Five Summer Books to Inspire your Teachers

Below is an email I received from my friends over at NJPSA.  While they offer a variety of services – they also pass along neat reads.  One email passed along was from a group called “THE MAIN IDEA”.

What exactly does THE MAIN IDEA provide?

THE MAIN IDEA creates an 8-page summary of a current education book each month. This summary contains the core ideas of the book, and organizes those ideas with enough accompanying details and examples, so you can have a working knowledge of its content. At the end, THE MAIN IDEA includes a full page of suggestions for ways to use the ideas in the book for professional development of your staff.

A year-long subscription to THE MAIN IDEA not only includes these monthly book summaries, but it also includes free access to over 70 book summaries and workshops in our archives.


Real Talk for Real Teachers by Rafe Esquith (2014). You may know Rafe Esquith from his past two books (his New York Times bestseller Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 and There Are No Shortcuts). He has been teaching at a public elementary school for 28 years. Esquith is the kind of teacher who, like Jaime Escalante (from Stand and Deliver), really inspires his students and breathes new life into their education. He’s an enthusiastic and upbeat writer as well, so this is an easy read. It can be hard to find inspiring books for more experienced teachers, so this would be a good pick for them. Esquith divides the book into three parts and provides advice for teachers at three stages in their careers: Part One for new teachers, Part Two for those mid-career, and Part Three for veteran teachers.

Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students by Their Brains by LouAnne Johnson (2011).  Johnson is an exceptional high school teacher who wrote the book that inspired the movie Dangerous Minds starring Michelle Pfeiffer. This book is better for newer teachers because she provides advice about the nuts and bolts of setting up a classroom for success (with information on everything from bathroom breaks to “Do-Nows”). The book has a ton of practical tips for newer teachers, but more than simply presenting rules and routines, it is clear that Johnson deeply believes that her students can and will succeed. She finds a way to present ideas that are both inspiring and practical all at once! It would be a great summer activity for teachers to read the book and watch the movie she inspired.

The Motivation Equation: Designing Lessons that Set Kids’ Minds on Fire by Kathleen Cushman (2013). This book comes more than a decade after Cushman first published Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students, a book that provides firsthand insights into what teachers can do to improve student engagement from the voices of teenagers! Now in this book, Cushman distills advice from students into eight areas teachers can improve to better motivate students such as make it relevant, keep it active, act like a coach, give students time to reflect, and more. Plus, it’s available as a free, multi-media e-book here:

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess (2012).  While pirates may seem to have nothing to do with education, in the introduction to his New York Times bestseller, Burgess writes that, “Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success. They reject the status quo and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence. They are entrepreneurs who take risks and are willing to travel to the ends of the earth for that which they value.” Furthermore, ‘PIRATE’ is a convenient acronym that captures his philosophy for how to hook students and prevent teacher burnout at the same time: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. Like in the books above, as a veteran teacher with boundless enthusiasm for teaching, Dave Burgess provides an uplifting reminder of why we teach. He also provides suggestions for boosting student curiosity and engagement and identifying what’s holding teachers back from letting go and setting sail.

Teaching That Matters: Engaging Minds, Improving Schools by Frank Thoms (2015). Like the authors above, Thoms is a seasoned educator who is excited to share what works in the classroom, particularly with today’s digitally-wired students. Thoms presents a vision of schools where teachers want to teach and classrooms where students want to learn. He paints compelling pictures of teachers who show us there is a more compelling way to teach – a way to learn alongside students, engage students in creative and thoughtful work, and bring liveliness into the classroom. Based on both experience and research, Thoms introduces a variety of strategies from taking “Internet Sabbaths” to Six Hat Thinking to improve student discussions.

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