Which books are teachers and leaders reading?

Where to start and stop recommending particular books is, I guess, a matter of personal choice. On this page I declare that I have highlighted a few key books that have extended my thinking and learning as I have been writing on this website. It would be great for you to share your current favourites.

In each case click the front cover to find a link to amazon. At the end I also highlight blogs that I think are particularly worth following.

Book Club

Whilst facilitating an online IB workshop (Leading the learning Category 2, MYP) one participant shared this poignant example of a book club that was built into the professional schedule:

"We have scheduled one day per week where staff meet in small groups for a book study and discussion, led by staff members. We started with "Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain" by Zaretta Hammond. It advertises: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. The book begins by taking a deeper look at culture from different lenses and ends with real strategies on how to promote engagement and rigor with such a diverse community. Our next book is "Evicted" by Matthew Desmond. I will copy the description, but it has strong meaning for us because it studies families in our very own city! Description: In Evicted, Princeton sociologist and MacArthur "Genius" Matthew Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Evicted transforms our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of 21st-century America's most devastating problems. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible." (Jeannette Bahr, 2020)

International Schools: current issues and future prospects, edt. Hayden, M. & Thompson, J, Publ. Symposium Books (2016).

This is both an excellent introduction for anyone new to the international education market as well an experienced and well seasoned international school leader who wants to have an update on current issues. It contains articles by foremost thinkers in the field. I will highlight chapters that 'jumped out' for me.

George Walker's article on International Schools and International Curricula provides a fascinating overview of the recent growth in the international school market as well as providing a look back at the roots on international schools via case studies of three of the original schools. He asks 'what makes an international school 'international'?

Two articles on the curriculum are gold dust. Tristian Stobie's The Curriculum Battleground explores what curriculum to follow, especially in international schools teaching predominantly host nation children. He argues that "curriculum must be a local construct, grounded in the school's culture and context".  Judith Fabian used to be Chief Academic Officer for the IB (2007-2014) and provides the clearest explanation of IB pedagogy that I have read in her chapter A Pedagogy for International Education. It should be required reading for all IB teachers.

Martin Skelton, What should students learn in international schools? provides a provocative and extremely helpful reminder that we need to have a clear and shared understanding of what it means to learn before exploring the word 'international' as a dispositional and not locational adjective.

Booth, S., McKenzie, M. & Shanahan, E. all belong to Keystone Academy, Beijing. Their chapter Lessons Learned from Opening a World School provides a wealth of tips for anyone considering opening a new international school, especially one which serves a local population.

Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools, Ritchhart, R.(2015)

I found this book a feast for my pedagogical imagination and found myself scribbling in the margin throughout, like a magpie collecting great ideas.

Ritchhart makes the case for schools being places of 'enculturation', creating the cultures of deep thinking and learning. The book explores the eight forces schools should marshal to build a thinking culture. There were so many things that I took away that I will not attempt to provide a synopsis of the book. However, here are a few inquiries I really enjoyed:

What is schooling about? Ritchhart asks "What do you want the children you teach to be like as adults?" What are the residuals of education after all the things a student remembers and is tested on is long gone?

What is the story about learning we are telling each other in our school(s)? How do children experience learning in our school(s)? Are we clear about the types of thinking we are encouraging? How do we develop a language of thinking within subject disciplines and as a whole school? Who is doing the thinking? What does a learning-oriented, as opposed to a work-oriented, school look like?

What is the difference between an experienced and an expert teacher? See Expert vs Experienced Teachers. How would you develop a learning environments, places where students feel empowered as thinkers, innovators, collaborators and risk takers.

Leverage Leadership: A practical guide to building exceptional schools, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, Jossey-Mass, 2012.

The IB reminds us that we are pedagogical leaders and yet studies continue to reveal that school leaders spend as little as 6% of their time on what is called ‘day-to-day instruction’: observing classrooms, coaching teachers to make them better, leading or planning professional training for teachers, using data to drive instruction and evaluating teachers.

If you want to know what it truly means to be a pedagogical leader this is the book to read. It does what it says on the cover - it provides a practical guide on how to model pedagogical (he calls it instructional) leadership and create exceptional learning environments. The book also contains a DVD with practical tools to make the shift happen in all of our schools. By having a relentless focus on day-to-day instruction and by bringing an engineer’s obsession to finding the way to do things as well as humanly possible all our schools can create exceptional results in terms of student learning.

Exceptional school leaders CHOOSE to spend their time on leading pedagogy and learning. This makes all the difference both to student achievement and teaching quality. The book identifies the following seven levers of school leadership that dramatically improve student learning.

Instructional Levers

  • Data-driven instruction: shift the focus from 'did we teach it?' to 'did the students learn it?'
  • Coach teachers through weekly observation and feedback.
  • Instructional planning: adopt a systematic approach to curricular planning.
  • Teacher professional development is based on teachers' needs.

