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Archive for the ‘Book Club’ Category

This summer I have been on the hunt for Mel Martin Baseball Mysteries.

Actually my hunt for books in this series began in about 1982.  The Mel Martin series of books that combined baseball and mystery are a series of six – the first two published in 1947 and the other four published in 1952 and 1953.  Several writers contributed to them under the pseudonym “John R. Cooper”.

In 1982 I had two the books in the series, and they were treasured possessions.  They were my dad‘s from his childhood.  They had survived a fire that burned down his house as a child, and made it into my hands in elementary school.  In 1982, at age 9,  I was not much of a reader.  I was a struggling reader.  I remember being teased and marginalized in grade 1 for my weak skills.  My parents helped me every night.  My dad and I would read Hardy Boys books together.  In the beginning he would read them to me, and then over time we would read the books together – alternating pages we would read. Having read all the Aunt Gertrude and Chet Morton we could find (I loved the characters names in the Hardy Boys) we picked up The Mystery at the Ball Park.  Nothing like a book that combined the mystery of the Hardy Boys with my love of sports!

It was pretty cool that I was reading the same books in my childhood that my dad read when he was a child.  The books opened up conversations about growing up.  The language of the books (I still remember they called a fastball a speedball in the stories) were an entry point into the time of my dad‘s youth.  After reading the first two books I remember we spent a Saturday afternoon searching the used bookstores of Vancouver for the other four in the series listed on the dust cover of the ones we had.  There was no Amazon to search – so our search turned up empty.

Fast forward to this summer.

A home renovation unearthed some treasures, including the two Mel Martin baseball stories.  They had moved with me from my parents but been unopened in likely 35 years.  I passed them along to my younger son.  He loved them.

So, the hunt from 1982 picked up again searching for the other four books.

Of course the world-wide web has made this kind of searching a little easier.  We were able to find two at Powell‘s Books in Portland and pick them up while visiting the area.  Finishing those, a few more hours of internet searching found the other two at used books stores in Chicago and Miami.  And while the shipping fees were far more than the cost of the books, it was totally worth it.

My son loved the books.  And owning and reading all six – there was a sense of closure and completion.

The books opened up a conversation about my childhood with my son.

The books opened up a conversation with my son about his grandfather.

They were way more than just baseball mysteries.

I am so thankful my grandparents held onto my parents books from their childhood.  And I am so lucky my mom saved all of the books from my childhood.  We have hundreds of young persons‘ books on our shelves at home that moved from my parents house, many that had moved from their parents houses.  Some people fill their shelves with photos or trinkets from various adventures – we fill ours with books – they are our link to our history.

So, save your books.

I am not sure what this will mean in a digital age. I do not think this really works with e-books. And we use libraries, but we also buy a lot of books.  And we do not tend to give them away.  They are windows into the time we bought them, read them and shared them.  And we can hope that one day our grandkids are reading Hardy Boys, Mel Martin, and Harry Potter and the many other current day books our kids are reading.

I know my dad would be smiling knowing my kids are veracious readers – and some of his books are part of this story.

 

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As we come up on the holiday break, it is a time that we often give and receive books, and look for some reading material to get us going again for the second half of the school year.  This post is inspired by the June 2017 edition of School Administrator Magazine.

The magazine had a great article on Books that Resonate – asking district leaders to reflect on one book that has carried a profound and lasting impact.  It was introduced by editor Jay Goldman, “The printed word still matters.  In fact, a good book can carry meaning for an educator across a lifetime.  A good book conveys resonating value at potent decades later as on first reading.”

And while I always enjoy reading the newest books with the latest thinking, there is often great wisdom in some books that were not published in the last 12 months.

So, as we look for books to get us going for 2018, I have three to share that have had a great impact on me.   Here are their stories:

Professional Learning Communities at Work

It was in the late 1990’s that I saw Richard DuFour speak.  I can remember his talk still today.  I was an early career teacher focused on what I needed to do in the classroom, and DuFour opened my world to the work we needed to do collectively in the school.  DuFour got me less focused on what I was teaching, and more focused on what students were learning.  After a group of us heard DuFour speak, we took on his book as a study group book at the school.  We began to talk about creating a culture of collaboration.  It seems for schools, particularly for high schools, where we had a tendency to close our doors and focus only on our classroom and our practice, DuFour’s thinking opened us to a different way.  Still today, the book holds up.  While some of the terminology has changed, the goal of working together for student success with a focus on student data, is one alive in all of our schools.  My sticky-tabbed copy Professional Learning Communities at Work is a book twenty years later I still reference.

