BOOKS I READ IN 2019

Below are the books I read in 2019. There are many more books I started and either haven’t finished yet (A Dance with Dragons) or I stopped reading altogether (Ask the Dust). I believe it’s important to discard a book if it bores you, and I did that many times over the past twelve months. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish reading twenty-six books.

While I enjoyed all the books on this list, none of them stood out as my absolute favorite. There’s one novel I liked the most out of the fiction I read, but nothing captivated me as much as my favorite books from 2018.

I added some commentary below to the books I especially liked. I hope you find this list helpful; let me know if you have any questions! (FYI: These books are in the order I read them–only backwards. In other words, Awareness is the last book I read.)

1. Awareness by Anthony de Mello

A lot of helpful ideas are shared for being aware and disconnecting from everything that makes us unhappy.

2. Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

Great book; I’ll read anything by Holiday.

3. New X-Men by Grant Morrison: Ultimate Collection, Book 1

4. A Summer with Montaigne: On the Art of Living Well by Antoine Compagnon

5. Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson

Not as good as his first book, but definitely worth reading.

6. Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon

I read this in one afternoon in Barnes & Noble. It was the perfect book for me in the moment that I needed it. I love it when books are there for us like that.

7. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

This book really helped me understand the value in pursuing knowledge within multiple fields. I like the idea of following interests, no matter how divergent they may be.

8. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt

9. Leverage Leadership 2.0: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

The most influential book on this list that’s influenced my approach to instructional leadership over the past year. The two most important items to focus on for new principals is data driven instruction and student culture. This book taught me that and more.

10. The Lessons of History by Will Durant and Ariel Durant

11. Driven by Data 2.0: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

I liked it, but you can get by with reading just Leverage Leadership 2.0.

12. Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail by Michael Fullan

Not as good as Coherence, but still really good.

13. Don’t Suspend Me! An Alternative Discipline Toolkit by Jessica Hannigan and John E. Hannigan

An important book in that it gave me a good start in developing my own alternative discipline toolkit.

14. Cherry by Nico Walker

The best novel I read in 2019. I really enjoyed this, although it’s definitely not for everyone. I heard they’re making a movie out of it, and I can’t wait to see it.

15. The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey

I’ve used excerpts from this book for quite a few conversations and meetings recently. I have a feeling this book will be a resource I return to for years to come.

16. Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great by Jim Collins

Not really a book (it’s a monograph), but I’ll include it here anyways. I found myself almost a year later referring to this book during a recent meeting. You know a book is pretty good if that happens.

17. The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact by Michael Fullan

Fullan is the only Edu-Hero I have.

18. The One Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller

19. Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology by Cal Newport

If there is one book I could force every person in the modern world to read, this would be it.

20. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

I’m ashamed to say this is the only autobiography I read in 2019. The good news is if I only could read one, this would be at the top of my list.

21. Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People From Liars, Criers, and Other Slackers by Todd Whitaker

This is a must-read for all school administrators. The main idea Whitaker teaches is something that’s taking me a while to develop within my own leadership capacity.

22. Pet Semetary by Stephen King

The 1989 version of this movie petrified me. I have vivid memories of being frighted on the trundle bed in my friends room back when I was ten-years-old. Finally reading this book at thirty-eight-years-old was no where near as horrifying, but it was damn creepy.

23. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald A. Heifetz

This book is probably one of the best leadership books I’ve ever read–primarily because it focuses on the difficulty of being a leader and the importance of knowing what you’re getting into when you lead people.

24. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable Patrick Lencioni

It was interesting reading this after reading The Ideal Team Player; some of the main characters are in both.

25. Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian

This book can be viewed as a cautionary tale, exploitative, entertaining… possibly all three. I think it’s a good book to read as a parent. I finished it before Tiger’s comeback in 2019, so I think it’s a complete different read now.

26. Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov

Great resources. I wouldn’t recommend reading this cover to cover–better to understand the structure and refer to the strategies you want to learn about at any given moment.


That’s it! I hope you found this list helpful. As always, let me know if you have any questions. Here’s to a great year of reading in 2020!

WHAT MAKES A GREAT TEAM GREAT?

Toward the end of the book Trillion Dollar Coach, the authors discuss the ingredient Bill Campbell believed made a great team great. In their explanation they use the words of Steve Young, one of my favorite football players growing up.

