Last year I wrote a post titled, 100 Books Every Teacher Should Read. I’ve since updated that post once, but wanted to write a separate piece about 10 books I’ve read this year that challenged me professionally as a teacher and learner (and that weren’t on the original 100 list).
I read 25 pages every day. And now that I have a longer commute to work, I tend to read at least one audio book per week. As we were writing LAUNCH (my latest book) I spent a lot of time diving into books that weren’t necessarily about “education” but had a lot to do with creativity, design, marketing, and the human need to make.
A few of these books jumped out to me as great. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve learned at least something from every book I’ve ever read, but these books jumped out to me as something special. I often pair up a “non-educational” book with an educational text after I’m done reading. I see many of the same principles and ideas shared in one book, applied in another book for teachers, leaders, parents, and students.
So here are 8 books that challenged me (and will hopefully challenge you) and I paired them together. I’d suggest reading them back-to-back but that’s a personal preference 🙂
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance pair with Mindstorms by Seymour Papert
I’ve been fascinated by Elon Musk and his creative work for a while now, and when I saw the Ashlee Vance book was coming out I was intrigued. It did not disappoint, instead, it provided deep insight into the life and mind of one of the most successful and creative risk takers of out time. History will only tell what Elon Musk’s legacy will be, but even if he stopped now, he has made a tremendous impact on the world.
It challenged me as a teacher because Musk seeks to build capacity through his companies and teams in any way possible. In order to take big risks, you need to have a team of people that are not only risk-takers, but also willing to learn and grow as a team. Both Tesla and SpaceX are built on the idea that failure is a part of the process.
As a learner, this man does not stop. It would easy for him to act like he “knows it all” and to rest on his laurels. But to a fault, every person who works at his companies respects Musk’s ability to soak up information and continue to learn, even while being in charge.
I’d pair this up with Mindstorms by Seymour Papert for a few reasons. First, I was intrigued by this book because of what I’d heard about it. People in education like Will Richardson and Gary Stager frequently reference Papert’s work, and as I started to dive into this book published in 1993 about computers…I again did not know what to expect.
Label me a fan as well. So much of what Papert shares in this book is relevant today. The mindset, philosophy, and guiding beliefs about how computing can empower students holds true in our world today. In the Musk biography, you learn about Elon’s early days as a boy and student. His love and passion for computer programming is seemingly what sets him apart at a young age. The belief that he could “create his own future” (which he has in fact done) comes from the experiences as a boy and teen writing computer programs, creating games, and eventually using these skills to solve problems and build businesses.
We often read books about famous people and wonder what sets them apart, but also how they got to be where they are. Papert’s book is the text to read to understand how we can all harness the power of computing and programming, and maybe empower a few more students (or generation of students) to think and create like Musk.
Sapiens is one of the most fascinating books you’ll ever read. Presented as a narrative, Harari describes the entire history of humankind in this large book. I listened to it on Audible, and was captivated from opening introduction.
While I don’t particularly agree with some of Harari’s inferences, the way he tells the story of humankind from the cognitive revolution, to the agricultural revolution, and eventually to the now present scientific revolution…made me really question “how we learn” and what are the best ways to set up a learning experience and environment for students today.
I’d pair this with Deeper Learning, which is in my mind one of the books we should we talking about in education right now. Martinez and McGrath actually spent time in schools that are practicing a different type of education, one that is focused on depth not breadth, and the results are striking. If Sapiens gives us a lens into why we learn the way we do as humans, Deeper Learning provides a look into how certain schools are excelling (in unconventional ways) right now.
I waited to read Originals. I wondered if it was going to be like a number of “pop-psychology” books I had read since the fantastic Drive by Daniel Pink. Many of those books left me feeling a bit dissapointed and hoping for more actionable and practical insight.
Then, as I listened (also did this book on Audible) I was hooked immediately in Chapter 1 as Adam Grant shares the story of Warby Parker, and why so many of the most “innovative” and original companies in the world take calculated risks. We often think that successful innovative companies and organization are on the bleeding edge and diving into creative work head first. Grant shares a different outlook, where having multiple avenues and opportunities for success makes the risk-taking doable and ok when there is a failure.
In the same way, George Couros shares his view on innovation in a different light than many educational books. Innovation is a “mindset” rather than a series of risk-taking actions. This book is rare in that it provides stories that bring you close to George, but also practical ways to lead innovation in the midst of what we have to accomplish on a daily basis as a teacher or school leader. If Originals is the research behind what drives the most innovative people, companies, and organizations in the world, The Innovator’s Mindset is the companion of how we can make this happen in our schools.
Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley pair with For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…And the Rest of Ya’ll Too by Christopher Emdin
In Creative Confidence, authors Tom and David Kelley lay the groundwork for a creative revolution. Bolstered by their work starting IDEO and the Stanford d.school, the Kelley brothers share stories, inspiration, and smart ideas for how to be a more creative individual.
They also share design thinking as a framework for creative problem solving for teams (as well as companies and organizations). However, the parts of this book that really made me recommend it are the questions you’ll be challenged with about what you believe. Do you believe all students and all teachers are creative? Do you believe you are creative? Do you believe creative work has merit in all organizations and levels? Answering those questions is much easier after you’ve read Creative Confidence.
I pair this up with Dr. Emdin’s book, because it is a breath of fresh air. Emdin is as real as it gets (if you follow him on Instagram you know) and this book resonates right from the beginning. His research is solid, but it his approach of sharing ideas that are followed up with practical advice for teachers and school leaders that really grabbed me. It’s easy to say that everyone can be creative, but Emdin’s book shows how students and teachers can be innovative and creative even under the most challenging circumstances, and rise above it.
Want a free book? I’m doing a giveaway.
Leave a comment below sharing a book that you would recommend that will challenge others as teachers (and learners). Then share which book (of the above 8) you’d like to receive. In one week I’ll throw all the names into a raffle and send a copy of the specific book mentioned to 8 separate winners!