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.”

Slaughterhouse-Five

Continuing my “summer of satire.” This is a book on MBUSD reading lists that I had never read, but had always meant to. It is not the most uplifting of books. The hero is crazy, the aliens question our focus on linear time, and the insanity of war rips throughout the book.

Siddhartha

From rural living to the search for Buddhist meaning in India. If you have read the Power of Now and you liked it, you may find this book meaningful as well. Even if you do not find it meaningful, it does provide a window into Buddhist culture that most school books do not.

Montana, 1948

This is another book on the Mira Costa reading list that I had not yet read. It deals with difficult family issues, coming of age, race and rural living. I can see so many ways to use the book in the classroom, and I know it is powerful enough to spark thinking.

Getting Things Done

When I started teaching at age 22, with just two large classes in a high powered high school, I had great ideas. About 10% of my great ideas turned out to be pretty good lesson plans. But behind all of the ideas, there was a jumble. I struggled to keep up with all of the paperwork, grading, recording, communication and everything else. As my career has progressed, those bureaucratic paperwork responsibilities have only increased.

In 2006, I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I wish I had read it 25 years before.

It’s not a Stephen Covey-esque book that helps with prioritizing, nor is it a leadership guide. It is a down-to-basics-where-to-put-all-of-that-paperwork guide. And it’s great. You have to buy in. Those of you with adequate systems may think it unnecessary. I love it. I have the audible version in my car (Audible.com downloads it right to your iPod) and I listen to it at least once a year. I buy extra copies of the book to give to administrators struggling with paperwork. And I make time each week at work and at home to keep the system working.

Sit down in your office on a weekend, with hundreds of blank file folders, a large trash can, your calendar and a label maker (absolutely essential) and you are set. Plan on 4-6 hours of time set aside. Then, plan on doing the same thing at home. I’m telling you, it will change your life. After implementing the system at home, my wife told a friend, “My husband has completely changed our home – I think I’m falling in love all over again!” Now that’s high praise!

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.