It’s almost officially summer. If you work in a support role like me, you probably don’t get your summer off, but the pace of things slows down enough to do some reading. On the beach. Here are some reads for you non-instructional folks out there.

We’ll make a list of teacher-specific books in the coming weeks, but this will get your summer started right if you’re in or out of the classroom.

Inspiration to Get You Started

Here are a couple favorites to remind you change can happen and what you’re doing is part of something bigger.

1. Mountains Beyond Mountains (Tracy Kidder) – Like I've mentioned in previous posts, Mountains Beyond Mountains is a popular title around here. So much so that we named our network MVP award after it. It tells an incredible story about Dr. Paul Farmer who, in the face of almost certain failure to eradicate diseases in the world’s poorest places, never gave up. Sometimes it feels like we work tirelessly to move the needle in education. This book is proof that change can happen. You can find more info on it here.

2. The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell)– What exactly leads to change? In The Tipping Point, Gladwell illustrates how a single moment, or small moments created the world’s largest epidemics. “One of the things I’d like to do is to show people how to start ‘positive’ epidemics of their own” he says. His point – a few small actions are enough to get the ball rolling, which has obvious benefits to teachers and educators. Find more here.

Management and Leadership

If you are a manager or leader in your school, then these books might help you think through solutions to problems you frequently see, or might help you better understand how to manage your time and teams better.

3. Crucial Conversations (Kerry Patterson, et al)– If you’re managing people or projects, having productive conversations is crucial. (see what I did there?) This book helps you prepare by teaching you how to create a safe space for dialogue, be persuasive without being abrasive and plan for high-stakes conversations. Get a copy here.

4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Patrick Lencioni) – As a leader, it’s important to create space for collaboration and teamwork. Dysfunction can lurk beneath the surface, stifling real collaboration. In this book, you can better understand the root causes of politics and dysfunction on your team. For leaders in education this can be increasingly important since students’ success is on the line. Read more about it here.

5. The Effective Executive (Peter Drucker)Though folks like us might not think of ourselves as executives, principles in this book are just as important as they are to high level executives in other organizations and companies. Among the many lessons in this book are setting the right priorities and knowing where and how to mobilize strength for best effect. Who doesn’t want to get better at organization and prioritization? You can find it here.

Personal and Professional Growth

While the last two sections addressed some skill areas as managers or the inspirational recharge everyone needs after a long school year, there are some great resources out there to help you become a better professional outside of team management.

Here are some books our people suggest to help you grow as an innovator, a contributor and thinker.

6. Brain Rules (John Medina)Last year at KIPP’s annual School Summit (KSS), John Medina gave a lecture and Q and A on his book and area of research covered in Brain Rules. It’s implications for teachers, students and everyone working were immediately clear. Reading this book will change how you think about work. It will encourage you to stop trying to multitask. It will encourage you to sleep more, rest and prioritize stress relief in your life. Everyone should read this book.

7. How Full is Your Bucket (Tom Rath)One of our Fisher Fellows brought this book into our office and asked her whole founding staff to read it. The reason is a great one. This book reveals how even the briefest interactions affect your whole day, from your productivity to your health and longevity. By understanding how your interactions with people impact others, you can be a better teammate and manage your energy more effectively. Get it here.

8. The Influencer (Kerry Patterson, et al)From the writers of Crucial Conversations, this book takes it one step further and much more personally. The influencer teaches people to create influence and use it to affect change. It’s promise is that you, yes you, have the power to change anything. Sounds great, right? It can be. If you understand how people create influence, despite their position, you too can be an influencer.

9. The Lean Startup (Eric Ries)No, we aren’t a “startup”. The principles of running a lean startup can help you innovate better in your position within a school, especially a fast-growing network like ours. This is especially helpful if you manage projects or products that need to get to launch. The Lean Startup is about doing more with less, whether it’s less people or capital. All of us in schools, especially in central office type rolls have limited resources and time. Applying this methodology to the projects we take on will help us maximize time and learn as we go.

10. The Everything Store (Brad Stone)– This book will inspire you to be an innovator. It tells the story of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who took it from a bookstore, to the place where you can find just about everything. The “relentless ambition” (as it’s called in the book) of Amazon’s founder can help you stay invested when things get rough and help you to dream beyond what seems normal or realistic. To close the achievement gap, we need innovators who prove what’s possible in urban education, both in the classroom and behind the scenes. Get it here

Bonus Round

Here are two other books I think you should read. Mostly because they tell great stories about the work we do here in Newark and as part of KIPP.

The Pact (Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt and Lisa Frazier Page) Many years ago, three high schoolers in Newark made a pact. They were all going to work hard and become doctors, escaping the streets of Newark that sucked in so many of their peers. Now the three main characters of this true story are practicing doctors in the Newark area.

Work hard. Be nice. (Jay Matthews)– This is practically required reading for new-to-KIPP people. It’s the story of how KIPP got started in a couple of classrooms in Houston, TX 20 years ago. It is a great story about how two second-year educators figured out how to create a charter school in a time when they were very few-and-far-between, and eventually launched a nation-wide network of charter schools.

I know this list is a smattering of seemingly random books. If I missed something particularly useful for those of us outside of the classroom, definitely let me know!

UPDATE (6/6/2014) - One of our teachers suggested the following book:

Good to Great (Jim Collins)- Some companies are just born into greatness. What about ones that aren't? How does a company move from good, mediocre or even bad - to great? This book builds on the 90's study Built to Last and identified companies that have gone from so-so to great and condensed their practices into the keys to success that some companies followed to greatness and others didn't. Though the parallels may not be obvious, every school and organization can employ these keys to success to move them closer to greatness.


Photo credit - Abhi Sharma

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