The Big Picture: Education Is Everyone’s Business

Denis Littky’s book showed me that there are other ways to organize a high school.  I read this book just as I assumed my first vice-principal assignment, and again we used it for a study group book at the school where I was working.  Littky focused on real world education for his students at “The Met” school in Providence, Rhode Island.  This is still the first book I would recommend to people who want to think about doing high school differently.  Students have an internship, and a mentor and parents are closely connected to the learning.  Littky made me think that we didn’t need to organize school into separate subjects every hour, and that learning could not just be what the adults wanted the students to learn, but also what the students wanted to learn themselves.

The World is Flat

So DuFour got me to think differently about how we need to work together in schools, and Littky got me thinking about how we organize schools, it was Thomas Friedman who let me know the world was changing around our schools.    It was hard not to think about Bangalore, India after reading Friedman’s book.  If when I ordered at McDonald’s drive-thru I might be speaking to someone in India, or if the reviews of my x-rays could be done by a doctor in south Asia, what would that mean for schools?  Until The World Is Flat I tended to believe that changes were happening around schools, but after reading it, I came to believe that schools needed to change to stay relevant.  I know the Friedman book has faced some thoughtful criticism, but I still find it a helpful introduction to what global changes are doing this century and a great book to open the questions around knowing all of this, how must we change.

The Christmas break is a good-time to sit back with a good book.  My next two books for the break on my shelf are What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation by Frans Johansson and Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden.  While neither is specifically about education, I am sure there will be ideas that will apply to our field.

I have mine lined up, what is on your reading list?

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OK, I picked the blog title largely to share one of my favourite Seinfeld clips:

The title has a little more meaning than that.  In recent weeks, I have had a number of people share this quote with me that has gone viral on social media:

This quote really has me thinking.  I am not sure.  I get this is the popular opinion.  We are quick to want to pile-on that parents today have lowered their expectations and increased the enabling of their children.   These kinds of issues are not simple.  Yes, adults have changed, but so has the world around us.  We need to be careful not to romanticize the return to a past that had its share of challenges and deficiencies.

There is no shortage of parenting books out there with advice for how adults should act with their children.  Last week we had Dr. Shimi Kang speak in our community.  Her book, The Dolphin Parent, is a National Bestseller.  She notes that there are numerous new pressures on parents of the twenty-first century, suggesting issues like tougher school admissions, globalization and in-turn greater competition, the boom in technology and economic uncertainty are causing parents to act differently.  She says, “These uncertainties are unsettling; they unmoor us and make us question some of the basic truths we have lived by.  Even the best-intentioned parents among us are confused and frightened.”

So perhaps it is out of this fear that parents have, which emerges what Martin sees in the changing parents.

The best book I have read on the topic is How to Raise and Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  She spent a decade as the Dean of Freshman at Stanford.

She sets the context which she sees in parents today:

Too many of us do some combination of overdirecting, over-protecting, or over-involving ourselves in our kids’ lives.  We treat our kids like rare and precious botanical specimens and provide a deliberate, measured amount of care and feeding while running interference on all that might toughen and weather them.  But humans need some degree of weathering in order to survive the larger challenges life will throw our way.  Without experiences the rougher spots of life, our kids become exquisite, like orchids, yet are incapable, sometimes terribly incapable, of thriving in the real world on their own.  Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own?

It is this context that Martin’s quote seems to be speaking to.

Lythcott-Haims outlines numerous steps, small and large, parents can do to change things and allow children to chart their own path.  She says:

As parents our dream was to have a child, but we can’t forget that our children have the right to dream for themselves. There is much more to each precious, unique child than we can possibly know, and that unique person – that self is for each young person to discover.  We want so badly to help them by shepherding them from milestone to millstone and by shielding them from failure and pain.  But over helping causes harm.  It can leave young adults without strengths of skill, will, and character that are needed to know themselves and to craft a life.

The more I read about the changing world with greater unpredictability and uncertainty I definitely appreciate urges to want to do more for our children, and not less.  Especially when I am sure our neighbours are definitely doing more for their children – at least it sure looks that way on social media.

As a parent in these times I have empathy for the adults that Martin calls out.  And I don’t think it is simple.  But Kang and her reasoned approach to parenting and Lythcott-Haims and her view that we need to give our children’s lives back to them are important messages.  They are ones we all likely know and agree with but ones we need to keep repeating.

