The Best Books of 2016 for Teachers (and Learners)

Maybe you are a bibliophile like me and love reading a new book each week or month. Or maybe you are thinking about 2017 and want to read a book or two that is going to help spark some curiosity and creativity in life and work. Or maybe, just maybe, you aren’t a teacher. But you might be married to one, friends with one, or related to one. In that case, these recommendations serve as one educator’s best books of 2016 and they might have some value for others.

This year I’ve started 56 books, and I’ve finished 42 of them. Some have been non-fiction best-sellers, others have been educational books on teaching and learning, and I’ve mixed in a few fiction books as well.

Also, most of these books were published in 2016, but not all of them. Here are my top recommendations and the practical reason for ready this book (instead of the millions of other options out there)!

Research That Actually Makes Sense Book

PeakPeak: Secrets From The New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson

Anders Ericsson dives into the art of deliberate practice, and what makes people great at what they do. The results are necessarily surprising. It is not simply “talent” that takes people from good to great, but a lot of hard work.

Yet, Ericsson’s narrative bring an interesting twist on the idea that hard work can lead to expertise and mastery. He shares story after story of people working hard and not achieving this level, leaving the reader to wonder what the true path to expertise is.

He then lays out a path that takes the types of hard work and practice into account for mastery. And it is a fascinating look into research that can apply to all of our lives.

More Than Just Ideas Book

Tools of TitansTools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons and World Class Performers by Tim Ferris

A brand new book that I had to dive into right away. Ferris takes the best of the best from his award-winning podcast (I’m a regular listener) and distills it into actionable and practical strategies and tools for the everyday person to use in their quest to be great.

What strikes me about this book is that way it can be read as a narrative, or used as almost an encyclopedia of tools, tips, strategies, and step-by-step guidance.

I often think books like this will be out of date in the near future, but believe Tools of Titans may stand the test of time better than it’s competitors.

Fiction Book with Deep Insight on Real Life

Ready Player OneReady Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline

This book was gifted to me by a teacher in our school district. I read it in almost one sitting. It’s hard to put down.

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

If that doesn’t grab you right away, I’m not sure what will. This books is action packed and also gave serious insight into a world that our kids might be enthralled in right now.

Leadership Book

Myth of the Strong LeaderThe Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age by Archie Brown

I did not read this book for political reasons. I read it because it was recommended by a good friend when I took my new job as Director of Technology and Innovation.

It did not disappoint.

Leadership is not about being the “alpha” and exerting strength and will upon those that work with and for you. In fact, the leaders that have made a mark on this world (and who continue to be talked about) are those that have collaborated, delegated, and negotiated. Read this and you’ll think different about what it means to be a leader.

Parenting and Kids Book

The Gardener and the CarpenterThe Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationships Between Parents and Children by Allison Gopnik

Read this book if you are a parent. Or thinking about being a parent. Or a grandparent. Or an aunt or uncle. Or work with children!

Gropnik shatters the myth of “good parenting” and what many of us believe that should look like. By looking at the new science and research of parenting, Gropnik gives a different approach and shares the analogy of being a gardener throughout this work.

One thing I gained from reading this book is the notion that doing what’s best for our kids looks different all the time based on the circumstances.

The Mirror In the Wall Book

Ego is the EnemyEgo is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Here is what Derk Sivers had to say about this book:

“Forget yourself and focus on the work. Be humble and persistent. Value discipline and results, not passion and confidence. Be lesser, do more. This message is crucial, but the opposite of almost every other book. I wish everyone would read this. I need to re-read it each year. It’s that important. It’s easy to read this and say “oh yeah I’ve got my ego under control”, but the problem is deeper than that.”

As for me, I read it and had to admit that I was often thinking about myself and not the work. It was a true look in the mirror moment. For that alone I’d recommend it to anyone who is “doing the work” and ask the question of why?

The Future is Going to Be Crazy (and Awesome) Book

The InevitableThe Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly

The future is often scary to think about, but Kevin Kelly delivers an exciting narrative on how current technologies are going to shape our world into something much better than today.

Interested in virtual reality, augmented reality, and what the web will look like?

This book takes a seasoned expert in the field and picks his brain and many others. He writes both in the clouds (of what’s possible) and in the dirt (of what’s happening right now) so the reader can connect the dots of what a possible future might look like.

The Book Every Teacher Should Read

How We LearnHow We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey

From an early age, it is drilled into our heads: Restlessness, distraction, and ignorance are the enemies of success. We’re told that learning is all self-discipline, that we must confine ourselves to designated study areas, turn off the music, and maintain a strict ritual if we want to ace that test, memorize that presentation, or nail that piano recital.
But what if almost everything we were told about learning is wrong? And what if there was a way to achieve more with less effort?

This book flips learning on it’s head and changed my practice immediately upon reading it. If you only read the first few chapters this book will be more than worth it!

