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.

Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job

This is a thoughtful book about how technology should be used in education and learning. In spite of increasing amounts of money invested in technology in schools, there have not been major shifts in student achievement. This book talks about five reasons that may have happened and offers recommendations for how technology can positively impact student learning. For me, the most important aspects were teachers should focus on what makes them irreplaceable. (This will seem like this should be a recurring theme if you’re reading all of my entries.) Teachers are irreplaceable in their abilities to motivate, inspire, encourage, and know their students. Teachers who invest their time in their students and personalize learning for that student, can do things that no computer can ever do.

 

Another point that I appreciated from the book was the idea that if our students are already living in a digital world that will only become more digital over time, we should spend a whole lot of time helping students to be digitally literate and competent. The recent election and fake news brought on by the Russians is a perfect example of that. We need to be able to discern what is real and what is not real. We need to be able to discern opinion from fact. We need students to be able to ascertain the value of what they find in the world of technology. A big task, and we should be teaching it. It’s a very good book, but it does not give clear and direct answers. It provides a framework for asking a lot of strong questions and that is a good start.

Media Moms and Digital Dads

Our Education Foundation brought in Yalda Uhls to speak to our parents about students and technology. I introduced her and to do so felt a need to read her book prior to that, again it’s a great read about parenting in this age, which is no easy thing. I love the fact that Dr. Uhls is not a Luddite. In fact, she fully recognizes that technology will be a part of our students’ lives. She just works on making sure that parents are aware of the important that it plays and that the potential dangers that digital life can play in our children’s lives. It is straightforward, gives good advice, and is a great conversation starter.

 

One of the things that we are working on here in Manhattan Beach is getting our parents together to talk about the increasingly challenging job of parenting. Our parents don’t communicate as much as parents used to communicate in my opinion. And parents often know far less about their children’s lives than they used to, and the ability of other people far outside of the geographical area that we grow up in, have the ability to majorly influence our children’s lives for better or for worse. We as parents must be involved. We are working to get parents together to talk about issues such as drinking, drug use, safety, digital lives, video games, and much more. I do encourage the book as a solid book that can help get the conversation started.

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. 

Girl at War

This is a book I read when our English department wanted to make it one of our summer reading options for juniors and seniors. Our English department takes very modern books that have been recently awarded with prizes for adolescent literature as its summer reading books, and since they are brand new, none of us have read them. I offer to help with that process and find the reading highly enjoyable and provide my input to our English department.

This book is about a 17-year-old in the Yugoslav civil war in the 1990’s.  There is clear reference to the atrocities of war. There are stories of relationships developed and relationships lost during the war. And in my opinion, it’s a book that I highly recommend for our 16-, 17- and 18-year-old students. There are some more mature themes, but I believe juniors and seniors are ready for those. I thought the book was beautiful, I thought it was instructive in terms of modern military conflicts and how real people are affected by that, and I thought it would be an excellent book for interested teenagers to read.

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.

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.

 

Creative Schools

Like most educators, I am a huge fan of Ken Robinson. His famous TED Talk has inspired so many of us in education. At the core of it is his belief that we have to do everything we can to keep our students creative. That means that student-centered education should be what we focus on primarily, and perhaps the only thing we focus on. In this book, he talks about ways we can inspire that creativity.

One of his big themes in this book is knowing and caring for students. This hit home with me as this is one of our huge topics we are pursuing, particularly at our high school. When he says, “Organic education creates optimum conditions for students’ development, based on compassion, experience, and practical wisdom,” it makes me realize that the important part of education is letting students learn for themselves along the way, and with each other, as much as possible. Let the teachers see where students are going, and adjust accordingly. At the end of the book, he reiterates that “the heart of education is the relationship between the student and the teacher.” I could not agree more.