Our 2019 Summer Reading List


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You’re listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 40. 

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey Builders.

Welcome to another episode of School Leadership Reimagined. I’m your host Robyn Jackson and I am so excited about today’s episode! That’s because today is our annual SUMMER READING LIST! (applause!)

Each year, I go through my personal library and  pick the 5 books that have had the biggest impact on either my own practice, or has helped me better serve the Builders at Builders’ Lab or in my coaching groups.

I gotta tell ya, this year’s list was hard. I’ve read so many great books this year that it was really tough to narrow the list down to five books.

But, after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, I’m happy to share with you the 5 books OUTSIDE of education that you should be reading this summer.

Now why do I choose books OUTSIDE of education?

Because I think it’s important to get multiple perspectives. I am always reading business books, books on psychology, books about finance and culture, literature, biographies, how-to books, books on design, and on and on and on because I firmly believe that the widely you are read, the more creative you get at solving challenges. If we read only in our field, we can get a very myopic view of our challenges. If we read widely, we can find a nugget here, or an idea there that could literally be the key to whatever challenge we are facing.

So each year, on the first Wednesday in June, I release a list of the top 5 NON education books that have influenced my practice this year and this year’s list is a doozy.

I read some really great books this year and I think you’ll find at least one book on this list that you are going to love.

Before we dive in,

We’ve got two builder’s labs coming up this summer. The first is Builder’s Lab 1 happening June 24-26, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. The second Builder’s Lab is happening right outside of Washington, DC in Arlington, VA July 15-17, 2019. Both are great for principals, assistant principals, and instructional coaches.

To register for one or both intensives, go to mindstepsinc.com/builders-lab.

And now our 2019 summer reading list:

Book #1: Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace by Tim Vanderbloemen. 

I first heard this author on a podcast while I was waiting for a flight, and before the podcast was even over, I was on Amazon downloading the ebook. I finished most of it on my flight and I took pages of notes. Vanderbloemen does a great job of describing how to create what he calls a “contagious culture” where the right people will LOVE to work.

This isn’t a book about team building or good HR practices, this is a book that offers step-by-step guidance on how to attract, and retain the best people on your team. Vanderbloemen has a company that does recruiting and staffing for churches and non-profits, so in many ways, his perspective is not just pure business. He knows what it’s like to run a volunteer organization and the challenges that come with that. That’s why I really like his perspective because it’s not just about giving people financial incentives and other stuff that wouldn’t work in a school. Instead, he talks about how to think about the very heart and soul of your organization and build a culture that is so strong that it frankly outlasts you. Now to be honest, some of his advice is not going to relate to schools. Chapter 10 on compensation does not apply at all. But, chapters 6-7 on how to hire and onboard for culture had some great nuggets  advice. 

Perhaps my favorite part of the book was Section 1 (chapters 1-3) entitled “Great Teams Know Their Pulse.” In fact, I used this section earlier this year when I was working with a superintendent and his cabinet to help them define their district’s essential core values. Chapter 3 is called “Our Kind of Crazy” and it asks a question that I’ve been asking my clients ever since: “When you are functioning at your very best, what are you doing that is common to your organization, but uncommon in traditional schools or districts?”  I LOVE that question and it leads to some really deep, insightful conversations. Go ahead, try to answer that question right now, “When you are functioning at your very best, what are you doing that is common to your organization, but uncommon in traditional schools or districts?” When I’ve asked that question of some of my coaching clients, it has lead to them identifying what makes their school unique and has helped them redefine their mission, their vision, and their core values. It’s really powerful.

So, if you are looking to establish your core values this year, or you are looking to define your culture in general, this book can really help you do that.  

Book #2: The Art of Explanation: Making Your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand by Lee LeFever. 

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’ve done the hard work. You’ve developed a clear vision, mission, and set of core values for your school. What’s more, you have a really great plan to help you achieve your vision, mission, and core values-- but something is missing. People just don’t see the big idea and it’s keeping you from being successful.

Well according to LeFever, Your idea has an explanation problem and his book, the Art of Explanation will help you solve it. The book starts by explaining how explanation problems can get in the way of our being able to get other on board with our ideas. Then he lays out a few simple elements we can use to better explain our ideas and finally, he shows you how to create a presentation that will not only make your ideas clear, but will help you sell your ideas to others.

