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Summer Reading and Rejuvenation

Joshua Block

Humanities teacher at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia
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Teaching would not be possible without time devoted to reflection and rejuvenation. In the same way that crops need to be rotated so that soil can be replenished, teachers need time away from the classroom to rediscover different parts of their identities and return to classrooms and students with renewed joy, creative ideas, and reaffirmed visions of themselves as educators.

Summer is a time for reflection, scholarship, and a chance to give myself a break from the daily cycle of planning and feedback that make the school year such a whirlwind. The choreographer Liz Lerman first introduced me to the idea of mechanization of movement and the importance of breaking out of what inevitably and unconsciously becomes routine. While teaching is far from mechanized, I can relate to the idea of repetition as a force that causes us to lose sight of a vision of possibility.

A Plan for the Summer

In order to challenge the inevitable feelings of burnout and mechanization that I feel in June, I use summer to immerse myself in books and open myself to unplanned discoveries, ideas, and inspiration for the next school year. I aim to keep the list of books broad and include many different titles. My hope is to challenge and nurture myself in ways that relate directly to my teaching practice and in ways that nurture my identity outside of teaching.

Below is my summer book list, not including all of the fiction that I plan to devour. Maybe you will find inspiration in some of these titles, or maybe there are others that you would like to add in the comments section below.

For My Creativity and My Soul

Natalie Goldberg brings a Buddhist sensibility to writing practice and creativity. In Writing Down the Bones, she says: "Learning the write is not a linear process. There is no logical A-to-B-to-C way to become a good writer. One neat truth about writing cannot answer it all. There are many truths. To do writing practice means to deal ultimately with your whole life." This summer I plan to read Goldberg's book and embark on a regular practice of writing.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is about nurturing and discovering creativity. I first read this book years ago and remember the joy and challenge of the different recommended exercises. Cameron writes: "Creativity is an experience -- to my eye, a spiritual experience. It does not matter which way you think of it: creativity leading into spirituality or spirituality leading to creativity."

Teaching requires teachers to navigate so many important moments in the midst of activity and chaos. Thich Nhat Hanh ’s Being Peace and Peace Is Every Step are both simple, beautiful books that remind me how I have the capacity to deal with challenges while maintaining balance and an awareness of self. I look forward to rereading each of these books.

For My Analytical Side

Technology is integral to my teaching practice and the ways that I connect with people, information, and ideas. I want to use the summer to reflect on the role of technology in my life and in the lives of my students. Sherry Turkle's book Alone Together seems to raise many important questions about how technology can subtract from our humanity. In the Author's Note she writes, "Thinking about connectivity is a way to think about what we meant to each other."

Whenever I speak with my students about their relationships to technology, I am struck by their insights and experiences. It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd "attempt[s] to provide critical insight into the networked lives of contemporary youth." I look forward to comparing the findings in the book to my own perceptions of my students, and then turning to my students to find out more of what they think.

So much of creating a successful learning culture rests on nurturing relationships and building community. A friend recommended Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most for the simple, straightforward approach it offers for dealing with conflict.

About Education

Once I have taken time to reclaim different sides of myself and my humanity, I always find myself excited to think more deeply about teaching and my own practice. There are some great new education books this year, include Thrive by my colleague Meenoo Rami and This is Not a Test by the always-insightful Jose Vilson. I also hope to reread some of John Dewey's writing and check out some of the other titles collected on the Edutopia/ASCD Summer Reading Pinterest Board.


Although the common perception is that teachers get the summer off, we honor our work, our students, and our profession by using the summer to prepare ourselves to be renewed, fresh, and inspired for a new school year. For me, this means using the summer to rediscover and reconnect with different parts of myself while finding new ways to be a caring, supportive, creative, joyful adult and scholar in the lives of my students.

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Joshua Block

Humanities teacher at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia

Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy

I LOVE Writing Down the Bones. I figured no one read that anymore -- so glad to see it's still appreciated! And I'm also a huge fan of Thich Nhat Hanh. Neither of these are "teaching" books per se, but would definitely rejuvenate. I have been meaning to buy The Artist's Way for about 15 years, so now's as good a time as any. Thanks for including these classics in your list!

