Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Progress Monitoring: Checking In On My 2018 Reading Challenge

At the risk of turning this blog into a reading log…

As I have for the past few years, in January I took the annual Goodreads Reading Challenge and set myself a goal of reading 30 books in 2018 (I also set a goal of running 300 miles in 2018, but the less said about that right now, the better).

At just past 1/3 of the way through the year, I’ve finished 15 books.  As in past years, I have my 10+ hour weekly commute and access to multiple audiobook sources to thank for much of my productivity here.  In reverse chronological, these are the books I’ve enjoyed so far this year:

  • A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey
  • Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, & Consent on Campus, by Vanessa Grigoriadis
  • The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
  • Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, by Adam Alter
  • Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, by Kylene Beers & Bob Probst
  • All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, by Jonathan Abrams
  • The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter
  • Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
  • 50 Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy (3rd ed.), by Douglas Fisher, William G. Brozo, Nancy Frey, & Gay Ivey
  • Civil War, by Mark Millar
  • Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience, by Indre Viskontas
  • Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, & Strategies, by Kylene Beers & Bob Probst
  • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder
  • A Life in Parts, by Bryan Cranston
  • Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, by bell hooks

I’ve got two books in progress right now: the audiobook of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here is my commute buddy for the next week or so, and I’m just about done with Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele’s When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.

Next up in the hopper: Morrissey’s Autobiography, and I’m really excited about next month’s American release of the latest book by one of my favorite authors, Irvine Welsh’s Dead Men’s Trousers, a continuation of the events of the Trainspotting universe.

I suppose I like to share the books I’m reading in an effort to provide my fellow educators some suggestions for something valuable to read.  I know I rely heavily on suggestions from friends, colleagues, and social media connections, especially when it comes to books about education.

On a related note, I just wrapped up teaching my first undergraduate course in teaching literacy in the content area classroom, and one of the choice assignments my students could choose was to do a book talk and close reading activity on an education-related book of their choice.

I liked this assignment because it was a low-risk way for students to read something they might not otherwise have the opportunity (or inclination) to read and reflect a bit on why they liked it, and why we might like it too.  While I will definitely refine the parameters of the assignment if I teach the class again, it was interesting to hear my students share their takes on books like Teach Like a PirateReadicide, and Understanding by Design with their classmates.  These are books that I’ve only ever heard discussed through the lens of veteran teachers, so to hear pre-service teachers’ perspectives on them was a treat for me, and more importantly, will hopefully inspire their classmates to read them and consider their messages as well as they head into their own classrooms in the coming months and years.

Resolving to Set Goals for 2018

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I don’t buy into the idea of New Year’s resolutions.  I find January a completely arbitrary time to change behaviors; after all, if you feel strongly enough about a habit or behavior to want to change it, why wait til January 1?

BUT, despite my obnoxious killjoy contrarian leanings, I’m not entirely immune to popular sentiment and I can acknowledge that a calendar year is a perfectly serviceable frame of reference for goal-setting (certainly no more or less arbitrary than school years, no?).  While you won’t find me resolving to exercise regularly (I already lift weights 3-5x/week and run 2x/week, without fail, barring illness or injury) or read more (I read 67 books in 2017; more on these in an upcoming post), I did decide to set some concrete goals in those areas for the coming year.

At Runkeeper‘s insistence, I set a goal of running 300 miles in 2018.  I set similar goals in 2012 (as I recuperated from hip surgery) and 2013 (read about that here).  I readily acknowledge that 300 miles in a year is really not a huge milestone (it averages out to a little under 6 miles a week for 52 weeks), but as I mentioned above, my fitness priority is on weightlifting.  With only so many evenings in a week, if I’m lifting 3-5x/week, that leaves only so much time for running.

Goodreads issued its 8th annual Reading Challenge today, and, like Marty McFly being called a chicken, I had to take the bait.  I upped the ante a bit for 2018, my third year participating in the challenge.  I committed to reading 30 books this year, twice my 2017 commitment but still well within my reach.

So if I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, why did I commit to these two goals on New Year’s Day?  Because it’s not about New Year’s.  It’s about setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable (oh, you know the rest) in order to stimulate growth or progress.  I enjoy both reading and running and would likely engage in both activities with or without a specific goal, but it’s also an added bit of extrinsic motivation for when the intrinsic motivation is lacking a bit.