The entire time I was reading this book, I kept thinking, if superintendents used this at their back-to-school meetings or at their board meetings, they would get people excited about their vision and get people on board and if principals used this in their back-to-school speeches and their letters home to teachers and their presentations with parents, and their pitches to their superintendents, they would really sell their vision. So many good ideas die on the vine because the person presenting them didn’t use the strategies in this book.

So, if you have been working alongside us and building your vision, mission, and core values this year, or you plan to build them this summer at Builders’ Lab, you need to get this book so that you will know how to SELL those ideas this coming school year. And, if you are trying to convince your supervisor to support your ideas, you need this book as well. It’ works up and down the food chain.

Book #3: Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Maubourgne. 

Okay, this one is a bit of an unconventional choice, even for this list, and I debated a long time about including it. This book is really a book on strategy and how to find new markets in the marketplace and make your competition irrelevant. So what on earth does that have to do with education? Well, a lot actually.

You see, nowadays, we are competing for our students’ attention. With school choice, we are competing for our parents’ loyalty to our schools or districts, and we are competing for our staff members. We don’t like to admit it, but we are always competing for something.

So, how do you handle the competition, or even better, make the competition irrelevant? Well this book argues that in most cases, we try to do things better than our competition and that’s frankly foolish. The analogy they use is a red ocean. A red ocean is one where the competition is so fierce that things have gotten bloody. I know, I told you it was kinda gross but stay with me. If you see a red ocean, you already know that you are going to be fighting for your place there. What smart organizations do is that they go out and find a blue ocean where they can operate without competition. In other words, they make the competition irrelevant.

So how does this apply to education? Well they have a great tool in the book that I’ve nicknamed the levers. What they do is that they show you how you can map your competition and then figure out how to distinguish yourself. But you wanna know how I have been using this tool? I’ve been helping my clients map their OWN schools or districts and then look for their biggest opportunities to improve and let me tell you, it’s been really powerful. It opens up new opportunities to serve your students and it has helped us get really creative about how to solve some of the challenges we are facing.

If you read this book for nothing more than that, it would help you take an objective look at how you are currently doing school and how you can serve your staff and your students more effectively. And if you are interested in having me come and help you do an analysis like this for your school, give us a call at 1-888-565-8881 and ask to speak to John. He’ll take great care of you.

Book #4: The Road Less Stupid: Advice from the Chairman of the Board by Keith Cunningham. 

This book was recommended to me by one of the smartest entrepreneurs I know. He told me that it changed his life and so I had to read it.

First of all, the title was kinda cheeky and y’all know I love a cheeky title. Second, the subtitle of the book is “Avoiding the dumb mistakes that sabotage growth, profits, and business success.” 

I’ll be honest, when I first started reading this book, I thought, “okay, this is great for business but I don’t see anything that would relate to educators here,” but boy was I wrong.

You see, I meet a LOT of principals and superintendents who are overwhelmed, over-worked, and burned out. They operate at a 10 all the time and it’s not only killing their health, it is deteriorating their decision-making ability over time. By the time I got to Chapter 3, I thought, “They should read this book!” Why, because Cunningham insists on something called “thinking time” every day. Thinking time is a 30-45 minute block of uninterrupted time where you spend thinking.

I remember when I was about 19, I worked one summer for a small business. Every day, the owner who was a multi-millionaire would come into the company, go to his office, put his feet up on the window sill and stare out of the window for at least an hour. I thought, wow, that’s what it must feel like to be rich when all you have to do each day is go to work and stare out the window.

I remember telling my father, “I don’t know why Bill is so rich. All he does every day is stare out the window,” and my father corrected me. No, he said, he is not just staring out the window. He’s thinking. And every time he sits there and thinks, he figures out a way to make more money. That’s why he’s rich.

I never forgot that lesson. The problem with most of us in education is that we DON’T spend enough time thinking. What Cunningham does, is that he doesn’t just tell you to go somewhere and think, he actually lays out why and HOW you do that. In fact, he has 5 questions he uses to help you guide your thinking time. I won’t go into detail about those 5 questions now, you need to get the book, but basically the 5 questions force you to:

  • Find the unasked question
  • Separate the problem from the symptom
  • Check assumptions
  • Consider 2nd order consequences
  • Create the executable plan and identify resources.

It’s a sequence I return to time and time again when I am facing a challenge that seems insurmountable. I highly recommend this book.

