Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be

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.

Unselfie : Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World

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.

Truman

Truman, by David McCullough (1992)

I am in awe of this ordinary man who became an extraordinary leader. (I’m also in awe of David McCullough, and I’ll read anything he writes.) Some of my favorite quotes:

  • “An optimist was a person who thinks things can be done.  No pessimist ever did anything for the world.”
  • Near his death, Truman was asked by someone if he read himself to sleep at night.  His answer, “No, young man. I like to read myself awake.” I love that spirit.  Give ’em hell Harry.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

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.

Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor

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.

Switch

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:

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

Steve Jobs

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.

 

Spark. The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

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.”

The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way

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. And where did they learn all of this? American educational research – most of which is ignored in American schools.

The Six Secrets of Change

Michael Fullan’s Change Forces is one of the great educational books, and he continues to look into the subject. In this book, he looks at six secrets:

  1. Love Your Employees
  2. Connect Peers with Purpose
  3. Capacity Building Prevails
  4. Learning is the Work
  5. Transparency Rules
  6. Systems Learn

There is nothing stunningly new here, but there are some great thoughts worth remembering. In Chapter Four, “Learning is the Work,” Fullan states, “Successful organizations mobilize themselves to be ‘all over’ the practices that are known to make a difference.” I love that. I’ve seen Districts move towards this, but the Superintendent did not stay long enough to make it complete.

The Short Bus

I learned about this book when I heard about Jonathan Mooney speaking to a group of educators locally. I learned that he was an 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.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

This is another one of my bedrock books. Stephen Covey has had such an influence on my personal and professional life.

The seven habits:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. First Things First
  4. Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

From “Beginning with the End in Mind” which forces you to think about where you are going – both professionally and personally, to “First Things First,” making sure you prioritize correctly, to “Sharpening the Saw,” reminding you that if you do not practice self-improvement, you will wither away. I believe in all of these things, and I have to remind myself of them all the time.

For me, no other author does this as well as Stephen Covey. Read it, or Listen to it, and most of all, do what he advises and try to make habits out of his maxims. I do best when I have habits such as exercise, time away from work, time with family, planning my week/day, and I do worst when I get overwhelmed or sick and drop those habits. It’s a struggle for me, but I use Mr. Covey to help me with that struggle. When I’m at my best, fully employing these habits that I believe in, I feel like I can accomplish anything.

 

This is a book you read and reread.

Rookie Smarts

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.

Quiet Strength

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.

The Power of Collective Wisdom

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.

Pathways to the Common Core

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.

Overloaded and Underprepared

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.

The On-Time On-Target Manager

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

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

A very good fable, and a way to live every day. I like it.

The Nickel Boys

I “read” this book via an audiobook. I love audiobooks when I am traveling, but for some reason, not while commuting. 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. 

Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job

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.

Media Moms and Digital Dads

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.

Leverage Leadership

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.

Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World

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.

The Long Walk to Freedom (The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela)

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.