Along these lines, one of the 30 books I will read this year will be done along with my friends and colleagues at work.  A small group of high school assistant principals and instructional supervisors are reading The New American High School, the last book written by Ted Sizer and published posthumously.  Starting next week, we’ll be meeting weekly to discuss, and if it’s half as valuable as the last professional book club in which I participated, it’ll be time very well spent.

2017 Reading Challenge: Completed!

It’s been way too long since my last post, but life, work, and all the obligations that come and go betwixt and between have conspired to put the kibosh on my blogging mojo.  I’m taking advantage of a rare moment of clarity amidst the otherwise rushed holiday season to write the sequel to this post, in which I outlined my reading list for the first half of 2017.

As I write this post, I am juggling three books, which I anticipate will be the last three books I read in 2017.  If that ends up being the case, I will have finished the year having read 65 books (50 more than originally intended), by far the most I have ever read in a year as an adult.  I plan to put up a separate post in the coming weeks breaking down my 2017 reading habits by format as well as listing my favorites of the year, but for now, here are the books I’ve read/am reading since late summer, in reverse chronological order:

As always, I’m open to recommendations – if you’ve read anything good this year, please let me know!

So Far, So Good: My 2017 Reading Challenge

For the past few years, I’ve taken some space here each December and/or January to highlight the books I read or plan to read in a given year.  Among the many uses I’ve found for blogging in the last decade, goal-setting (and the public accountability thereof) has been one of the top ones for me.

In January, I set a goal of reading 15 books in 2017, 3 more over my goal of reading 12 in 2016.  As of this blog post in late July, a bit past the halfway mark for the year, I’ve read 34 books in multiple formats (e-book, audiobook, and traditional).  After a year or so of making do with my (otherwise excellent) public library’s relatively meager electronic offerings, I pulled the trigger on an Audible account this year, which really expanded my listening options.  Between Audible, the two public libraries of which I am a member, my regular rotation of favorite podcasts, and my music, I finally have enough at my disposal to make the hour-plus one-way commute – dare I say? – pleasant!

Of note: the books I read last year were fairly evenly distributed across formats (4 books, 5 e-books, 6 audiobooks).  This year, traditional books have constituted the majority of my reading (18), with audiobooks in second (10) and e-books shortly behind in third (6).

This balance will surely shift somewhat over the next five months, as I’ll be downloading audiobooks and e-books like crazy before we leave on our annual family vacation next month, but it’s interesting for me to pause my consumption and look at this breakdown and wonder why.  As I’ve previously mentioned, I don’t have an expressed preference over format (though I have found that I find it easier to let my mind wander with audiobooks than with books that require visual decoding).

If you’re interested in what I’ve been reading so far this year, here’s the list, in reverse order (most recently finished first), with links to Goodreads and authors’ Twitter accounts, where applicable:

I’m always on the lookout for book recommendations, so please feel free to leave me a rec in the comments, and let me know what you’re reading, for business, pleasure, both, or otherwise!  Also, please connect with me on Goodreads; I love seeing what teachers, administrators, and other smart people are reading.

#SLDunkTank Redux

A little more on Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank this month:

So ‘self-help’ really isn’t my preferred reading genre, but in addition to Dunk Tank, I highly recommend 10% Happier, by Dan Harris (yes, that Dan Harris).  Much of what Harris ultimately uncovers (spoiler alert) is that our own perceptions of situations factor greatly into how they impact us.  Not that it’s as easy as saying, “Don’t let anything bother you” – obviously that’s not possible, nor is it always the best way to handle conflict or problems.  What I take from it – and what I have been trying to do in my own life – is focus on responding to the things within my control to change, and trying to let the things beyond my control go as much as possible.  The last year or so that I’ve been practicing this – well, it hasn’t been 100% stress-free, but I stress about far fewer things and am stressed less often.  As Harris says, I’m definitely at least 10% happier than I was before.

Before coming to this realization, I had a definite tendency to perseverate, over things both within and not within my control.  Perhaps I’m getting more patient or mellow in my old age, but I’m finding it easier to look at situations more objectively than I used to and respond (not react) accordingly.  Coda & Jetter speak to this proactive approach throughout Dunk Tank, and one section of their book that I think deserves highlighting is their “Eight Tasks to Optimize Triumph Over Tragedy”.  They’re survival skills for when you do find yourself in the dunk tank, but they’re also pretty good habits to get into regardless.

