Professional Learning

Summer 2021 Reads for Teachers

These aren’t exactly beach reads, but they’ll be useful when teachers want to reflect on the past year—and plan for the future.

May 19, 2021
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Each year as the weather warms and the school year ends, the stack of books on my bedside table gets taller. This year, my book list wrestles with many of the looming issues exacerbated or illuminated by Covid-19, including racial equity, the ways schools adapt to change, and how we care for our communities and ourselves in the toughest of times.

The Teaching Profession

If you’re looking for a hopeful peek into the ways that immense public and administrative trust can lead to excellent schools, reach for In Teachers We Trust: The Finnish Way to World-Class Schools (2021). The book combines the perspectives of Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg and Timothy Walker, an American educator who moved to Finland with his family to live and teach.

Many of Sahlberg and Walker’s suggestions for building trust and making improvements are policy related, but the authors also offer insights into smaller, more practical ways. Pragmatic suggestions range from systems for transparent decision-making, to prioritizing schedule changes that give teachers shared work time, to purposeful mentorships for those new to the profession.

Taking Care of Ourselves

If the pandemic-induced changes of this school year left you battered, breathless, or teetering toward burnout, add Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (2020) to your bookshelf. Katherine May writes about personal winters—those periods in our lives when we feel cut off, out of sorts, or unable to productively contribute to our communities. May gently guides readers to look at personal winters as a time to care for ourselves, “actively embrace sadness,” and find new practices for recovery.

Although May is a former writing teacher, she doesn’t address schools or educators directly. In fact, she acknowledges that slowing down can seem especially hard in the packed daily schedules of traditional school days. Using personal stories, May turns the traditionally gloomy topic into a hopeful handbook for self-care and recovery.

Tackling Tough Classroom Issues

If you need an inspirational reminder that educators are invaluable first responders, reach for Lisa Delpit’s latest edited collection of short essays. Each chapter of Teaching When the World Is on Fire (2019) tackles a moment of crisis or pain in which educators have had to make thoughtful choices to influence the students in their school.

This book makes the profession feel less lonely as each chapter dives into how successful educators are addressing topics ranging from hate speech to climate change to Confederate statues.

If you want to zoom out to the policy level this summer, read A Search for Common Ground: Conversations About the Toughest Questions in K–12 Education (2021). The book is a long-running series of letters between the two authors, Frederick (Rick) Hess and Pedro Noguera. While the two often find themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum, they offer a rare, compelling example of dialogue. They skillfully frame controversial issues, seek out areas of agreement, respectfully discuss disagreements, and intertwine the exchanges with bits of personal updates about managing life and children during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The chapters are labeled by issue, making it easy to cut straight to a particular topic.

The Promise of Technology and the Internet

If you’re ready to take a clear-eyed look at the impact of technology in your school this year, check out Justin Reich’s Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education (2020). Reich, a professor at MIT, offers a careful analysis of what schools can reasonably expect from technology, why it won’t fix inequalities, and how we should think about the technology we’re bringing into schools.

Reich’s skepticism about big, transformational claims will feel familiar to veteran educators who have taught through multiple iterations of internet-based instructional programs. Reich offers clear lists of questions to ask when new technology comes to your school, such as “What’s actually new here?”

If you’re more interested in the way that increased time on the internet shaped students (or politics) this year, pick up a copy of Mind Over Media: Propaganda Education for a Digital Age (2020). Author Renee Hobbs is on a mission to help schools tackle modern propaganda education head-on.

Mind Over Media details how propaganda influences everyday life from social media to advertising to education (and it’s not just the internet). Hobbs offers accessible explanations of the ways that propaganda wriggles into our daily consumption, why it’s especially profitable in the digital age, and how it can be used for good or evil.

For educators, Hobbs includes clear propaganda learning activities with guiding questions that range from finding fake Instagram accounts to analyzing the subtle influence of public opinion polls. Student resources (labeled as “learning activities”) aren’t course specific, which makes it easy to adapt them across the curriculum.

Leading for Equity

If you’re ready to dive into the messy, complicated world of district decision-making, set aside some time to read Erica Turner’s Suddenly Diverse: How School Districts Manage Race and Inequality (2020). Through interviews with mostly white district officials, Turner examines how two Wisconsin school districts with different political and economic contexts responded to similar demographic changes.

Both districts relied on “color-blind managerialism” with policies like data monitoring and marketing—practices that Turner cautions against for their potential harm. At every turn, she reminds the reader why it’s important to learn from our mistakes, examine the messes we’ve made, and figure out “How do we live the reality well?”

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