It happens at the end of every school year.
Then school communicators begin spreading the word about the dreaded “summer slide” in reading skills and encourage parents and children to schedule reading time together and visit their local library early and often.
Now with this uptick in leisure hours, it’s time to ask yourself how you plan to indulge your own love of learning and language?
In other words, are YOU reading?
I reached out to a host of SCN friends to invite them to share a couple of their favorite books — one fiction and one nonfiction.
Several sent regrets. They love to read, they said, but the whirlwind days of school communicators leaves them, regretfully, with little time for reading that’s not directly job related.
I get that.
Demands on a school communicator’s time can be crushing, especially right now.
But look over these contributions and use them to guard against totally crowding reading out of your schedule.
It’s a great way to expose yourself to ideas with the power to improve lives — especially your own.
And don’t we all love a good story?
Fiction: “Walter the Farting Dog” by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray. It’s important not to take ourselves too seriously. And, it’s comforting to know that — even if you stink up the joint once in awhile — you can still be a hero.
Nonfiction: “America’s Schools at a Turning Point, And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future” by Corky O’Callaghan. This book challenges superintendents to become more courageous and tell the truth about how our country is 1) Confusing innovation with entrepreneurship, 2) How current legislative actions are eroding the relevance of public education, and 3) Blaming educators for the issues instead of turning to them for the solutions.
Fiction: “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See. A sweeping tale of two lifelong friends in 19th Century China. This book completely captivated me from beginning to end. Complex but relatable characters are absolutely endearing, and the plot never disappoints. As a bonus, See is very engaged in Twitter and is quick to tweet with readers!
Nonfiction: “Why Should the Boss Listen to You” by Jim Lukascewski. You’ve probably heard of this one before, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. Outlining seven disciplines of a strategic advisor, he frames his insights into tips and tactics that can be applied immediately. This one both reinforced and strengthened my relationship with and value to two different superintendents.
Fiction: “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd. I love history and this book intertwines the topics of abolition, the women’s movement, and relationships between slaves and slave-owners.
Non-fiction: “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott. An oldie but goodie and a great reminder that when we improve our communication methods we build bridges of understanding and enrich our conversations.
Fiction: “Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins. Suspenseful and not school related at all!
Non-Fiction: “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon. This book is all about developing a culture of positive engagement between yourself and your colleagues. The Energy Bus gives you a language to have those difficult conversations including how to get rid of “energy vampires” –those co-workers who are not pulling their weight or have their own personal agenda that is sabotaging the mission of the organization.
Fiction: “The Eyes of the Dragon” by Stephen King. This is not the normal Stephen King fare as far as being violent, disturbing, etc. The story is totally captivating and you will learn nothing from it — a great combination for beach reading!
Non-fiction: “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. This is another book about a failed attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, start to finish, is definitely not a drive-by. It is also being produced on the big screen (starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte) and will be released this fall. You need to read this book before watching the movie.
SUSAN K. MACIAK
Fiction: “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio is an eye-opening, must-read for all educators and other people who work with children. It’s a fictional tale told from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy born with multiple birth defects that left his face (even after many surgeries) extremely odd-looking and ugly to others. His loving family decides to send him to school for the first time in fifth grade, where he meets stares, glares and other negative reactions from most of his classmates, but he survives it all to excel and earn the admiration of educators and peers.
Nonfiction: “Add to Your Edge: 12 Ways to Excel in the 21st Century” by Susan K. Maciak touches on several important ways that business practices, education and career paths have been turned upside down in recent years. Readers get an edge on how to cope with change at work and in the job market in today’s challenging times. Critical information for anyone who wants to be on the cutting-edge of their career.
Fiction: “The Hunger Games Trilogy.” I’ve recently completed this trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay) hoping to better understand the attitudes of today’s youth and the total sense of disengagement many have in our political system.
New Nonfiction: “Student Voice: The Instrument of Change” by Russell J. Quaglia and Michael J. Corso. This book describes the power of the student voice and engagement in the education process. Our own student research at Kent ISD tells me that student engagement is the single most powerful tool left unused in our toolbox. It can drive student achievement and massive change in the system if we were to correctly harness it. If we allow students to remain actively disengaged, as many are, according to the annual Gallup Student Poll, we’ll continue to suffer poor test scores, behavioral issues and outside intervention seeking to improve school and student performance. If we inspire students, their voice will drive the change we need within our schools and silence those outside our system through their enthusiasm for learning.
Old Nonfiction: “Words that Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear” by Dr. Frank Luntz. Researcher, political strategist and advisor Luntz for years has been advising politicians and consultants, primarily Republicans, on the words they use to describe issues and policies they’d like to change. Research shows most people in this country support a woman’s right to choose, but the Pro-Life movement continues to limit choice in state after state. The nation’s founders fought for inheritance taxes to thwart the aristocracy that so dominated the politics of European nations. Yet, this populist tool intended to create a meritocracy, a society in which those who earn their way to the top, was dubbed the “death tax” by Luntz and is being struck down in state after state. We in the public schools use language that few people understand and most believe is intended to establish an air of authority to deflect or deny their questions and concerns for their children’s education. We’d all do well to better understand what people actually hear, and how they react to it, when we craft our messages.
Fiction: “The Thief,” the first book in The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. I have a signed card from the author sitting on my nightstand with a (well-worn) stack of the books. The Thief is one of those books that sneaks up on you — you have no idea why everyone raves about it until you finish it. Smart, layered, likable characters with lots of political intrigue and a bit of fantasy mixed in. Books two and three in the series are even better, and the audiobook narrated by Jeff Woodman is to-die-for.
Nonfiction: “Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business” by Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman. It’s super relevant, super practical and easy to read — great for communicators looking to work smarter not harder. I actually use it in my Writing for PR Class at Michigan State University.
Fiction: ”Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis. This has always been a favorite book of mine, but each time I read it I see something new and different that I didn’t catch before because of where I am in life and what experiences I have had.
Nonfiction: “Think Like A Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. This is a book that really caused me to look outside of how I think or what I think to be true on issues. It really encouraged me to look for the root cause of the issue, and not just the symptoms of the problem.
AND HERE ARE TWO FROM ME!
Fiction: “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach. Full disclosure: I love the game of baseball and believe it can be a metaphor for the human condition. This is literary baseball fiction at its best, which means that it is about more than the game on the field. A savant of the shortstop position, on the brink of setting a record for errorless games, has a throw to first base go awry, injuring a teammate in the dugout. He completely loses his edge, causing others connected to his college team to question and refocus their own talents and ambitions.
Nonfiction: “The Death and Live of the Great American School System” by Diane Ravitch. Sometimes a book resonates because it puts together something you’ve been puzzling over. This book did that for me in 2010. By that point I had been in the trenches for 20 years covering various attempts to “reform” public education for a daily newspaper. Accountability for progress and school choice seemed like decent avenues for improving schools initially, but by 2010 serious shortcomings were heartbreakingly obvious. Ravitch, who helped develop No Child Left Behind, deconstructs why these reform efforts haven’t worked. She contends that they are, in fact, undermining public education. And she offers some alternative ideas for preserving and improving schools.
Thank you, friends! Happy summer reading!