The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance

This is yet another book recommended by Scott Fawcett, inventor of DECADES golf. It’s written by Josh Waitzkin who was the kid featured in In Search of Bobby Fisher movie that came out in _____. He was a chess prodigy, and though he never conquered the world, he was among the best of the best.  That’s a lifetime accomplishment, right? But after he was done with chess, he moved into Tai Chi Chuan. While there is the peaceful side of the Tai Chi moves, there is also serious competition, violent competition, that is a part of it. Waitzkin became a world leader in that field as well. That alone is a great story, but what he adds in learning theory, what to do in the effort to be truly great, is nothing short of phenomenal. I recommended this book to my Dad, and it’s his new favorite book. 13.5 stars. Mike says, check it out.

The Art of Scoring: The Ultimate On-Course Guide to Short Game Strategy and Technique

I think the way that I learned about this book was through a golf learning program called Decades Golf, taught by Scott Fawcett. I believe he said this book was one of his go to’s. Like Fawcett, he believes that if average golfers kept their swing the same and made no other improvements, walking around the course with a pro would lower their score by 5-10 shots, as they would make better decisions. Great short game tips throughout. Turns out he is one of the most expensive golf instructors out there, charging $500 an hour for a lesson. I’m happy to have paid $10.99 for book on Kindle, and I think I’ll stop there.

Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World

My friend Tom recommended this book to me this year. Tom is a fellow superintendent who plans to retire at the end of 2022. He is a talented leader, a musician, and on top of that, a very reflective person. He found this book meaningful to him as he was embarking upon his new journey of no longer being one of the epicenters of the world of education.

As I write this, I have just finished six months of being retired and not working. While I have dabbled in some consulting things, I already know a few things about this new life that Tom is going to find out. My life is incalculably more sane. I am able to devote my full attention to matters at hand at home. And my email and my phone traffic have decreased by 95%. That’s all beautiful, but it does mean that I am now rarely distracted by pressing matters that take me away from . . . me.

Tom recommended this book because it deals with topics of balance, aging, wonder, the beauty in landscape, solitude, and more.

John O’Donahue is a famous Irish poet. I have been accused by those who love me of being illiterate, and my lack of knowledge of anything O’Donohue has ever done might be exhibit 243B in that case. But that didn’t stop me. But I do recoil a little at poetry. Understand poetry requires a slowness in my mind that I am working on, but I have so far to go on. This book is a mixture of conversations O’Donohue had with others and poems written throughout his life. And like Mikey of Life Cereal fame, I surprised even myself by not just liking it, but truly finding a great deal of meaning in it.

I’m grateful to Tom for the recommendation, and if you’re interested, try it. You’ll like it.

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being

Martin Seligman is on a mission to change the very nature of psychology. While he looks at drugs and Freudian psychology as techniques that can at least mask and perhaps address the problem, he sees positive psychology as a way for everyone to grow. He does not want to treat PTSD, instead he wants to promote PTSG (Post-Traumatic Stress Growth). In his book he defines Well-Being (he used to use the term happiness, but he believes well-being is a better and more inclusive term) as having these five elements:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Meaning
  • Positive Relationships
  • Accomplishment

And he gives research proven techniques for how we all can improve our sense of well-being. He has worked extensively with the military, and they have adapted his techniques in a big way. He has tried to work with schools and has experienced . . .  just some success. Working with a military structure that has at least some unity is easier than working with nearly 14,000 school districts around the nation.

I wrote a blog post about how I learned about Seligsman’s work and my reflections on its impact. I highly recommend the book, and you can check out my blog post here.

You can purchase the book on Amazon.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

What a life. Those of you who watch the Daily Show (Jon Steward/Steven Colbert/Trevor Noah) know what intelligence, empathy, humor, and wit and takes to lead that effort. Trevor Noah has all of that.

But I expected this book to be laugh out loud humorous. He finds a way to lighten it, and there’s humor there, but it’s a hard story.  Growing up in South Africa as the secret child of a black mother who grew up in Soweto and a white father of Swiss/German descent is something nobody would wish upon anybody. Noah writes, “During apartheid, one of the worst crimes you could commit was having sexual relations with a person of another race. Needless to say, my parents committed that crime.”

It’s the story of a loving and totally giving mother and a challenging young man for whom life could have easily gone a different direction. But it did not. It is honest, brutal and it gives great insight into Apartheid (and the American South) from someone who we love seeing in our homes during The Daily Show.

You can’t put this book down, and Trevor Noah truly honors his mother while shining a stunningly bright light on all the wrong hardships he and his family endured.

Get it on Amazon here.

