Five Books    

Five Books That Every Educator Should Read  

I have been in the education field for a long time, and have come across many  books over the years that I have said “Wow! Every educator ought to read this”. Many of these books seem to be timeless, providing meaningful insight into teaching, learning, schooling, etc.

Given the amount of books that have been written about education, it is therefore very difficult to narrow the list down to a “top five”. But I will try.

I have several criteria that I will use for this. One is that the books were published fairly recently, let’s say within the last ten years. There are many classics that I think every educator should be familiar with (e.g. Dewey, Bloom, etc.) but these are not included on this list. Second, they should be very readable (not read like a textbook). Third, they should incorporate and connect both theory and illustrate practice through examples and stories. Fourth, each book should provide meaningful perspectives and insights into education today, and have relevance to teaching and learning in the 21st century. And fifth, each book should provide insights into educational theory and practice for ALL educators, including superintendents, principals, teachers, and even parents. 

So here goes. Here is my list of favorites, with some explanation as to why the book is included (in alphabetical order):

Ron Berger (2003). An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann publishers.

Ron Berger, an elementary teacher in New Hampshire and an educational presenter and speaker, shows us a way to think about excellence and educational practice that is very different from the test score mentality that exists in today’s educational world. His is a focus on, among other things, a framework that builds community, creates an ethic of excellence, focuses on excellence and craftsmanship in student work, and sees teaching as a calling. A very worthwhile  book and good read. 

Michael Fullan (2008). The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help their organizations survive and thrive. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

This relatively small, well-written book about the change process doesn’t focus on the typical characteristics of what makes change happen. Fullan discusses things like love your employees, connecting peers with purpose, capacity building, building a connection between learning and work, being transparent about results and process, and creating a learning system. Although the book focuses on leadership and organizations, the principles are also useful for teachers and classrooms as well. 

Doug Lemov (2010). Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, and Doug Lemov (2012). Teach Like a Champion Field Guide: A Practical Resource to Make the 49 Techniques Your Own. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

These two interrelated books are based on observations and visits Doug Lemov made to teachers identified by principals and others to be excellent. So the results are “data driven”, and therefore very powerful. The titles would seem at first glance to indicate that the books consist of a set of disjointed teaching techniques that every teacher should implement. In reality, the 49 specific techniques are organized by Lemov into meaningful conceptual frameworks that highlight important areas of instruction: setting high academic expectations, planning to ensure academic achievement, structuring and delivering lessons, engaging students, creating a strong classroom culture, setting and maintaining high behavioral expectations, building character and trust, improving pacing, challenging students to think critically, and helping students get the most out of reading. I believe Lemov has got most of the categories right. The techniques are interesting as well – for example, those that examine how to make sure that all students opt in to learning. The techniques he discovered through his research are just the tip of the iceberg in telling us how to create successful classrooms. His is a powerful framework to build upon for the future, and I hope others take his lead and use his research framework to continue to study teachers and schools of excellence.

Dennis Littky (2004). The Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Business. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

This book not only influenced my way of thinking about education, but also has influenced the thinking of thousands of educators who are struggling to motivate students in a 21st century world. Starting with “the real goals of education”, Littky provides a very different way of viewing education, personalizing it, and getting students to be passionate about learning. A very powerful and different way to approach education that has proven to be successful in schools across the country. 

Tony Wagner (2008). The Global Achievement Gap. New York, NY: Basic Books.

This wonderful book examines the world of the 21st century and its implications for the future of work, teaching and learning.  His “seven survival skills” are not even touched upon in most schools (a scary thought). The book also highlights a number of schools that are meeting the challenges of the post-industrial world with a different approach to education.


So this is my personal list of five. Let’s start a dialogue about this. Take a few minutes to comment  on these five– Do you have a favorite that you would add? How would you modify this list? What would your list look like? Or make any comments about the selected books. Or write a list of your own.