5 books to add to your library in 2014

So, Santa & Hanukah Harry are right around the corner.  Still don’t know what to ask for?  Why not ask for these five books for your collections:

imgres1. Game Changers by Julie Adams

Why? Simple.  Julie Adams has amassed a collection of quick tips, tidbits, and digestible information that will help those in education BE better educators. I’m a fan of quick, easy reads.  This is just that.  AND it’s informative.  Who knew?!  In Game Changers, Julie highlights 7 powerful instructional practices that boost student learning every time; this manual demystifies the art and science of effective teaching so all educators can attain the highest levels of student engagement and achievement.

Where you can get it: http://www.effectiveteachingpd.com/products/

imgres-12. The Ten-Minute In-Service by Todd Whitaker & Annette Breaux

Why? Well, to start, it’s Todd Whitaker.  Toss has a way with words and lays out the simplicity of communication and where we need to go as teachers and administrators.  Todd & Annette walk through a series of in-service activities (almost ice-breakers) to get the educational party.  While it can be followed like a script, it can easily be modified to tailor your building’s needs. Busy school leaders need an easy-to-apply resource to increase teacher effectiveness quickly and efficiently. The book covers a range of topics, from behavior challenges and parent engagement to motivating students and making lessons meaningful.

Where you can get it: http://www.amazon.com/The-Ten-Minute-Inservice-Training-Effectiveness/dp/1118470435

imgres-23. Bitopia byAri Magnusson

Why? This is a great read for a different take on how to combat bullying in your school in the middle school environment. To date, I have had three bullies (and victims of bullying)  read the book getting it and I have seen changes in behavior. I have found there’s lost of books for elementary and high schoolers, but not the middle level (where I  thought it’s needed most.)  Bitopia is a wonderland of fantastical foliage and mysterious creatures; the children of Bitopia, the only human inhabitants, are forced to live in a high-walled city for protection. Like all the other children of Bitopia, Stewart arrives there unexpectedly while fleeing from bullies. And, like all Newcomers, Stewart dreams of finding a way back home. Risking exile from the city and the protection that it offers, Stewart and Cora, his Finder, discover a clue to escaping, one that presents them with a terrible choice: face their greatest fear and risk death, or be trapped in Bitopia forever. The story that addresses a fundamental element of bullying–fear–and provides an example to readers of how to deal with bullying on their own.

Where you can get it: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/bitopia-ari-magnusson/1108813615

imgres-34. Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford

Why: Yes, I am a technology man. Not everyone is, and the focus in this book is to remind all those in education that not everyone is going to be the same, and we must offer different programming to fit all needs.  The books focuses on the power of the industrial arts in schools, and how learners take enormous pride in their work when they use their hands and minds to build whatever it is.  A staple for those who are advocates for the industrial arts in schools and for those who value merits of skilled manual labor. On both economic and psychological grounds, author Matthew B. Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a “knowledge worker,” based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing. Using his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford presents a wonderfully articulated call for self-reliance and a moving reflection on how we can live concretely in an ever more abstract world.

Where can you get this: http://product.half.ebay.com/Shop-Class-as-Soulcraft-An-Inquiry-into-the-Value-of-Work-by-Fern-Michaels-and-Matthew-B-Crawford-2011-CD-Unabridged/99621562&tg=info

imgres-45. Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts–and Life by Chris Lehman & Kate Roberts

Why? We all know the impact of Common Core and PARCC will have in our schools.  Simply put: close reading is essential for learners of all ages.  Often learners know HOW to read, but they aren’t processing what they read.  Chris Lehman & Kate Roberts delve into the subject, but not in the edu-babble and rhetoric that so many use.  Chris and Kate start with a powerful three-step close-reading ritual that students can apply to any text. Then they lay out practical, engaging lessons that not only guide students to independence in reading texts closely but also help them transfer this critical, analytical skill to media and even the lives they lead. Responsive to students’ needs and field-tested in classrooms, these lessons include: strategies for close reading narratives, informational texts, and arguments suggestions for differentiation sample charts and student work from real classrooms connections to the Common Core State Standards a focus on viewing media and life in this same careful way.

Where you can get it: http://heinemann.com/products/E05084.aspx

Crock-Pot-Learning in 2014


image credit: doodlesandjots.com

I’m thinking my Grandparents would have been proud of this post.

