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.

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.

100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways To Make The True Essentials

This is a great cookbook from my favorite cooking magazine people – Cooks Illustrated. They always explain the science behind why a recipe works and show what they tried and what they did not try. This is such a great book that it is now my go-to wedding/house warming gift for young people just starting out in life. It’s a great resource for anyone, and has fantastic recipes that can be used for anything.

The Obesity Code

I am always on a quest for better fitness. I know that if I let up, I will get big. When I was a principal, my PTA president Carolyn would see me leaving the pool in the morning and say, “Stay on it. No fat principals.” Nice. This is a book that talks about the radical idea (not really that radical) that if we eat when we’re not hungry that creates a problem. Much of America just does not get hungry. There is food everywhere, and we are always encouraged to snack. Fung views the idea of eating six meals a day as lunacy. In fact, his recommendation is to eat two meals a day as often as possible and sometimes just one. He’s a big fan of fasting. It gets our body back into the cycle it’s supposed to be in. There is lots of controversy in this book, but again, good insight for me as I stay mostly vigilant in my task to be fit.

Nova Scotia

Our summer trip this year will be a bicycling trip to Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. We take big biking trips every other year with a close group of friends from our neighborhood. It’s five couples who enjoy riding around the country. We’ve ridden in Vermont, New Hampshire, the Finger Lakes of New York, the San Juan Islands, and now Nova Scotia. I get to map out the rides and my friends get to complain at me when the rides are way more long or hilly than any of us expected. I welcome the criticism and always enjoy the ride, the food, and the company.

Master of the Grill

This is another book from the good people at America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated. So I do a heck of a lot of outdoor cooking. I even built a new outdoor kitchen this year which is something I’ve been wanting for a long, long time. It features my barbecue grill and my Big Green Egg smoker/grill. I even have a website where I keep a lot of my recipes – www.principalchef.com. This is a fantastic book for people who like to grill. Good, clean instructions. Research-based. Well-written. And it shows a wide variety of recipes. This will be the companion book to the book above, 100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways To Make The True Essentials, that I will use for gifts from now on. Again, highly recommended!

Leading with Focus

Schmoker’s original book, simply called Focus, remains one of my favorite educational books of all time. Schmoker’s point remains the same: schools need to narrow their focus on what they are trying to do. His three major pushes are for schools to have a coherent curriculum, have sound lessons, and teach literacy. In other words, have a very limited amount of what we teach. I always see this as, again, limiting the facts that we teach, and truly identifying the skills and mindsets that we want our students to have. Fewer facts, more skills, more connection. In Manhattan Beach, that’s how we teach writing workshop, reading workshop, cognitively guided instruction in Math, and any other technique we believe is worthwhile and inspiring. Finally, literacy – the idea that if our students are not reading and writing as much as possible, then we are failing them. This is especially challenging to do in high school when you have many students, but it is critical. As always, Schmoker gives a great reminder, but this book is not a radical departure from his original book, and does not provide that much additional insight.

Hillbilly Elegy

, by  (2016)

This is a New York Times Bestseller book about a lawyer in San Francisco who grew up in the hillbilly lifestyle in the Appalachian Mountains. My dad recommended it to me and he was right! It’s a great reminder of how cultures can stymie us into not wanting anything beyond what we have. It shows how cultures can blame others for their misfortunes, and advocates the old “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude. The hard thing is, you may be the only one among your family, your friends, and even your schools who believe that you can pull yourself out of this situation. Great book, lots of humor, no small amount of sadness, and I have a lot of admiration for Mr. Vance and what he has accomplished. I highly recommend it.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Grit is the story about how we often are quick to praise students for their natural ability. We don’t as often praise students for the hard work that it takes to be successful. Grit gives example after example of how successful people in our world today may certainly be impacted by their level of natural ability, but are more often impacted by the hard work, passion, perseverance, and grit that they develop throughout their young lives. Ms. Duckworth is very clear that grit can be learned. She is adamant that teachers and parents play a critical role in helping children to learn how to be full of grit. I loved the book. I thought it was highly readable. I recommend it for anybody in the teaching or the parenting business. It aligns closely with many of the other ideas we are talking about in Manhattan Beach, such as growth mindset.