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remix

Growing up, I rarely bought albums from individual artists. Why buy albums from Shaggy, Seal and Weezer when I could get one album with “Boombastic”, “Kiss from a Rose” and “Buddy Holly” along with 14 other great hits in one collection?  I loved that some musical experts would take the best hits from a number of artists and package them together.  Before we had iTunes we had compilation albums.

I was talking with a colleague about George Couros’ new book The Innovator’s Mindset and she said, “He doesn’t really say anything new, he just pulls together what everyone is saying.”  YES.  Exactly.  And that is why I like it so much.  I could find much of what is in Couros’ book the on web – embedded in websites and blogs across the internet.  But he did the hard work for me and pulled together a collection of some of the very best thinking across the continent and clarifies for those of us who think we are already doing the next thing, that there are many others on related journeys.

The book serves as reassurance and also a pep talk for those of us on the innovation journey. Above all, the book models the power of network.  While we can get hung up in the tools – be it Facebook, Twitter, blogs – there is no doubt this book and this narrative don’t happen without Couros’ ability to build and sustain a powerful learning network.  I read and interacted with this book differently than any other paper book I have owned.  I followed the conversation on Twitter, saw the reaction on Facebook and clicked to learn more on Couros’ blog about the key themes of the book.

The book that was the model of networking gave me new people to follow in my network.  It was a networked book about networking in education (knowing George a little I am sure he would appreciate that it was like a coffee table book about coffee tables).   The questions at the end of each chapter like “How might you create an environment that fosters risk-taking?”  are great discussion starters.

So like my Now! cassette tape (which I still have), Couros has done a great job of pulling together thinking from very different contexts into a common narrative and forcefully making the case that we need to continue to challenge the status quo – and know as we are doing it there are many others doing the same.

Couros’ book is a great summer read and also would be a solid choice for a school book club.  Two other books I have just ordered for summer reading based on recommendations from colleagues are The Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, and The Silo Effect by Gillian Tett.  I think it is always good to read both inside and outside of education.  Curious to know what are on others summer reading lists.

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measure-sales-results

West Vancouver is hosting a screening of the new movie Beyond Measure.   Along with the new book of the same name by Vicki Abeles, they make the case of the collective power of communities to work together for a better school system.  The trailer for the movie nicely sets the tone:

As I was with the previous effort by this film’s director, Race to Nowhere – I am left with mixed feelings.  I am reassured that our work in Canada, and particularly British Columbia is on the right track.  From our shifts in teaching and learning in part fueled by the rethinking of our curriculum, to our move, albeit slower than some would like, to a post-standardized world of assessment where letter grades and system-wide tests are less important and ongoing feedback is more important – there is a lot happening around me that would be success stories in Beyond Measure.  And while I see elements of familiarity between the common Canadian student experience and the common American student experience – while broadly over-generalizing, there are tremendous differences, and we seem to be moving further apart – with the Canadian system, far more in-tune with the themes of Race to Nowhere and Beyond Measure.

Of course there is always more to do.  Beyond Measure reminds us that as we make up ground in one place,  to truly move forward there are many pieces that have to move together.  We are moving on testing, and images of a “zombie apocalypse” that Abeles shares in her book are not our reality, but we are not there yet – a work in progress.  Other topics that Abeles raises from the volume of homework to college admissions are ones we continue to wrestle with.  I was speaking with new teachers last week and was asked about homework “policy” in our district.  We don’t have a central policy, but schools have guidelines, and I can say with certainty there is less homework now being given than a decade ago, the work is far more purposeful – but external pressure, often from parents remembering their school experience fights efforts to move beyond homework.  The guidelines shared in Beyond Measure are strong aspirational goals – homework should advance a spirit of learning, homework should be student directed, homework should honour a balanced schedule.

Particularly heartening is that rather than just list problems, the book is really a call to action – what parents, educators and communities can do together.  I feel some of this “action” right now in BC as we work together to move our system forward.  If others are interested, the book is available here.

The screening of the film is Tuesday, October 27, 2015.  Here is ticket information.  If you can’t attend, encourage your community to bring the film to your local school or theatre and let’s keep this conversation going!

