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.



The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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!



A Leader’s Legacy

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 with whom I work to grow and develop.

Leading with Focus

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 additional insight.

Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want

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.

Know How

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. 

How Will You Measure Your Life?

I had all of our administrators read this book this summer, and they loved it. He asks and advises on three questions. How can I be sure that:

  1. I will be successful and happy in my career?
  2. My relationships with my spouse, my children, and my extended family and close friends become an enduring source of happiness?
  3. I live a life of integrity – and stay out of jail?

He is a quality researcher and he wants us all to be great workers and even better people. Why wouldn’t you want to read a book on that?

How to Raise an Adult

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.

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:

  • Schools should focus on students using their minds well.
  • Keep it simple. Each student should master a number of essential skills and demonstrate competence in certain areas of knowledge.
  • All students should attain these goals, but they way they get there will vary.
  • Teaching and learning should be personalized as much as possible.
  • Student as worker, not teacher as deliver of of instructional services. Schools should be places of learning, not places of teaching.
  • Remedial work should be provided when students need it.
  • School values should include: unanxious expectation, trust and decency.
  • Principals and teachers should be generalists first and specialists second. All employees play multiple roles.
  • Collective planning for teachers is critical.

I re-read this in 2008, and it rings as true as ever for me. As a principal, I sought many of principles in my school, and had some successes. But again, it takes long term commitment, consistent trusted leadership, and a sense of urgency that the status quo needs to change. Two great books about high school, and even though it’s a little outdated, I still rate it highly.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

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.

Get Some Headspace

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.

From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership

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.

Focus: Elevating the Essentials To Radically Improve Student Learning

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

Some quotes:

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

I liked this so much that I made a presentation to the MBUSD Board of Trustees on March 30, 2011.  You can see that PowerPoint here.

The Flip Side: Break Free of The Behaviors that Hold You Back

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.

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

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.


Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching

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.

Emotions, Learning, and the Brain

Manhattan Beach belongs to Consortium 2034, a group of school districts from across the country who work to better serve the needs of our similar communities. 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.


Educated: A Memoir

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 home schooled 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.