Love is part of what makes a great team great. Yes, this was a natural part of Bill’s (Campbell) personality—he was way more ebullient than most of us! But it was also something he likely learned from football. Steve Young, a Hall of Fame quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, spoke of team love at a conference honoring Bill in September 2017. “Great coaches look beyond,” Steve said. “[49ers coach Bill Walsh] would get the team together every year and say, ‘Hey, guys, we’re going to integrate this team.’ There were all these little cliques—the safeties hang together, guys from different schools, socioeconomic backgrounds, geography, language, religion. He says, ‘I’m going to break all of those . . .’ “He wanted us to get integrated with each other so when you’re at Lambeau Field, down by four, with a minute and a half left and it’s third-and-ten, it’s sleeting, you’re soaking wet and the wind is blowing and eighty thousand people are screaming at you. Human nature is saying get me out of here, I just want to get to the bus, get this over with. “Now you’re in the huddle and it’s that moment. Everyone looks at each other and it’s like, we are integrated, we have a reason, we have a depth, we have a love for each other, a respect . . . “Why did the 49ers do so great from 1981 to 1998? It’s because we had a love for each other.”

Young talks about being wet and cold with 80,000 people screaming, and the natural inclination was to get to safety. I think everyone would have the same initial feeling in that situation. What was the factor that helped the 49ers withstand both the physical and emotional obstacles to success on the gridiron? It was love. Great teams have a bond that’s formed before stressful situations occur, and it’s that connection that aids people in reaching a goal. To use popular verbiage within the field of education, it’s collective efficacy.

BE LIKE LEBRON JAMES

Two years ago I wrote this blog post comparing Steph Curry’s impact on basketball to John Hattie’s impact on education. From the post:

Just as Curry has forced basketball players to strategically think about how they can more effectively make points for their teams, Hattie is helping educators rethink how to be more effective in the classroom. Every strategy has an effect (just like every made shot within the three-point line is two points)–what’s important is using precious instructional time to choose the strategies that reap the greatest rewards.

My goal was to begin a discussion of Curry’s gameplay in which he shoots as often as possible behind the three-point line because, well, three points are more than two points. I wanted to explore how this is similar to incorporating strategies in one’s teaching practice that data has shown provides schools with the best results in student learning.

I’d like to reopen this dialogue because of an article I read recently about LeBron James on The Ringer, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Before we discuss King James, I have a question: Why didn’t NBA, college, high school, and club coaches stress the importance of setting up an offense that fosters more shots behind the three-point line before Curry’s recent dominance? Practicing three-point shots is essential, but setting up plays that open up a shot from downtown changes the fundamentals of how a team operates. When I was in high school (late ’90s), the strategy was all about penetration, which included lay ups, dunks, jump shots around the key, and the occasional three. It didn’t occur to many coaches that preparing all players to be proficient at threes, while at the same time providing offenses with the most strategic opportunities to hit threes instead of twos, would defeat opposing teams–many of whom were primarily going for the low-hanging two pointer.

Here are a couple answers to the above question:

  1. Coaches were teaching players to do what they themselves were taught.
  2. Coaches were caught up in the zeitgeist of aerial gameplay over the practical philosophy of getting the ball in the hoop from a place on the court that provides the highest reward.

The first answer makes sense–we continue doing what we’ve been taught. It worked for us, or at least seemed to work for us, so it’s obviously the best path forward. The second answer is a little different; sometimes we hold on to the past while embracing the shiny new theory, strategy, gameplay, etc. We create a mishmash of what we know and what’s new. In the 90s, battling it out in the key and the dominance of Air Jordan made the three-point shot boring.

But winning isn’t boring, and Curry ushered in a new era in which a team can succeed by making three points for every two points the opponent makes. The truth behind this was apparent to everyone, including one of the best athletes of his generation.

We Are Witnessing the Future of LeBron James by Danny Chau discusses how James had to change his game in order to compete against a new threat. James came into the league right after Jordan exited, but he had the opportunity to play against Kobe and many other greats who have since retired. James did well against these opponents; he was able to compete against many players who modeled themselves after Jordan and Kobe. And then 2015 came, which is when the Golden State Warriors’s dominance began. James realized the old strategies and techniques would no longer work. His team could drive to the rim and hit jump shots around the key all night, but if Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were on fire at the three-point line, the Warriors would win.

This is why James worked hard to be as big a threat pulling-up behind the three-point line as when he’s driving to the basket for two. In order to compete, he had to make threes–and so did his teammates. So that’s what he did, and if you are watching him on the Lakers this year, that’s what he’s continuing to do.

The same lesson is true for education. Like LeBron James, we need to remember the past but not be beholden to the practices that, while may be effective, are not effective enough. We need to practice shooting threes–whatever that metaphor means at your school site. As a matter of fact, we need to reengineer our whole offense so we’re better equipped to take the threes.

