Friday, November 29, 2013

8 Books That Changed My Work in Education

This school year I have been enjoying the best work of my career.

My job change from high school math teacher to an evolving position of K-12 Instructional Technology Coordinator has been a rewarding time for me. I have been excited to explore more creative opportunities in and out of the classroom, with students and adults. I am more inspired and I get to pass that along to other teachers and students who express gratitude for my work.

In this time of transition I've learned so much from the great educators and others that I have met, but I also gained much from books I have read.  The ones that impacted me the most are not the ones I usually see mentioned by other teachers.

So here's the list of eight books that came along at the perfect time for me. They made a significant difference in how I see education, others or myself. Each link for the title is to a page on for an edition of the book.

Disrupting Class - Though a lot of the points are now easily observed, this book opened my eyes to how technology makes things fit. In particular, it describes how online learning can allow us to reach every learner at the point he or she needs to learn. It gave me a vision and a sense of urgency for what I could accomplish for students. One of the co-authors created Sophia, an online learning portal patterned after the model envisioned in the book.

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning - I read this book as one of the final courses in my graduate program. The author fascinated me by expanding my view of literacy. Some of his Learning Principles still influence my work on a regular basis. My final project for the class was praised by my professor and I was greatly encouraged that I was onto something important.

Searching for God Knows What - This book, from Christian author Donald Miller, probably doesn't seem to fit well with the others. Among other things, it deals with our tendency to see life as a competition when it's really about fostering relationships. I read it the summer before I started working in all buildings across my district. I can't imagine a better book for preparing me.for meeting so many new colleagues and having to lead them. If you're not opposed to writing from a distinctly Christian perspective, I strongly recommend this book as Miller's best. It impacted my thinking in ways beyond the scope of this post.

Steal Like an Artist - This is a quick read and I love coming back to it from time to time. Probably the most important lessons for me are presented as well in other books below. Still, this one excited me about art. In relating to the author on a few points, it helped me see myself better as an artist and writer. The premise of writing advice to oneself is also a fascinating idea.

Storyline - Here's another one from Donald Miller. This is a short book based on his Storyline conferences. It is also more of a workbook, guiding the reader through the process of viewing his or her life in terms of a story. It was a painful experience to work through this, in all honesty, but the end result proved to be healing. This, along with the next three books, really opened the door for personal expression and art in my work. As promised, it did clarify my vision and purpose. Here's my post about the book and my plans for classroom activities based on the idea of viewing our lives as stories. I also created this game as an introduction for a class.

The Freedom Writers Diary - I read a lot about Erin Gruell and watched several videos online about her work. I don't remember whether it was really this book that made the difference or if it was just her story. Still, it's a good place to start. It reminded me of the importance of tying the content to the students' lives through personal, reflective writing. I can attest that students do generally enjoy it. Not only does it bring the class content to life, but it helps them find a voice and a place in their world.

Poke the Box - I read this short book in the summer of 2012 and I can't believe how it recharged my enthusiasm. The subtitle asks when was the last time you did something for the first time? I got hooked on trying new things and I'm indebted to Seth Godin for life for the learning experiences.

The Icarus Deception - I won this one (also from Seth Godin) on Jeremy Statton's blog. There were stretches of the book that I found hard to get through and I almost didn't finish it at one point.  I'm glad I did because Godin's big picture definition of art and artists helped me find words for what I was discovering in the classroom.  You can see its influences in my posts about engaging students through meaningful contributions and the opportunities technology and connections bring us now (not just years down the road in a career).

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