Book #5: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it by Chris Voss. 

Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator and this book was really fun to read. He starts each chapter with a gripping story from the field and then shows you how to use the lessons he learned in your own negotiations. Yall, this is the book I wish I’d had when I was still school-based and dealing with angry parents, or hostile teachers, or investigating disciplinary issues with students. The tips in this book are GOLD!

He has chapters on how to spot liars which would be great when trying to get to the truth of a disciplinary issue with students. He has a chapter on how to create trust and empathy which would be great for dealing with parents. He has a chapter on how to calibrate questions to transform conflict into collaboration which would be great for working with resistant teachers or resolving issues with your teacher unions.

I love this book so much that I listened to it on a trip and immediately ordered a hard copy. I’ve already used so much of what I’ve learned to help some of my coaching clients deal with some of the tough situations they are facing at their schools.

I hope that you will find at least one book on this list that intrigues you  and read it this summer and use it to make the work you do more successful this coming school year. And, I’d love to hear what you are reading as well. Find the post about this episode on LinkedIn and share some of your favorite NON-education books in the comments.

Now as you know, this is the final episode for season 3 of the school leadership reimagined podcast.

We’ll be back with season four in the early fall.

In the meantime, make sure to check out past episodes of this podcast and catch the ones you may have missed or revisit some of your favorites. Plus, over the summer, I’ll be sneaking you are few bonus episodes where I share examples of Builders who are putting what they learned on this podcast into action and I’m even going to try to sneak you at least one session from Builder’s Lab so look out for that.

Whatever you do, make sure that you take some time to recharge over the summer. Even if it’s just an afternoon on the patio in the sun reading one of these fabulous books. You need to take some time to think, reflect, and plan for the upcoming year. Builders never work 24/7. In fact, the whole point of being a builder is to stop wasting time on doing work that doesn’t matter so that you can free yourself up to do work that really, truely, does matter.

As you plan for next year, I want to challenge you to take a good hard look at the work you did this year and ask yourself this question:

Did I make a difference?

If the answer if no, or if you’re not sure, or even if the answer is “I hope so,” then that’s not enough. You worked really hard this year. You deserve to make a difference.

So if you’re tired of working hard and not seeing HUGE gains each year. If you are tired of being tired, of giving all you’ve got, and people not appreciating it, if you are frustrated because you started the year with all these amazing plans and now, at the end of the year, you look back and realize that you didn’t accomplish nearly enough, if you’re feeling like you’re losing your passion and that a lot of what you put in your strategic plans each year is there because you feel like you have to put it there and not because it is really what excites you, then I want to invite you to Builder’s Lab.

You see at Builders’ Lab, I’m not going to waste your time showing you how to make tiny little improvements to your school this year. And I’m not going to insult you by giving you a bunch of tips and strategies and tweaks that maybe, might work. No. When you come to Builder’s Lab, you are going to create a plan for the year that you can get excited about. In fact, I won’t let you stop until I see your face light up with a plan that works for you.

And here’s the thing. I’m not going to just send you home with a plan.

Oh no. We have an implementation lab the last day so that you can actually start putting your plan into action before you leave. Imagine coming home from Builder’s Lab with something already accomplished! So, before we go for the summer, I want to invite you to join me at Builder’s Lab.

It’s not too late to register. You still have time. Simply go to mindstepsinc.com/builder-lab and pick the date and location that works best for you. Then come join me this summer where you can discover how to take on next year #LikeABuilder

All right. As I do every week, don't forget to connect on linkedin.

That's where you can ask me questions or follow up with a message on Twitter

Find me at Robyn Jackson on Linkedin and @Robyn_mindsteps on Twitter and let's connect. 

And then I would love for you to share this podcast with at least one other person this week. Especially if you've got something valuable out of it. So would you mind sharing this podcast with at least one other person? Would you do me that favor to share?

Find somebody who's not already listening to this podcast and share it with them. And then if you're so inclined, I'd love it if you could give me a review on iTunes just because it gives me feedback and helps other people find the podcast.

It's spreads the fire about this buildership movement that we're all a part of, not only because our kids deserve it, but because we deserve to be something better than leaders. We deserve to be builders. That's how we reignite our own passion for this work. And that's how we make a bigger difference.

I hope you'll join me next time.

Bye for now. See you next time. 

Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit https://schoolleadershipreimagined.com/

School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build master teachers.