In basketball, the current high-leverage strategy is to move the ball around the court in order to provide opportunities for pull-ups from the three-point zone. The technique of shooting the three is mastered individually by players who practice perfectly for thousands of hours. In education, the strategy I’m proposing is examining Hattie’s effect sizes and choosing which ones will provide our students with the most growth. We must then practice our technique, which is us getting better at using the strategies–whether they be collective or individual.

LeBron James is staying relevant by changing with the times. Steph Curry created the latest shift to which James adapted. As educators, are we aware and nimble enough to see the current shifts and make the necessary change?

#BeLikeLeBronJames

LATTICEWORK OF MULTIPLE MENTAL MODELS

I’m gathering a lot of wisdom while reading Poor Charlie’s Almanack, and one of the best concepts I’ve discovered is Charlie Munger’s multiple mental models. To summarize, Munger hangs his mental models on a figurative latticework, which he can then use to make sense of what he hears and reads. Here’s an excerpt from the book (page 222):

I’ve long believed that a certain system–which almost any intelligent person can learn–works way better than the systems that most people use. As I said at the U.S.C. Business School, what you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And you hang your actual experience and your vicarious experience (that you get from reading and so forth) on this latticework of powerful models. And, with that system, things gradually get to fit together in a way that enhances cognition.

This latticework of mental models becomes an ecosystem Munger can visit whenever he has to analyze something. Here’s another excerpt expanding upon this idea (page 55):

The unassailable logic of Charlie’s ‘ecosystem’ approach to investment analysis: Just as multiple factors shape almost every system, multiple models from a variety of disciplines, applied with fluency, are needed to understand that system. As John Muir observed about the interconnectedness of nature, ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’

One of the benefits mental models provide is a comprehensive perspective. With a latticework of multiple models, a semblance of understanding can be attained of a system. This works in creating a system, too.

I bring this up because while reading about Mungers mental models, I couldn’t stop thinking about teacher collaboration within a school site. If you’ve been an educator for at least the last ten years, you’ve seen a lot of ad hoc initiatives. One of my goals is to create a latticework of understanding regarding the role of professional collaboration. Essentially, all of the ad hoc policies would be placed on the latticework, and a connection would be made amongst them all, bringing coherence to a very muddled group of ideas. If something doesn’t fit within the latticework, then it’s removed. (We don’t want a Bed of Procrustes situation.) As Munger says, “If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form” (page 166).

So what are these ideas that must be combined in a usable form regarding teacher collaboration? The following list is a good start:

  • Definition of professional learning communities (PLC)
  • Unpacking standards
  • Learning intentions
  • Success criteria
  • Exemplars
  • Rubrics
  • Data Driven Instruction (DDI)
  • District interim assessments
  • Common Formative Assessments
  • General check-ins with the team
  • Instructional rounds

Finally, answers to these two questions are essential:

  • Where are we in a cycle?
  • How many cycles are we talking about?

Here’s another important question:

  • Which protocol(s) will be used to bring coherence to all of this?

So the goal is to place all of this (and possibly more… possibly less) on the latticework and  figure out how teachers can make all this work in an afternoon after he or she has taught a full day and a lot of emotional labor has already been expended.

THE LINDY EFFECT

[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). All feedback is welcome!]

We live in a world where many things are vying for our attention and money. I’m not just referring to the lure of streaming services, social media, tabloids, and other time devouring creations aimed for consumption during one’s personal life. Leaders within the field of education are inundated with requests by vendors to show them the newest shiny object, which could be for math, English, science and STEM related products, social studies, and a very large number of technology-related programs (i.e. coding, engineering, labs, etc.). Of course, none of these programs or curriculums are bad; if you had a million dollars lying around, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to purchase a few.

The problem is you probably don’t have a million dollars. Worse still, buying a program could very well add complexity to your organization. Questions arise such as: Who’s going to use it? How are they going to use it? Who’s going to train them? Who will set up the program? Further still, these programs could be ad hoc implementations that have been created with little thought as to how they fit into your school’s ecosystem. Sure, thought may have gone into how the program could be implemented at a generic school site, but no one is making products tailored exactly for you, your teachers, or your students. That’s why it’s so important you and your team vet the programs being sold by the salespeople banging on your door. Vetting includes asking the question, “Does this product provide educational value to our students?” The inquiry should also ask, “Does this program fit perfectly within our educational ecosystem?”

A phenomenon known in economics as the Lindy Effect can help educators determine the value of a potential implementation. Named after a famous restaurant in New York known for its cheesecake, Lindy is where Broadway actors came up with the heuristic that if a show lasted 100 days, it was likely to last 100 more. If it lasted 200 days, then it would be around another 200. In other words, every day the show’s building kept its lights on, the chances it would continue to last increased. Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes:

“If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years. But, and this is the main difference, if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another fifty years… Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy.”

