Wired

A thoroughly enjoyable bio-tech thriller of a book. Gene therapy and the search for immortality all wrapped up in a who is the really bad guy thriller.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ender’s Game

Somehow I missed this when it came out. I am a fan of this genre and this book was a true though provoker. I only climbed from under my rock when the movie came out. So my son and I read it, discussed it, and saw the movie.

Two main thoughts. First – The idea that an adolescent can save the world goes to Liz Wiseman’s Rookie Smarts. Second, they are trying to defeat the ultimate enemy, who in the end, may not have been an enemy at all.

Daemon

This is another recommendation from my father. I call these types of books pure fun that can be read on a weekend or on a night when you don’t need to sleep more than a few hours. Suarez writes stories similar to Michael Crichton in their pace and use of science. This one is about a computer gaming genius who uses technology, even after his death, to change the world not necessarily for the better. There’s just enough truth in this book to be justifiably worried about our dependence and interdependence on technology. From War Games to Terminator to Failsafe, we have been living with stories about how the world could end as we know it. So if you are into books about the world almost ending, then, as drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs would say, “Check it out.”

Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation at a Time

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Brett Geithman, MBUSD’s Executive Director of Educational Services. Brett is one of the finest instructional leaders I know. I first saw him as a principal in Long Beach. We sent teams of teachers to his school to learn about how they were teaching writing with incredible success. I witnessed Brett coaching teachers as they were teaching, and was impressed by his remarkable focus on improving instruction for each teacher.

With Brett on board, all of our administrators have read this book. The book discusses importance of a laser focus on how each educator wants/needs to change instructional practice. It is essential to listen to the struggles and needs of each person, and work with them to find solutions. Solutions are not handed down, they are developed for each person. There is not one golf swing for all golfers. There is not one best way for all teachers. Listen and coach. Listen and coach. Repeat forever.

Dr. Brett Geithman is now the outstanding Superintendent of the Larkspur-Corte Madera school district in northern California.

Building The World’s Greatest High School

I love this book. I love it so much and it has truly inspired me. I met with a group of leaders to share my enthusiasm for it, and I found that I’m kind of alone in my love for it. But I don’t think I’m wrong.

Perhaps I love it because it rings true with what I believe. When the author is faced with the realization that he is a great coach and a mediocre teacher, he rethinks everything. “One day, one of my fellow teachers, truly a mentor to me, came in and said, ‘Parkhouse, I have seen you out in the field coaching baseball, and I have seen you in the classroom teaching. You are two different people!’” That’s just it. Coaches keep teaching until everyone learns the tactic, skill, or lesson. Many teachers teach, test, and move on, regardless of who has learned, or who has not learned, that material.

The other key idea is that most high schools have a “royal family.” These are the scholars, athletes and leaders who get almost all of the accolades and attention. That cannot be the case. Every student deserves attention, and the authors have ways to do just that.

Any school, or any organization, which believes it is “good enough”  is going nowhere. This book is a great source of inspiration. I may be in a minority for loving it, but again, I know I am right.