Let's start with a simple truth: The best school leaders -- whether they are classroom teachers, principals, or district professional development providers -- should ALWAYS be reading simply because reading keeps a practitioner current and serves as a source of constant intellectual challenge.
But ask around a little bit and you'll probably discover that there's NOT a lot of reading going on in your professional circles -- and "finding the time" is the explanation that most people will give for failing to turn any pages during the past twelve months.
That makes sense, doesn't it?
After all, we really ARE busy people working in a busy profession that does little to create time and space for practitioners to reflect and to think and to grow.
So I decided to whip up a list of three professional books that really ARE worth your time no matter HOW busy you are.
Here they are:
Several years ago, I stumbled across this quote from educational researcher John Hattie in a Bob Marzano book: “The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement is feedback. The simplest prescription for improving education must be 'dollops of feedback.'” (As quoted in Marzano, 2003, p. 37)
It's a GREAT point, isn't it? And it resonates with everything that we know about growing learners. Feedback matters.
But providing "dollops of feedback" is a HECK of a lot harder than it sounds when you are responsible for 125 students who are assigned to classes of 30+ and you have 60 minutes of planning on a good day.
Under those conditions, timely, direct feedback on performance becomes nearly impossible.
That's what makes Common Formative Assessment by Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic such an important read. The authors take a difficult task and show teachers how to make it a manageable part of their everyday work.
If you are a teacher, pick this up and work through it with your learning team. You'll have a better sense for just what responsible formative assessment is supposed to look like AND some practical strategies for incorporating it into your practice without killing yourself.
If you are a principal, share this with your entire faculty. Formative assessment matters -- but teachers have to be convinced that it's doable. That's exactly what Bailey and Jakicic do in this short, approachable text.
As a member of a panel discussion on the challenges of recruiting accomplished teachers to challenging schools a few years ago, I was asked a simple question by a district superintendent. "How can I get more teachers like you in my schools?" he said.
My answer was immediate: "Find as many amazing principals as you can. Hire them, develop them, and pay them a heaping cheeseload of cash to stay. Spend more time on recruiting and retaining school leaders because good teachers want to work for good principals."
If you agree with my logic that good principals matter, then you've got to read Multipliers by Liz Wiseman and Greg Mckeown.
Based years of experience coaching the senior leadership of leading companies and thousands of hours combing through data on the traits of leaders who succeed, Wiseman and Mckeown identify the characteristics of Multipliers -- leaders who get the most out of their people -- and Diminishers, or leaders whose very behaviors hold organizations back.
What I like the best about Multipliers is that it gives tangible language for describing the kinds of steps that successful leaders take to empower their employees.
While Multipliers isn't written specifically for schools, superintendents, principals and teacher leaders could pick this title up and quickly identify simple leadership changes that would leave their co-workers energized and their organizations more productive.
I am a firm believer that public schools will never become the kinds of responsive, student-centered, progressive learning spaces that we want them to be until we can describe those spaces in simple, user-friendly language that everyone -- parents, policymakers and practitioners -- can understand.
That's why I think Will Richardson's newest book -- Why School? -- is worth your time.
Not only is Why School a 51-page Kindle Single that you'll be able to read in one sitting, it's a title that you can easily share with everyone that needs to know more about the hows-and-whys behind the kinds of changes that most of us believe in.
Will has accomplished something significant with Why School: He's created a tool that interested educators -- and people who are interested in education -- can use to start the kinds of community-based conversations that might actually lead to real change for our schools.