Returning to Taleb’s idea of fragility, robustness, and antifragility, it’s important to note that things that have lasted many years are well suited in times of chaos. Ancient scriptures, trade and barter, marriage–these are ideas, practices, or institutions that have survived far back into recorded history, and they’ll be around after we’re all gone. Humans have practiced them through times of peace and war. As a matter of fact, chaotic times may even increase the reading of scriptures, the commerce of trade, and the likelihood that two people will marry. This is the epitome of antifragility.

Conversely, the vase my wife purchased from Pottery Barn sitting in front of me as I type does not like chaos. It wants to remain on the shelf unbothered by my children, the dog’s wagging tail, or my clumsiness while dusting. The vase is much more perishable than scriptures, trade, and marriage. As Taleb writes, “For the perishable, every additional day in its life translates into a shorter additional life expectancy. For the nonperishable, every additional day may imply a longer life expectancy.” The vase it fragile, and it will most likely not be around 100 years from now. I can be certain that the institution of marriage, on the other hand, will still be kicking in 100 years–even if it looks a little different.

How does the Lindy Effect apply to education? I’m sure you can see many parallels, but let’s illuminate a couple. First, leaders should make decisions with the past in mind. For example, a flashy new program being sold by a salesperson that has no history of engaging students and encouraging them to learn is probably not a wise use of funds. It’s important to examine how long a potential implementation has been around. If it has been in existence for ten years, a good rule of thumb is that it will stick around for another ten years.

Second, instructional practices should be examined under a Lindy Effect lens. Direct instruction and inquiry have been around since the days of Socrates, so one can safely assume these strategies will be kicking for thousands of years to come. Other robust-antifragile practices include a “learn by doing” approach, studying what naturally interests a person, and the effectiveness of an instructor. On the other hand, many of the programs schools are purchasing today will not be around ten years from now–let alone next fall when school starts again. For a number of reasons, teachers and administrators like brand new things that promise student engagement, but what they fail to realize is that doubling down on the “tried and true” practices that Socrates used will pay the biggest dividends in student learning.

Before we move on, I’d like to address a point the reader may be thinking: the Lindy Effect is not always correct. You may want to say to me right now, “What about Google, Steve? It has been around for approximately 20 years. Are you telling me it will only be around for another 20 years?” The only answer I can give you is the Lindy Effect is a heuristic–a rule of thumb we can use in order to make sense of the world. I believe Google will still be a powerful company many decades from the time of this writing, and I also believe that just because something has been around for 100 years does not mean it will be around for exactly another 100 years. I do, however, believe the Lindy Effect is a useful tool for gauging the robustness of an idea, teaching strategy, and any implementation a school or district is eyeing.

THE POWER OF THE MARGIN

“Take from the margin to rethink the whole.”
–Lani Guinier

Over a month ago I met with a group of educators for the purpose of planning English Language Development (ELD) professional learning sessions. As we discussed the importance of good instruction during designated ELD, I was reminded of a post I wrote a while back entitled Macro from the Micro. Here’s an excerpt:

In Tim Ferriss’s book Tools of Titans, he explains a principle used by chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin called “learning the macro from the micro.” This approach avoids the common way of learning by focusing on a single component (the micro) in order to learn and understand the whole (macro).

The ELD planning group discussed how refining one’s practice for designated ELD has the potential for producing a better teacher in all content areas. The eventual title of the ELD session would become Get Good at ELD to Get Good at Everything.

I was reminded of this planning session as I recently finished reading Martin N. Davidson’s excellent book The End of Diversity As We Know It in which he writes:

The marginal voice is the one that holds the seed of the next great idea, the next powerful invention. We can’t create and innovate without the voice and vision that challenge our familiar and comfortable way of thinking and operating.

Davidson then gives two examples that show how the “marginal voice is the one that holds the seed of the next great idea.” First, he describes how a company named MedTown installed touch screens at a new distribution center because the technology was more advantageous for individuals with developmental disabilities. Turned out the touch screens, once installed, helped workflow for all employees, so all the old keyboards were replaced with the touch screen technology.

Second, sidewalk ramps were built across the country as a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These ramps allowed people in wheelchairs easy access to curbs. Today, almost all walkways have ramps, but you’ll notice not just people in wheelchairs use the ramps. Skaters, bikers, parents pushing strollers, and many other people use the ramps to access walkways.