Golf is Not a Game of Perfect

Here’s another golf book that deals very little with technique. Nothing about backswing, follow-through, speed of the swing or any of those things. It is just about mindset, focus, and attitude. Having that concentration it takes to do a job well and then enjoying the rest of the time with whomever you are playing with. Another great reminder of how to focus, not just in golf but in life. It’s a good read and a good reminder book to come back to every once in a while.

Golf in the Kingdom

I started playing golf when my older son was seven years old. He wanted to play so I started playing with him. He was beating me by the time he was 12, and we still love playing together. It’s a fantastic game that takes way too much time but I don’t know anything better for creating an amazing setting for father and son conversations. My younger son is now 14 and has finally decided to start playing as well. I look forward to many years of playing golf with my sons and getting beaten soundly by both of them.

This book is a great book about the mystery of golf. It’s a story about a mythical Scottish golfer named Shivas Irons who talks about the fact that our heads get in the way of us playing good golf most of the time. I know that to be a fact. Great book, great read, and a great reminder of what is wonderful about golf.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

I read this book as I prepared for our trip to Cambodia in December of 2017. I had been trying to get our family to go to Cambodia for three years now. My brother-in-law has been the British Ambassador to Cambodia since 2014. He and his family have been inviting us over to visit them and tour the country, and I knew it would be a great opportunity. I finally convinced my family this year and we went in late December and early January of 2017-18. It was all I hoped it would be, both in terms of beauty and in terms of poignant history.

I know about the killing fields. I did not read the book but was powerfully impacted by the movie when it came out in 2017. One of the things that I wanted to see in Phnom Penh was the Killing Fields memorial outside of Cambodia. I thought this fairly recent book might give me some good insight into it. It did not disappoint. The book begins telling the story of a 5-year-old girl living in Phnom Penh with her well-to-do family whose father/patriarch is a former police officer and now high-ranking leader in Phnom Penh. After a brief description of their interesting and good life, all hell breaks loose, and Pol Pot’s troops come marching in to empty Phnom Penh. That was their strategy. They could not change culture in the city, so they emptied the cities. Her father knew that his plan was to kill all of the educated elite, as well as anyone associated with the former government. So their family had to say nothing about where they came from and say they were peasants and farmers. The family went from village to village, then eventually was separated.

The book tells the sad tale of the separations, of death of family members, and of survival. While in some ways uplifting, it is a horrific reminder of all that occurred.

I read more about the whole crisis. The United States was still reeling from failing to achieve its objectives in Vietnam, and the perceived sense of loss, and therefore could not support a country that Vietnam was supporting. It was the Vietnamese who came to the rescue and got rid of Pol Pot. Walking around the memorial grounds, and seeing 20,000 skulls in a central structure, complete with fractures and holes that define how they were killed, is a stunning and depressing reminder of what happened just a few decades ago. As my 15-year-old son and I walked around the grounds, we became more appreciate than ever of the importance of truth, of the need to stand up for what is right, and the frailty of democracy and government. We have to fight to keep what is good, and we are only a few bad people away from falling into a deplorable state.

Ethan Frome

This year I shadowed one of our junior students at Mira Costa High School. Click here to read my blog entry. One of our big topics here is trying to improve the social emotional wellness of our students, and one of the ways we tried to gain more understanding was to shadow students for a day. As I was preparing to shadow my student, I learned that his class was reading Ethan Frome so I read the book so I would be able to at least know what they were talking about in the lesson. It is not the most uplifting book I’ve ever read. A story of love desired and love not achieved and it’s full of its share of sadness. Set that against a winter in New England and you’ve got a perfectly depressing book of classic literature. Reading books in English class reminds me of how Navin Johnson feels about the blues in The Jerk – “There’s something about those songs. They depress me.” Students in the class were studying different characters in the book, so I felt like I at least knew halfway what I was talking about as they were discussing it.