The Wright Brothers

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.

WordPress to Go

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.

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.

Wheat Belly

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. But I do love good bread. Somewhere there has to be a middle ground!

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.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival

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.

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.

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything

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.

10% Happier

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.

Talking to Strangers

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.

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.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

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.

Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Character)

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.

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 Joy

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.

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.

Shantaram

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 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.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

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.