As the quote at the top of this post states, the margin was used to rethink the whole in the examples Davidson provides. For those of us in the field of education, it’s important we ponder two things:

  1. How can building my own personal capacity in ELD instruction make me a better teacher overall?

  2. How can we take from the margin to rethink the whole so all students benefit?

10 THINGS I LEARNED AT UVA

I recently visited the Darden School of Business associated with the University of Virginia (UVA), and it was an amazing time of learning. The trip was for the Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE), which helps build leadership capacity in order to successfully turn around low performing schools.

Since I had the privilege of visiting UVA, I wanted to share some of the things I learned.* Below you’ll find a list of ten strategies, ideas, or people with whom I had the pleasure of meeting.

1. The importance of feedback. A principal who attended UVA with me had a great epiphany: creating a protocol, agenda, etc. and then asking for feedback isn’t as powerful as receiving feedback from people who are helping you create the product in real time. Too often we ask for feedback when it’s too late.

2. Creating urgency. Everyone talks about the importance of communication, which is absolutely true. What isn’t discussed as often is the importance of urgency. To create positive change, leaders must first explain why the change is imperative.

3. Asking “Why?” over and over (and over again). The great consultants deftly facilitate understanding by asking “why?” many times.

  • Consultant: The students in subgroup X didn’t do well on this common formative assessment question. Why?
  • Teacher: Because they weren’t listening.
  • C: Why?
  • T: Because they didn’t care about what I was teaching.
  • C: Why?
  • T: Because they’re not interested.
  • C: Why?
  • T: (Pause.) Because the lesson wasn’t interesting to them.
  • C: Why?
  • T: (Pause again.) Because I didn’t make it interesting.
  • C: How could you make it more interesting?
  • T: I suppose I could include information in my instruction that applies directly to their lives.
  • C: Is there anything else you could do?
  • T: I could talk less during the input portion of my lesson and provide the students with something more engaging during the structured and guided practice portions. 

Asking “why? over and over is necessary if you’re going to get anywhere close to the root cause of an issue.

4. The 25 Cent Rule. This is from Tonya Kales. Imagine you have two quarters, three dimes, four nickels, and five pennies. Now take no more than five minutes to write the top ten to fifteen things you can do at your school to increase student learning. Now take your two quarters and place them by the two top things on your list. Then take your three dimes and place them beside the next three most important items. Do the same thing for the four nickels and five pennies. The quarters represent your “big rocks,” the things that give you the biggest bang for your buck regarding student learning. The pennies are placed next to the lower priority tasks, and unfortunately those tasks are where we often spend the most time.

5. Clarity regarding measurement of data. This is also from Tonya Kales. Let’s say you want to lose weight; what’s the best way to measure success? A scale? Clothing size? BMI? Food journal? Pictures? Exercise journal? Calories? What if you’re heavier on the scale due to muscle gain, but you look better? What if you’re cutting the calories, but the food you’re eating isn’t healthy? What if you have an impeccable food journal, but you’re not seeing any results? And what if a group of people are trying to lose weight, but they’re using all these different metrics to determine success? This would make success difficult to determine, huh?

6. Martin N. Davidson. I want to be this guy when I grow up. I ordered his book on Amazon after attending a few of his sessions. You can find the book here.

7. The Consultancy Protocol. You have a presenter, timer, and consultant(s). The presenter shares a problem of practice, and the consultant(s) ask questions or make statements that help the presenter arrive at her or his own conclusion. Answers and opinions are not provided to the presenter. It’s pretty powerful. Some of the effective questions or statements that could be said are:

  • Tell are more about…
  • Have you considered…?
  • What do you think (a person) would say about…?
  • It appears you are operating with an assumption that…
  • This leadership challenge raises a couple of questions for me…

8. The importance of everyone getting good at the same thing (or at least pulling in the right direction). Oftentimes, we think we need to be perfect in order to be effective. All we really need is a team moving (ever so slightly) in the right direction. Of course, having only a few initiatives that everyone does well is the goal, and when a district has coherence and alignment, it’s easier for the central office to provide support because everyone’s doing the same high leverage things. It makes things simple, and simple is beautiful. However, it all starts with pulling in the right direction.

9. The importance of one’s environment while learning. The UVA campus is inspiring. Location can be an important factor in student success.

10. Chalkboards are awesome and are undervalued in K-12 education. Long live the chalkboards! The UVA classrooms had at least three chalkboards at the front of each room, which had the ability to be moved up and down by the presenters. This definitely added to an aesthetically pleasing learning experience.

*When educators attend conferences, academies, or encounter unique people or experiences, it’s important they share what they learned with others.