Five Favorite Reads For Your Professional Bookshelf

I’m always looking for a good book about education — one that can put words to the many feelings that are part of this work, that sparks my thinking and creativity for my teaching, and that challenges me and opens my mind to see my work in new ways. I was fortunate to come across a number of just such books last year, and here are five favorites from 2015.

In no particular order:

1. Teaching As a Subversive Activity

“There can be no significant innovation in education that does not have at its center the attitude of teachers, and it is an illusion to think otherwise.”

An oldTeaching As A Subversive Activityie but a goodie, this book, first published over 35 years ago, is strikingly relevant today. Observing the pace at which the world was changing even in the sixties, authors Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner argue that the first priority of schooling is to help students learn how to learn, because we cannot possibly teach a single set of skills to sustain a career. Additionally, they reject the simplistic preparations for career, which dominate so much education policy conversation at present, in favor of equipping students with the critical thinking and “crap detecting” necessary to subvert the world they enter in order to create a better one. How teachers go about that work found me questioning many of my classroom assumptions and re-envisioning the role of inquiry and student voice in my classroom.

2. This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education

“Yes, I’ve had things stolen. Yes, I’ve got upset, furious, enraged in front of my students. Yes, I still have to work within the dimensions given to me. Yes, I’ve learned to work with other adults I don’t agree with. Yes, some of my kids didn’t do well academically. Yes, I still want to teach.”

This is Not A TestIf you’re reading this, and somehow have not become an avid reader of author Jose Vilson’s blog, stop here and go. Vilson’s trenchant voice is, to my mind, one of the most important that we have in education today. He writes with a style of heart, humility, and courage that calls on all of us to be better, not only for the students in front of us, but in reforming a system still far too separate and too unequal. This is Not a Test is an autobiography tracing Vilson’s journey from humble beginnings through the trials, triumphs, and ongoing struggle of urban education and advocacy for students of color everywhere.

Throughout the coverage of his teaching career, there is a combination of comforting humility about how hard it is to do the work well, and the challenging realism about the struggle to, and necessity that we, act to improve school systems. He does this with an amazing ability to bring you into the classroom to hear students’ voices and their call for us all to be better. I am a better teacher for reading Vilson’s work, but I am also a better, more conscientious person because of it, too.

3. Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge

“Never think of technology without worrying about teachers and mentors. It is teachers with technology who will make the difference.”

StratosphereIf you’re looking for an optimistic read about the future of education, I suggest you pick up this slim, engaging read from author Michael Fullan. The three legs of pedagogy, technology, and change knowledge are what Fullan believes will support a future of learning that is irresistibly engaging, elegantly efficient, technologically ubiquitous, and steeped in real-life problem solving.

There’s a great deal I like about Fullan’s perspective in Stratosphere. He acknowledges the necessity of the teacher and equipping the teacher with the ability to harness technology to purposefully serve learning. He also recognizes the importance of change management from school leadership. His focus on the qualities of learning to be exploratory, grounded in real-world application and drive, are all very appealing. But they are also vague. What is not in Stratosphere is much practical articulation of the “new pedagogy” in the classroom. That said, the rest is so compelling that it’s driven me to pursue that new pedagogy for myself.

4. Building School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need

“When you have a vision for what a school can be, it has to permeate every pore of the school. Every process, every interaction, every system needs to be held to that process.”


One Building School 2.0of the most remarkable experiences of my career was visiting Science Leadership Academy (SLA) as part of attending EduCon, hosted at the school in Philadelphia. At a time when so many are frustrated by fighting against an entrenched system, SLA stands as a beacon of possibility when a group of committed faculty come together to start a school around a shared vision and commit to core beliefs, build a foundation of care, and enact processes for shared decision making.

In Building School 2.0, authors Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of SLA, and Zac Chase, a former SLA teacher, explore their beliefs about school and learning through 95 theses. The benefit of these 2-3 page explorations of the tenets that came to life at SLA, is that the reader gets a holistic picture of the many facets of their educational approach. The drawback is that I was, at times, left wanting more. And if you have to have a drawback, I suppose that’s a good one. This is a smart, bold, thoughtful book that would benefit and spur the thinking of educators at all levels of school systems.

Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase will be leading a #TchLive Twitter chat about Building School 2.0 on Thursday, March 31. Teaching Channel, in conjunction with the book’s publisher, Wiley, is offering a 30% discount so you can buy the book and read it ahead of the chat. Use the coupon code BUILD at checkout.

5. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life

“As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together.”

The Courage to TeachReading The Courage to Teach for the first time was akin to discovering someone had committed an inception into my teaching soul. There they found the words to communicate the (sometimes conflicting) feelings of love, vulnerability, and fear that I experience in the core of who I am as a teacher, but find so hard to articulate.

For me, The Courage to Teach was a cathartic read. Though author Parker Palmer has worked predominantly in higher education, the truths laced throughout spoke to my experiences at the high school level, and I would suspect would speak to any teacher. It isn’t just that Palmer found the words to express the experiences unique to the dynamics of teaching, but that he also offered so much encouragement throughout. When teaching gets hard, when students are difficult, when the struggle is real, I find myself pulling this off the shelf and rereading my highlights. And there I rediscover a reserve of compassion, patience, and empathy.

Sean McComb teaches English at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in the Baltimore County Public Schools System. Sean also supports the development of teaching and learning for Baltimore County’s STAT Initiative. He is affiliated with the Maryland Writing ProjectNCTELearning ForwardNational Network of State Teachers of the Year, and ISTE. Sean is the 2014 National Teacher of the Year and is a Teaching Channel Laureate. Connect with Sean on Twitter: @Mr_McComb.

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