling book that speaks of the isolation and independence of humans in the modern world but particularly in the United States and the potentially harmful impact that that has on both individuals and society. The book opens with some historical accounts of Americans who were captured by Native American tribes and when they were “rescued” they did not want to return to their former communities. They felt more part of something in the new culture than in the independent and isolationist American culture they had been kidnapped from. Similarly, Sebastian Junger talks about how soldiers who return from combat situations have a difficult time returning to home in the United States. A third example he gives is of communities who were under siege and the impact that siege had on them. Whether it be the Germans’ bombing of Britain in World War II, or the Americans’ bombing of Germany in World War II. The impact was the same. The bombings made the communities stronger and more resilient than ever, and the incidences of depression and suicide went down tremendously. Under duress, communities bond and work together, reverting to the way humans used to be prior to this movement towards isolationism. The incidence rate of PTSD in the United States is higher than any other civilization in the world, he theorizes because the isolationism here is so distant from the camaraderie and collegiality and interdependence of a combat or threatening environment. He looks at how in the last 300 years, we have gone from a totally collaborative group/tribe/community culture to a highly independent one, and our evolutionary selves have not caught up with that change.
What’s the point? He encourages us to think about how we can create our own tribes. For most of us, our tribe is our nuclear family. That’s it. Can we make that bigger either at work or in our neighborhoods or among our friend groups? It’s a thought-provoking book that has implications for team building, friendships, neighborhoods, nations, and families.
Truman, by David McCullough (1992)
I am in awe of this ordinary man who became an extraordinary leader. Some of my favorite quotes:
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.
Unselfie : Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, by Michele Borba (2017)
This is a book that our middle school vice principal Margot Parker asked our parents to read and led a book group discussion on it. It explores the idea that in this digital age, students are often hyper-consumed with themselves. I am reminded of that classic YouTube video of the college girls at the professional baseball game who spent about three minutes doing nothing but taking selfies of themselves, leaving the announcers rather dumbfounded at what was going on. What this culture of narcissism does is keep us from focusing on anyone but ourselves. That means a world without empathy. Ms. Borba laments this development, and talks about how we can help students to see the world beyond themselves, develop empathy and therefore make a better world for themselves. An important idea that’s hard to argue with.
Wheat Belly, by William Davis, MD (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.
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens (2018)
I read this book after the How To Do Nothing book, and it actually fit in quite nicely. This is a beautiful story of a young woman who raises herself, without parents, siblings, or friends, on the Carolina coast. All she does is pay attention and appreciate everything that is around her. With the help of a few key people, she overcomes flagrant discrimination and hate aimed at her by educating herself, and ends up leading an incredibly fulfilling life. All that, plus an intriguing murder mystery, unfolds to make it a fantastic tale. Love it, love it, love it!
Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be, by Frank Bruni (2015)
I became interested in this book after reading about Palo Alto High School and some of the suicide tragedies that occurred in that school in the last ten years. The pressure on our students to go to the right college is extraordinary. The pressure on our most advanced students to get into one of ten to twenty schools is similarly extraordinary. There is not room for all of the amazing students to go to this “elite” set of schools. Yet so many are pinning their hopes on just that. Mr. Bruni’s point is that not only are there other schools that are out there that are great schools, but those schools may in fact be better for students than the “elite” schools. He cites example after example of students who excelled by going to a school that was the right fit for them.
He details examples of students and parents and their sometimes misplaced focus on identifying a certain school with success in life. The book makes perfect sense. I remember applying to college and I knew I would have been happy at any of the schools that I got into. I have friends who’ve attended a wide variety of schools, ranked at different levels on the rankings that are out there, and the success of my friends often bears little resemblance to what people would predict based on the colleges they attended. Two of my most successful friends did not even go to college, and they are wildly successful. Again, in this theme of books about the pressures on our students, it’s a great book for our students and our parents to read. It sits on my bookshelf in my office highly displayed, because I absolutely love and believe in the title. Again, highly recommended.
Winter of the World, by Ken Follet (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.
Wired, by Douglas Richards (2012)
A thoroughly enjoyable bio-tech thriller of a book.
The Wolf Gift, by Anne Rice (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.
WordPress to Go, by Sarah McHarry (2013)
This is a very quick read for me as I try to figure out how to use the web and blogs to get some of my ideas across. I have this as a continuous goal, and I have a ways to go to get better at it, but that’s what I’m working on. Interesting – I spoke to my dad in the summer of 2016 and he is working on the exact same things at age 77. So he and I are going to be working in the 2016-17 year together on how we can become more successful bloggers/writers/idea spreaders. I’ll look forward to sharing that with my amazing father.
The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough (2015)
If you’ve read anything by David McCullough, you know to expect a great read with fascinating history. I have read his John Adams book, his 1776 book and his Truman book and loved them all. The Wright Brothers is more great history well told.
If you are going to the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum, you need to read this book to get all the background. The story is fascinating. How two bicycle mechanics had the courage and the patience to do what they did is a true story of what makes America great. I give it two major thumbs up and encourage you to check it out.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig (1975)
I picked up this book again when a friend of mine undertook an up-and-down the Pacific coast motorcycle ride (actually, it was a Malibu to Bend, Oregon and back motorcycle ride). I read it back in high school and remembered many parts of it, but I wanted to read it again with him. As I read it, I remembered why I loved the book, and I remembered why I found much of it unintelligible or way beyond my philosophical educational baseline. I do appreciate the ruminating on the concept of quality and the concept of peace of mind. I found those pieces insightful, and along with the picture of a man trying to reconcile being a father, an employee, and a philosopher, insightful, but again, very challenging. I did like the book, and I enjoyed my conversation with my friend after re-reading it, but that will probably be the last time I re-read the book. Twice into the mind of Robert Pirsig is enough for me.