NB: This list is presented under the assumption that there are not more serious underlying medical or psychological factors present.  Nothing on this list is a replacement for counseling, addiction treatment, and/or medication as deemed necessary by a professional.

List Your Gratitudes: It’s hard to be perpetually stressed, upset, or otherwise in a bad place if you can list – mentally or physically – the things you are grateful for in your life.  Periodically taking stock of the good things in your life is helpful for avoiding getting stuck in the mire and reframing your outlook.  Not professionally related, but our house has been on the market since January, and we haven’t had a lot of action.  I’m not happy about it, believe me; I could focus on that and stress about not making progress in the last 3 months, but I choose to focus on my gratitudes: if we don’t sell, I am grateful to live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood.  My kids go to great public schools, have friends they enjoy with minimal drama, and are involved in activities they love and that make them feel good about themselves.

Recognize Your Talents: “Self-talk” can be positive or negative.  In times of great stress, negative self-talk may come easier than positive, so it’s important to deliberately focus on positive self-talk.  Even if you have not had many concrete achievements in your position, Coda & Jetter say, focus on the contributions you make.  How do you make your workplace/home a little better every day?  Even if it has no tangible impact on the dunk tank situation you face, the worst-case scenario of this strategy is that you are in a good place to talk yourself up at your next job interview.

Create and Use Affirmations: A little bit of overlap with the previous section, but this is more concrete in terms of developing positive things to say about yourself and then reviewing them regularly.  It helps prevent you from falling into a perpetually negative mindset.  I recall speaking with another dad (teacher in another district) at our sons’ Cub Scout meeting at one point during my dunk tank experience.  He had asked me a simple question about work and I went off on a jag that probably made him feel uncomfortable.  He made a joke; I don’t remember the exact words but it was something to the effect of what a drag it was to talk to me.  He wasn’t wrong.

Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable Again: Sometimes we stay in bad work situations because leaving is scary and requires us to be vulnerable (opening up to rejection in the job hunt process; risking repercussions of having people in our current workplace find out).  Having been there myself, I get it, but it’s an important mental block to overcome.  Allowing yourself to be vulnerable puts you in a good position to either fight the necessary fight in your current workplace and not shrink and be a pushover, or break out of your comfort zone and move on to a potentially better situation.

Strategize Your Game Plan: So you’re in the dunk tank.  What are you going to do about it?  Specifically, I mean?  And what if that doesn’t work, then what?  What’s your Plan A, B, C, etc.?  At what point is enough enough and you need to eject?  What Coda & Jetter call “proactive paranoia” I’ve always referred to as “playing chess” – thinking about multiple possible courses of actions, outcomes, and responses.

Redefine Yourself: Does your game plan include any changes in how you view yourself professionally?  Take the opportunity to develop new goals.  If you are an assistant principal, maybe now’s the time to look for that principal position.  If you are a building administrator, what about a position in central office (or vice versa)?  It’s no coincidence that artists with the most staying power – Madonna, Bowie, Prince – have been able to successfully reinvent themselves (and please don’t read too much into the fact that two of those examples are now dead).

Develop Yourself into a Behind-The-Scenes Expert: Knowledge is power, so do some “deep dive” self-directed learning and learn more about topic or topics relevant to your field – it will either make you more confident, make you better able to navigate the dunk tank, or help you represent yourself well in an interview if/when you decide to leave.  The worst that can possibly happen is that you know more afterward than before you started, and it may even help with the recognizing talents/affirmation/positive self-talk.

Empower Others: Cultivate a Think-Tank for Your Colleagues: In the most basic terms, this involves you creating a support system for yourself where one doesn’t currently exist.  Coda & Jetter give the example of getting superintendents together from around the local area to share advice, information, and experiences, but you can do this regardless of your position.  Reach out to your counterparts in other districts and get together once a month – not as a “bitch session”, but to discuss current events, share interesting articles, and generally compare notes.  If you can’t bring yourself to do it locally (either within your district or outside of it), develop your PLN on Twitter, LinkedIn, or your preferred social media service.  It’s good for the soul to be able to rub a friendly elbow with people who do or have done your work and can commiserate, support, advise, and celebrate.