Five Books for Teachers

That are not about teaching

If you are anything like me, then you are no doubt a busy teacher, but one thing that is essential to being a successful teacher and, if you believe Warren Buffet, a successful businessman, is reading a lot and reading widely. Whether you are an English Language teacher, a school teacher, a lecturer or something in between, having a broad general knowledge is as important as having a deep specialist knowledge of your subject matter. The problem is that with the pressures and workload of the job it is often difficult to know what to read outside of your main subject area, let alone find the time to discover new reading material. So I would like to suggest some books that could provide you with some new ideas, inspiration and guidance to take your teaching and your knowledge base to a new level.

Five Books

Creative Confidence David Kelley

If you don’t know anything about the design thinking revolution then there is no better place to start than here. Written by David Kelley the founder of world renown design firm IDEO, it provides a good foundation in how you can use design thinking to build your creative confidence. This is not a book for designers, it is a book about an empathetic design process, and when you stop to think about it, almost everything we do is “designed”. One of the principles of design thinking is working with and for the end users, which while seemingly so obvious is surprisingly lacking in a large number of products and services. As teachers, Learner Experience is something we should probably think much more about. You can apply the ideas in this book to improve almost anything on any scale, from lesson plans, to classroom layout, to the design of a whole school, it is even something you could use with your learners. Design thinking also teaches us to fail and learn from our mistakes through constant prototyping, evaluation and iteration. This might seem threatening but it’s a great place to be, because we are all learning together and having fun doing it.

Additional resources: Design Thinking For Educators; David Kelley at TED

Mindset Carol Dweck

If design thinking is the practice then Carol Dweck’s influential research is the theory that explains why iteration and prototyping is so effective - it is the growth mindset in action. You have probably heard the word mindset countless times in recent years and Dweck’s work is often cited, but it’s worthwhile going to the source to get the best picture. It is, by Dweck’s own admission, a simplified dichotomy between having a fixed mindset, the belief that you can’t change, and the growth mindset, the belief that you can improve with effort, but a useful one nonetheless. The book is filled with anecdotes and stories across domains from sports to parenting, that highlight the positive impacts of having a growth mindset and the negative impacts of having a fixed mindset. It will be a challenge and encouragement to your own beliefs about success, improvement, talent and hard work, and perhaps some of Dweck’s advice initially seems counter-intuitive, but ultimately it’s the growth mindset we should be teaching our learners by imparting a passion for learning and improvement. And frankly, if you are a teacher and you don’t believe in helping individuals grow you are in the wrong business.

Additional resources: Carol Dweck at TED

How We Learn Benedict Carey

It sometimes feels like teaching and education lack a firm scientific basis, and remain detached from the still mysterious cognitive ways in which we learn. Indeed there has been a lot of misleading pseudo-science in education (learner styles anyone?) that do more harm than good. Moreover what genuine scientific research there is seems to be little practiced inside of most educational institutions. Carey’s book seeks to address this problem and provides an interesting overview of the ways in which we actually learn things. Although the focus is partly on memory - the easiest thing to scrutinize under the metaphorical microscope - there are lots of tips that could be applied to a variety of contexts to improve students retention and recall of information. Learning is certainly not all about memorizing things and you should certainly question the educational paradigm that relies wholly on that, but knowing how to study and use your brain to the best of it’s capacity is going to see vast improvements in students or your own performance in any domain - languages, music, sport. And yes of course, as we all know, cramming doesn’t work - Carey explains why.

Find Your Element Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson is revered, and in some quarters reviled, for his attempts to change education. He is a champion of moving schools away from a slim focus on test scores and instead making them more creative, by helping students to be creative thinkers. Although this book doesn’t address education directly, it does express Robinson’s desire to see each individual reach their own unique potential, something, he believes, most schools don’t allow people to do. To be honest you will probably find this book rather self-helpy, but despite mentioning learner styles (Argghh!?!), there are some useful ideas which provide some aspiration and inspiration, especially as we find education moving more and more towards individualization. The central aim of the book is to help you discover what you most want to do, love to do and are maybe meant to do; the thing where you are "in your element” - hence the title. Again a challenge to us as teachers - are you in your element? - but as applied to our learners, surely our job is help them discover their “element” not just get them all to pass the same tests. This book might help you find some ways to do that.

Additional resources: Ken Robinson at TED

How to be a productivity Ninja Graham Allcott

These days everyone is talking about productivity and being more productive, and as we all know, teachers have a lot of things to manage and get done. There are any number of books and systems out there to assist you, but when I went searching for a book to help me this was the one I found - perhaps it was the Ninja thing that got me! Despite the slightly serendipitous discovery, I do highly recommend it. It covers all the bases in getting you more organized and productive, from working out how to manage your attention, to organizing your inbox, overcoming resistance and helping you develop checklists to keep on track with your projects and tasks. It’s very practical and Allcott’s system can be set up with Evernote, a to-do-list app, and/or a notebook or two - I seem to be using a combination of all three - and is great for trying to take a more mindful, zen-like approach to task management. What busy teachers doesn't need that.

A version of this post was orginally published on the triplog at, in November 2016.

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