December 25, 2018

Leading a school district or school is a unique leadership challenge. An education leader must use leadership principles from the business and non-profit sectors while at the same time tracking where the trends in society will take education in the future. I humbly submit to you 5 books that will help education leaders do this while leading their organizations in 2019. The recommendations are based on books that I used to help lead school districts and the education service agency where I now work. I believe you will find this an eclectic list. I will put these in order of importance.

Disrupting Class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson and  is becoming a semi-classic in my opinion. The authors place context around the world of education (and learning) based on technological shifts in society. I used this book to force the leadership team in the districts that I worked in to start thinking outside the box. Disrupting Class forces the education leader to view “technology” not as a mere tool to become more efficient in offering curriculum or instructional options. Rather, leaders in the education field must view technology in a more macro way. Specifically, communication technologies are developing so fast and becoming so ubiquitous that they will change the foundation of how we deliver education. If education leaders do not pay attention to these trends then what we take for granted about how education is delivered will become obsolete. Do students need to “report” to a building to learn? How, when and why should students be assessed? Why is it not required that all teachers virtualize their instruction? These are questions that I grappled with when I read (and reread) this book and I look forward to hearing what questions you and your team grapple with. Please leave the questions you developed in the comment section for this blog post.

The Moral Imperative of School Leadership by Michael Fullan is a book that helps ground education leaders in their practice. I used this as a book study in every different stop along my education leader journey (2 school districts and an ESA). The one point that continually brings me back to this book concerns responsibility. In other words, who are you ultimately responsible to help when you become an education leader. Here is how I answer my own question (based on my reading of the book). An education leader is responsible for their school, their school district, their community and finally society at large (don’t forget the last two). We cannot forget that the work we are doing as education leaders is more than the technical aspects of policy, procedures and evaluation. We are engaged in shaping the society as a whole. I often forget this as I become enamored with becoming a technician and rereading this book helps me keep me focused on the true purpose of our work.

Inevitable, mass customized learning: Learning in the age of empowerment by Chuck Schwahn and Bea McGarvey is a book that offers a different operating system (OS) for education. Placing the learner uncompromisingly at the center of every decision an education leader makes creates an OS that allows for mass customization. Currently businesses like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, etc create customer experiences that are customized for every individual. They have created an OS where the individual has products and services delivered to them based on their individual need. Education can do the same thing for learners. By encouraging educators to change the old, industrial-aged operating system, this book offers hope for the future of education by incorporating dignity into a new OS. I have used this book to transform the thinking in organizations. This book is one that will “blow you away”. To be totally transparent, I have become friends with the authors after I read (and shared) the book and their insights and passion to help schools is inspiring.

Growth Mindset, the new psychology of success: How we can learn to fulfill our potential by Carol Dweck will change the way you interact with students, colleagues and your family. I will not give a book report because most educators should be familiar with Dweck’s work and growth versus fixed mindsets (if you’re not, stop reading this blog post now and go order the book ASAP). I have used the book to help lead a discussion about expectations in our organization. Expectations for how we interact with students as well as expectations for how we interact with each other as educators. Ultimately, this is a hopeful book that brings clarity to education.

The last recommendation is actually 2 books. Dewey: A reflection on the inevitible by Tom Butler and Duff Rearick and Experience and Education by John Dewey. Full disclosure, a colleague and I wrote the first book, while the second book is the most “approachable” book by John Dewey. The reason we wrote our book was because we both felt that John Dewey’s Experience and Education is foundational for education leaders. We were recommending the book so much that we decided to write a book about the book. Our book takes each chapter in Experience and Education and puts a modern day “education leadership” spin on it. The principles Dewey wrote about in 1938 are as relevant today as they were 80 years ago. I specifically like the discussion about “either-or”. How many times have you been in a conversation where you have to defend an education program or idea against the charge that goes something like this, “If you believe this, then you cannot believe in that”. Creating false dichotomies is one way that prevents education leaders from creating clarity in their own ideas and actions. My co-author, Duff Rearick, and I believe that education leaders must consciously create a time in their day to think of bigger questions of education and society. Our book is an attempt to help leaders do just that. Please leave any thoughts or questions about this book selection in the comment section!

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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