Cultural Levers

  • Student culture: where learning can thrive.
  • Staff culture is carefully developed, articulated (and re-articulated) monitored and maintained throughout the school year.
  • Coaching instructional leaders to become even better leaders.

This is a superb book - I only wish I had read it when I started to be a Head of School. It is both inspirational and completely practical. For a summary click HERE.

Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching – a New Zealand perspective, R Bolstad & J Gilbert (2012)

Do you want to sharpen your focus on what 21st century learning could look like?

The New Zealand Ministry of Education commissioned a research project to develop a vision for what future learning should look like.Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching – a New Zealand perspective brings together a synthesis of international research and a collation of emerging practice of innovative school leaders and teachers aimed at advancing a 21st century education system.  It is a compendium of really helpful articles on the key principles that should drive 21st century learning. Each chapter is devoted to one of these six principles and all are useful as stand alone thought pieces. However, to get an overview I would use the Jigsaw a document or book protocol to explore all of the report in a single session.

The opening introductory chapter asks 'What is 21st century learning?" and why do we need to change. It has a really helpful comparison of 20th and 21st century views of knowledge that I have quoted elsewhere on this website (see 21st Century Skills). It also contains a fantasic succinct summary of "What we know about learning" which I have used as a separate thought piece at Learning is ... 

Emerging principles for a 21st century education system:

  • Personalising learning - building learning around the learner.
  • New view of equity, diversity and inclusivity: 21st century citizens need to be educated for diversity in both the knowledge, ideas and people sense.
  • A curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity: developing peoples' capacity to not just aquire knowledge but work with knowledge.
  • Rethinking learners' and teachers' roles in a knowledge-building learning environment.
  • A culture of continuous learning for teachers and educational leaders.
  • Schools no longer siloed from the community: learning should support students to engage in knowledge-generating activities in authentic contexts.

    Guiding Principles for Learning in the Twenty-first Century, International Bureau of Education & International School of Geneva, (2014)

    This booklet provides a clear exposition of what students should be learning in the twenty-first century. It is structured around the following ten principles:Academic Honesty, Information Literacy, Critical Thinking, Creativity, STEM Learning, Concepts Focused Learning, Health & Mindfulness, Service Learning, Learning Support and Assessment.

    It successfully provides a succinct bridge between educational theory, classroom practice and academic research in a very readable form. Click here to access a PDF copy.

    I especially liked this booklet for: (a) its practical summary of academic honesty; (b) really good introductions to critical thinking, creativity, concepts-focused learning, service learning and assessment; (c) practical strategies for the implementation of each principle, and (d) the excellent list of references for those interested in delving into the academic research that underpins the principles.

    How To Lead – The definitive guide to effective leadership, Jo Owen, (2015), Pearson

    This book was recommended by a leader in one of my IB workshops. He described it as “a regular need depending on need.” It is definitely a ‘go to’ book, inspiring and practical at the same time. The author, Jo Owen, practices what he preaches. He is the founder of a number of businesses, including Teach First which is the largest graduate recruiter in the UK. The book is about “how to become an effective leader, not the perfect leader.”

    Key ideas

    The book is structured around the three specific sets of actions that leaders have to follow at all levels of an organisation: IPA – Idea, people, Action. Part 1: Idea – Set your direction is full of advice about how to articulate your big idea (vision) in a compelling way, which drives your organisation forward against clear priorities. Part 2: People – Make your network work explores how a leaders’ key task is to recruit, motivate and performance manage a top team. Part 3: Action – make it happen

    The book distinguishes between emerging leaders, leading from the middle, and those at the top. It contains a lot of common sense leadership advice, some of which is so obvious it made me think why I hadn’t seen it that way before. For example, moving your performance appraisal system from a performance tracking model which focuses on achievement (and is so often resented and nourishes fear) to performance development (which actually supports performance management). Such a simple and practical shift creates positive on-going conversations which encourage high degrees of self-assessment.

    Top Tips

    This is a book packed full of practical top tips, including:

    • How to use time well.
    • How to make meetings work.
    • How to motivate your team.
    • How to deal with the awkward squad.
    • How to have a difficult conversation.
    • How to handle conflicts.
    • How to stay cool when the heat is on.
    • How to deal with crisis.
    • How to coach and get the most from your team(s).
    • How to manage your boss (e.g. Chair of Board / Principal)

    Quotable quotes

    For those of us who collect quotes this book provides you with a feast.

    “An organisation full of Ghengis Khan Wannabes is unlikely to be a happy place.”

    “It is possible to learn leadership. If you know how to, you are well on the way to success.”

    “The successful leader will take on risk, change and ambiguity.”

    “Leadership is about taking people where they would not have got by themselves.”

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