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

I LOVED _Difficult_Conversations_. The idea that there are 3 conversations embedded in any difficult conversation: the "What Happened" conversation (We missed a deadline.) the "Feelings" conversations (I am angry and upset about missing the deadline.) and the -- most importantly -- "Identity" conversation (What does it say about me as someone who missed a deadline?)

All of these layers combine to create a complicated story. ... the book gives helpful tips for seeing and sorting through these. Cannot sing enough praises about _Difficult_Conversations_!

Antje Carlson's picture

As a non-cell phone individual it is sometimes hard to relate to what my students experience. Therefore I read 'Alone Together' by Sherry Turkle. I devoured the book in one go, I found it that fascinating. Of course the book doesn't replicate the experience but it definitely gave me an understanding. It was an eye opener and I, too, would recommend it.

Lara Ervin's picture

Great list, for the technology read, I HIGHLY recommend J. Paul Gee's "What video games have to teach us about learning." Super good read and changed the way I teach (even when not using technology)...

Nicky Kram Rosen's picture

I highly recommend, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students By Ron Berger

Lina Raffaelli's picture
Lina Raffaelli
Former Community Engagement Intern at Edutopia

I recently read "Outliers: The Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell, which I definitely recommend! Another great little easy-to-digest book for the creative types is "Steal Like an Artist" by Austin Kleon. Aside from that there's a few novels I plan to read this summer for my own enjoyment. :)

David Macek's picture
David Macek
Director of Community Engagement (@PassageWorks)

I love Thich Nhat Hanh's simple and profound messages for creating peace in our world!

I also recommend our book as a great summer read - The 5 Dimensions of Engaged Teaching - for sustaining a reflective teaching practice, integrating SEL in the classroom, and cultivating positive school culture.

Wishing a rejuvenating and insightful summer to everyone!

Joshua Block's picture
Joshua Block
Humanities teacher at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia

Thank you all for the feedback and the wonderful additions to my list!

TODD SENTELL's picture
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

I have not taken my bathrobe off since May 30. Since then I've I read a book about John Updike, eaten an extraordinary amount of unhealthily food that tastes great, slept late, smoked quite a few cigars, and tried to watch a bunch of educational channels on TV.

But I've become more fascinated with what TV commercial makers think of women and men. Women first ...

Woman are obsessed with food

Woman are obsessed with their weight

Woman are obsessed with their lack of satisfying bowel functions

When women eat soup they have a look of ecstasy on their face

Women will steal each others' food at work if the opportunity presents itself

Only women are shown scrubbing nasty commodes. I never saw a commercial where some man was scrubbing a nasty commode

Only women are shown taking care of children. I never saw a commercial where a man is taking care of a child

Around the house only women collect pet hair wads

No women pitch alcohol or drug addiction cures

Only women vacuum

Women deeply dislike their husband's mother

Only women fall down and can't get up. And that woman who falls down all the time should screech what she's really upset about and that's not being able to reach her cigarettes

If a burglar is going to kick a door down or bust through a window while somebody is actually home during the middle of the day the people in the house will be a woman and with the woman will be her daughter and not her son. And the burglar will always be a man. Not a woman

No women are ever seen in pick-up truck commercials

No women snore

And now for the way men are depicted ...

Husbands are stupid

Boyfriends are stupid

Men are stupid

Men dress badly

Men never shave

Men are lazy

Men are very capable of setting themselves on fire

Men are bad with tools

Men are bad about paying the bills

Men burgle homes in the middle of the day by busting through a window even when the burglar can see through the window that a mother and her daughter are making sandwiches in the kitchen

Only men grill food if they haven't already set themselves on fire

Married men are henpecked and they know it and there's nothing they can do about it

Men are fat

Only men snore

Men deeply dislike their wife's mother

All men want to do is watch sports activities on TV

Only men have problems with their sex organ performance

Here's a few other things I learned about men and women from watching a lot of commercials on TV this summer. If a commercial includes a man and a woman the commercial will always be about ...

Buying furniture

Buying a car

Buying a refrigerator or a combo washer-dryer affair

Buying wall paint

Buying a mattress that will help eliminate their body pains

Curing the husband's snoring

Appreciating that the husband is now on a drug that is helping his sex organ performance

Who says TV commercials are boring?


Todd's teaching memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave," at real sharp turns hilarious and heartbreaking, will be published this fall by Stairway Press.

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