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LessButBetter

I was first exposed to Greg McKeown’s notion of “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” in reading his article for the Harvard Business Review a couple of years ago.  McKeown argued that too much success can be a catalyst for failure.  He outlined the clarity paradox in four phases:

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

It is an interesting observation that we need to continue to ask what is essential and to eliminate the rest.  It is a principle, albeit often with limited success, that I have tried to apply to my professional life and to the work of our school district.

Over the holidays, I read McKeown’s expanded argument in his book Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. The book resonated differently with me now than it did then, as I thought about his notion (borrowed from Dieter Rams) of “less but better” in the context of the curricular shifts currently being proposed in British Columbia.

The general discussion around the redesign in British Columbia’s K-12 education is that over time we have created curriculum that has become bloated with outcomes. References are often made to the dozens (in some cases more than 100) discrete outcomes students need to learn in a particular discipline, in a particular grade.  The Draft Curriculum (currently posted for K-9) aligns with the notion of Essentialism that McKeown forwards in his book, “it is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy.”  I hear the worry, if we reduce curricular outcomes for students, are we not asking less of them?  Instead, as McKeown argues with Essentialism, it is about asking what is essential and allowing students to go deeper and flourish rather than simply cover topics.

I like the idea of reframing McKeown’s questions around schools and learning, looking at what is already covered in schools to ask tough questions about whether we should continue:

By applying tougher criteria we can tap into our brain’s sophisticated search engine. If we search for “a good opportunity,” then we will find scores of pages for us to think about and work through. Instead, we can conduct an advanced search and ask three questions: “What am I deeply passionate about?” and “What taps my talent?” and “What meets a significant need in the world?” Naturally there won’t be as many pages to view, but that is the point of the exercise. We aren’t looking for a plethora of good things to do. We are looking for our absolute highest point of contribution.

In some ways, school systems and curriculum may be the victims of their own success — the kind of success that can lead to failure.  Over the last several decades we have crammed more and more “stuff” into schools. As schools have become more successful with this, they have taken more on which has led to diffused efforts.  Perhaps stepping back and looking at what is essential is a very good exercise.

Regardless of whether one finds McKeown’s thesis as one that links to schools and curriculum redesign, his article and book offer a good challenge for us as we look at how we live our lives as successful and/or very succesful people in our world.

Personally, I think our schools and our lives could often use a good dose of less but better.

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fish

I often speak and write about how the principalship and the superintendency need to look different in the era of social media. And, while it can be difficult to distill  ideas to a few key points, a recent post from Brian Verhoeven does a great job of summarizing what that leadership looks like, and while the post was not specific about schools or school systems, I think the messages are right on for our system.

Verhoeven’s post summarizes a discussion by authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant of Humanize:  How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World.  The messages and the five key points about what makes a good organizational leader are very straightforward (my own thoughts are added below each point):

1.  They provide clear direction.

This list rings true for our education system.  Districts should set direction for schools, schools set direction for classes, and then leaders should step back and not micro-manage.  This action allows staff autonomy to find their own solutions, with superintendents and principals providing clarity of direction, and not necessarily all the answers.

2.  They use positive language when things change. They embrace change.

Principals and superintendents are often regarded and turned to in times of change, whether the changes are from government, in demographics, or in our understanding of teaching and learning, we always need to be out front and curious, with change not for the sake of change, but for different and better.

3.  They are transparent and share information freely.

The era of control is over, or almost over.  In the era of the instant, spending time thinking about “managing the message” has passed.  There is an expectation of timeliness and that we remove the secretive nature of the work.  Information is just that; the job of leaders it to make sense and direction of that information.

4.  They reinforce the value of experimentation—even failure.

The quote I often use, borrowed from a former colleague in Coquitlam, is that “you don’t have to be sick to get better.”  For us, in the West Vancouver school district, it is the notion and practice of a ‘culture of yes’, of thoughtful experimentation, and risk-taking, knowing we do not move forward unless we leave our comfort zone.  The best school and district leaders are supportive of staff and students taking the risk, quick to give praise when it works out, but just as quick to shelter those taking risks from criticism when it doesn’t.

5.  They talk aloud sharing their rationale and understanding with the team. They leverage the expertise of others to help them solve the tough problems.

Although the final decision is often made by one, along the way there are huge opportunities to leverage the brainpower of the room (whether that be a physical or digital room) to help ensure the best decisions are made. And, with such powerful and accessible networks, we would be remiss not to take advantage of this opportunity to make the best possible decisions.

A very straightforward, five-point list. Yes, but a very effective way of showing what we need today in educational leadership.

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