What are your book recommendations from 2016? Please share out in the comments!

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  • Robert says:

    Hey AJ!

    Thanks for the tips! There’s probably some more to put on this list, but these two had a HUGE impact on me, my work, my students and my colleagues.

    LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student

    This book has changed me as a teacher and the way I work with my students in the most fundamental way. It was like someone read my mind and made sense of all my crazy thoughts from the past years. This is a book that every self respecting teacher should have at their side at all times!

    Another game changer:
    The Innovator’s Mindset, by George Couros.

    An extremely inspirational book. Whether you’re a principal, educational manager, a teacher or in any other way working in education. I was reading this in the mornings during my commute to school, and every time I arrived at school I was full of energy and new and exciting ideas to start using straight away and share with my colleagues.

  • Greg Garner says:

    Loved both Peak and How We Learn. There’s a parallel book to How We Learn called Make it Stick. I liked it just a bit better than the former, but many of the same ideas. I would add to your list:

    A More Beautiful Question by Berger – tons of application to schools, especially those looking to rethink the way they educate, very relevant to design thinkers as well.

    Just Mercy by Stevenson – in the midst of our ongoing nationwide conversation on race, this is a can’t-miss. It’s hard to swallow and you’ll read it with incredulity, but I think it’s a must for any educator looking to build empathy with their students.

    The Ideal Team Player by Lencioni – more for leaders, but a concise leadership fable for anyone looking to be more creative and efficient when it comes to building a better team

    Honorable mentions: Originals by Grant and Happy City by Montgomery

  • James Dittes says:

    Ready Player One, along with the Netflix hit, “Stranger Things,” put the Zeitgeist in the hands of kids who (like me) were nerds in the 80s. I know why kids love RP1, but for me, the quests and puzzles that required almost encyclopedic knowledge of old-school movies and video games were really enjoyable for me.

  • Mary Driscoll says:

    The Innovator’s Mindset, by George Couros.

    We brought George Couros to Chester County and started several PLC’s around this book and the spark that has igniting here around student-centered learning as a result of the book and the extension learning experiences is exciting!

  • Nita Luthria Row says:

    My favourite read this year was The Innovator’s Mindset, by George Couros too. I have started A More Beautiful Question by Berger and The Collected Writings of Rick Wormeli and am enjoying both.

  • […] Source: The Best Books of 2016 for Teachers (and Learners) – A.J. JULIANI […]

  • Terri Lee Nielsen says:

    REALLY LOVE your list A.J. Juliani…. !
    Have only Googled “a few summaries” of the books you highlighted here —
    But; they indeed look VERY worthy… wow….!

    Mine —
    For Psychology / Sociology …. or for improving School Climate / & strengthening Affective Needs & Social Emotional skills: “The Better Angels of Our Nature” – published approx 2011 or 2012 by Harvard Cognitive Psychology Professor Steven Pinker — if you want to help strengthen youth’s resilience — or understanding of human motivations, and defiance —this book is incredible…. ! ! Although the book is built like The Bible– and contains SO MANY references,…. that I just took 1 chapter at a time; & enjoyed hearing the Audio version of each chapter, prior to actually reading each chapter myself.

    Pinker is brilliant. I’m guessing the book will go down as Classic PhD material / textbook for Psychologists, Archeologists, Counselors & Ethnographers.

    ( was glad to see some other books from your Best Books list were also published two or four years ago )…. For most books; it’s too hard to reach consensus on “how great the literary work is.” … w/o some reflection & collaborative “processing time.”

    Professor Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature,”… can also help minority &/or disenfranchised students gain perspectives — to get beyond the chip on the shoulder; re: populations being displaced in the name of change / or progress… including indigenous populations.

    Hope to meet you somewhere in our beautiful state of Colorado – at some point…!

    I’d recommend it to interested students for a COOL project: English Lang Arts, Social Studies, Psychology, Sociology, Ethnic Diversities, Anthropology — or recommend for educators PLC -professional learning communities, or book clubs.

    Terri – Golden, Colorado

  • […] Juliani’s Best Books for Teachers (and […]

  • […] Player One by Ernest Cline was a book that AJ Juliani  mentioned in his blog post The Best Books of 2016 for Teachers (And Learners).  Always interested in reading a fiction book over the break I looked to see if this was available […]

  • Mary Wegner says:

    Jason Ohler has written many wise and thoroughly engaging books over the years. But his latest book, 4Four Big Ideas for the Future- Understanding Our Innovative Selves, is his tour de force, bringing together thirty-five years of leadership in the world of education, media and digital citizenship. Don’t let the title fool you- it’s packed with hundreds of ideas, insights and perspectives about how to humanize and take charge of our futures, particularly as educators. He is a professional “explainer.” He does a great job helping the rest of us understand the implications of living in a complex, high tech world. And it’s a lot fun to read, packed with humor and stories that provide a human path through a digital world. Fabulous read.

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