Daditude: The Joys and Absurdities of Modern Fatherhood

My favorite columnist in the world is Chris Erskine. He was a twice-a-week columnist in the LA Times for years. He wrote about being a dad, being a friend, being a husband married above his pay grade, and loving almost everything about his adopted home town of Los Angeles. He’s an everyman. A guy you want to have a beer and a burger with. And he can write with humor, zing, humility, and incredible meaning. He still writes a column, really just for himself and the thousands of people like me who look forward to his still-twice-a-week columns at www.chriserskinela.com.

This book was published in 2018, just before two brutal life events devastated his family. But that’s the thing. Those events would have crushed most of us, but Chris, though severely wounded, continues to let his light still shine through. That’s when you can really tell a person’s character, and he has it in buckets.

This quote from his “Let Me Explain” intro says it far better than I:

Who will like this book? Quiet souls like me who follow jazz or who linger too long over lighthouses. But also wise guys who enjoy belly laughs and Chevy Chase pratfalls. Those who appreciate oversized cheeseburgers, tight spirals, and the majesty of a cocktail party quip. Who else will like this collection on fatherhood, culled from my weekly newspaper columns? Dads and moms. Sons and daughters. Dogs and cats.

I think all but three of those terms define me, and I’m all in.

Find it on Amazon here.

Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story

I’ll admit it. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’m not ashamed, in fact I’m embracing it. If you play golf, it’s required watching, and the more quotes you can cite at the right time, the more you are perceived as a real golfer. I don’t know how many lines Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods can quote, but I’m calling them real golfers regardless of the number. Call me not stupid. But you don’t have to call me classy. Many of you thought of me as a pool guy. But like Carl, I’m a pond guy.

My friend Laura loaned me this book, in spite of being one of the more classy people I know. Chris Nashawaty’s book details the making of Caddyshack, and even more than you might figure it was, it was a total sh**show. It’s a miracle a film was ever made. You marvel and cringe your way through it, and you feel for all of the comic geniuses who could not hang on to their own lives. I am not sure what there is redeeming about this story. While the result has created legacies for many, the process was brutal. It was worth the read, particularly if you love Saturday Night Live, the Harvard Lampoon, or of course, Caddyshack.

Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Smart, Sexy, and Fit – Until You’re 80 and Beyond

Younger Next Year is a book I keep coming back to. I forget who first turned me on to it, but I read it in my mid-fifties, and it continues to inspire me.  The bottom line is that at some point, sometime in our forties or fifties, our bodies want to get old and decay. It is time, and they are ready to fade. We can’t stop it, but we can do a great job of slowing it down. Some of the quotes that have impacted me:

  • “So how do we keep ourselves from decaying? By changing the signals we send to our bodies. The keys to overriding the decay code are daily exercise, emotional commitment, reasonable nutrition and a real engagement with living. But it starts with exercise.”
  • “In short, we have adopted a lifestyle which—for people designed as we were designed—is nothing less than a disease. Think about that. Our lifestyle—especially in retirement, especially in this wonderful country—is a disease more deadly than cancer, war or plague.” That lifestyle comes about because, relative to our ancestors, everything is easy now. Food is plentiful, we live comfortable lives, and the threat of true danger rarely appears in our lives. It’s not what our bodies are expecting.
  • “Biologically, there is no such thing as retirement, or even aging. There is only growth or decay, and your body looks to you to choose between them.”
  • “You can control the cycle [of stress, inflammation, and repair]. Commuting, loneliness, apathy, too much alcohol and TV all trigger the inflammatory part of the cycle. But daily exercise, joy, play, engagement, challenge and closeness all trigger the crucial repair.”
  • “Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.”
  • “Aerobic exercise does more to stop actual death, but strength training can make your life worthwhile.”
  • “Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life.”

Obviously, this stuff is really hard. It’s way easier to decay and grow truly old. I am choosing to fight. I hope this effort will help counteract whatever life throws at me, and I’m not going down easy.

 

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

I’m not sure why I haven’t added this book until now. I’ve been reading it and re-reading it for years, and it has helped me through many a stressful time. I love the references to all of the world’s major religions. The main premise is rather Buddhist in nature, seeking the end of suffering through quieting the mind, but Tolle employs wisdom from many religions in explaining the path. I feel that I can go to this book and open it up to any page to find wisdom and guidance. Some of the passages I have highlighted over the years include:

  • Enlightenment is not only the end of suffering and of continuous conflict within and without, but also the end of the dreadful enslavement to incessant thinking. What an incredible liberation this is!
  • Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.
  • When listening to another person, don’t just listen with your mind, listen with your whole body. Feel the energy field of your inner body as you listen. That takes attention away from thinking and creates a still space that enables you to truly listen without the mind interfering. You are giving the other person space — space to be. It is the most precious gift you can give.

Another book in my bibliography on meditation is 10% Happier, which is a much lighter version, kind of a sports center version, of the power of meditation.  I recommend it as well, but The Power of Now is the true source for me. And true enlightenment is like Calculus – we can approach it the answer, but even the best at it don’t quite get there. I have a long way to go, and I am grateful for this book.

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.