So, if you couldn’t tell by my svelte figure, I’m a fan of cooking.  It certainly runs through my family. One of the first tools I learned to use in the kitchen was the crock-pot.  I remember being in 5th grade when I started asking all kinds of questions about it, but I remember one question in particular: “Why a crockpot, Grandma?” “Simple, Jason. The crock-pot is low-and-slow; the crock-pot turns a whole lot thrown together into something really, really good.  Watch and learn.”

And I did.  And it’s still some of the best cooking around.  And it can be applied to teaching and learning.

The crock-pot and schools have many in common.  A crock-pot has several ingredients; a school has several learners.  A crock-pot’s ingredients mixes together, just like a school does with its’ learners. A crock-pot works when ingredients take time to mesh over a prolonged period of time, just like how a school culture or new policies take hold in a school.

Food in a crockpot is to schools full of learners.  Both need time to marinate and soak in all of the juices.  When both are periodically stirred, they produced amazing results. ‘LOW-AND-SLOW’ WILL PRODUCE THE BEST FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS.

Don’t get me wrong – I typically have the mindset 24/7 of “I want it done now and that was suppose to be done yesterday”… BUT… some things in education need some time soak; some time to simmer; some time to cook in the crock-pot. ‘LOW-AND-SLOW’ WILL PRODUCE THE BEST RESULTS.

I am in a District where it has been off the radar for WAY too long.  The staff and students are suffering because of such.  I’m here to thaw them out of the 1980’s educational tundra and play catch up, and we have made improvements in leaps and bounds.  We do need more work… with curriculum and technology. These are the two areas that need the most help, and these are the areas where the crock-pot needs to be used. AGAIN, ‘LOW-AND-SLOW’ WILL PRODUCE THE BEST RESULTS.

So, how do I update a District that needed to have new curricula 15 years ago and new technology integration yesterday?  That’s the answer I am seeking too.  Who has the magic bean?

I’ve started making resolutions for 2014 (why not; if stores can put out Christmas stuff in September, I can make resolutions in November). My resolution is that I want to have all of my staff learn Crock-Pot-Learning.    It’s something I think all can savor and all can reap the benefits of.

As fast and as North Jersey paced as I am, I need to allow those that are still behind the wave to catch up.  The crock-pot will allow such.

Running Scared

The New Jersey School Boards Association hosted its’ annual convention in Atlantic City a couple of weeks ago.  Like any other convention, it’s a large collection of vendors, workshops, wheeling & dealing, and catching up (or avoiding, depending on who you are) with former coworkers or Districts.  While I had a great time getting ideas, seeing awesome things in action, and being solicited by scads of vendors, I did notice one thing different here.

Most conferences have vigorously pursued an online presence so folks that could not attend or want to partake in several different conversations can do such.  There was no such thing here.  When I spoke about it to other Superintendents, many wanted nothing to do with it.  

Many administrators are still running scared of social media.  The essential question: WHY IS THIS STILL HAPPENING?

Yes, I recall so many negative stories that have graced our headlines, and of course, there still are many to be had.  However, what most don’t hear about?  The rash of infectious awesomeness and has spored from productive, energized conversations.  All online.  Yes, it’s true.  Chances are that if you’re reading my blog, you already are!

Through the power of analytics and technology, we do know that more and more are ‘lurking’ online – they are reading the twitter feeds, skimming blogs, and are ‘aware’ of all of it.  But, seriously, I sound like a broken record at this point – WHY DO YOU NOT ENGAGE?

Effective change needs to be modeled at the top and then turn into a groundswelling of support.  I’m tired of hearing the same old, same old.  I’m tired to the old-boys-club, thick-as-thieves mentality.  We, as Superintendents, are all on our own island.  We have the ability to initiate change and do it effectively.  It starts with us, and it starts by showing that you are not afraid to engage in these productive dialogues.

I recently read a blog post that spoke about how there’s no dissent on educational social media forums.  I tend to agree; I admit I’ll get snarky from time to time, but that brings up better conversation.  All of this is not suppose to be kool-aid; it’s a real conversation, laced with pros and pitfalls. Share your concerns on here, and we’ll hash it out.

Once you see the benefits of being connected, I think you’ll be much more relieved knowing that there is an entire planet at your fingertips waiting to help you navigate the waters if you want them to.

So, my goal for next convention: get more leaders to become engaged.

What helps youth, helps you.