25 Books Every Educator Should Read
Education is changing in a way we have not seen since the invention of the printing press. New technologies make more information immediately available than ever before. We are teaching more students at every level of education. These changes bring opportunities. They also bring new challenges while making old challenges worse. But education has never been more important to our society.
Here is a list of 25 books no educator should be without. Many of them address the new challenges we face. They make clear the unique and powerful opportunities that come along with those challenges. Others reveal basic and timeless insights into the art of education. These basic insights are more important than ever.
1. The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child
by Donalyn Miller
Donalyn Miller teaches the 6th grade and her articles addressing the teaching of reading have been widely published. Her experience teaching children how to read has uncovered tricks and skills able to make anyone a life long reader.
Although aimed at those who teach children, her insights into the development of a love of reading are as valuable to a college or high-school educator struggling with resistance to reading in their students as it is for those teaching first time readers.
2. Teaching to Transgress
by Bell Hooks
bell hooks is a widely publish and respected author, cultural critical and English professor. In Teaching to Transgress she shares her struggles and strategies for teaching classes that change students’ lives rather than simply providing them with knowledge or skills.
From the topic of engaging the full richness of a multicultural classroom to running a class students love for its own sake rather than for the sake of a degree, hooks’ book offers techniques and inspiration valuable for all educators.
3. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivation Imagination for a World of Constant Change
by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown
Thomas and Brown are both top researchers focused on the role technology plays in social change and learning. In this book they address the common question of how education can hope to keep up with the ever-increasing rate of social and technological development and change.
Their answer is to provide a model of education that embraces change as its driving force. This is an education focused on innovation, play and the cultivation of imagination.
It is not possible for education to be constantly in tune with every development in our world, and so it should teach students how to adapt and invent as rapidly and flexibly as the society around them does.
4. This Book is Not Required: An Emotional Survival Manual for Students
by Inge Bell
This book by Inge Bell allows us to see what a great sociologist can uncover when she turns her professional eye upon college life. Yes, it is aimed specifically at college students, but it is a book all educators need. Have you ever wondered why we procrastinate?
Could you benefit from a clearer sense of what students see when they look at teachers?
Then this book is a necessary addition to your library.
5. Writing for Real: Strategies for Engaging Adolescent Writers
by Ross M. Burkhardt
Burkhardt aims his book at middle level education but the problems it addresses are anything but local. He suggests that the key to getting students to write well is to connect their writing to their real world concerns. How do we make writing assignments meaningful tasks and not arbitrary demands?
This book is a hands-on guide full of concrete examples, strategies, and assignments that can be adapted to any level of education.
6. The Psychology of Intelligence
by Jean Piaget
Piaget was declared the “best psychologist of the twentieth century” by Psychology Today and is one of the founding figures in developmental psychology. His works on child development and education are still definitive for the topics. In The Psychology of Intelligence he explains the mental mechanisms at work in the process of education and the development of intelligence over time.
This is a priceless window into the most basic mental mechanisms of education.
7. The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Life Long Resilience
by Martin E. P. Seligman
Following the psychological theme from Piaget we have Seligman’s groundbreaking work on how the way we education children affects not only their knowledge and skill-set but also their psychological make up.
Education offers us a model for how to deal with the world, and that in turn involves a sense of what we can and cannot accomplish as well as what we should and should not expect. As Seligman suggests, offering the right attitude and vision of the world from the beginning can help a mind stay healthy throughout life.
These are lessons that can be as valuable to teach to a continuing education adult as to a budding third grader.
8. Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities
by Martha C. Nussbaum
Nussbaum is a successful philosopher and professor of law at the University of Chicago. In this volume, a departure from her more technical works, she offers a sustained argument for the importance of the liberal arts at every level of education.
Nussbaum argues that the humanities, including art, history and literature, provide the foundation for our sense of interconnectedness. They also provide critical thinking skills. Without these two components a healthy democracy cannot be maintained.
For this reason, she suggests, the growing drive for increased specialization at every level of education endangers the stability of democratic society itself.
9. A Room for Learning: The Making of a School in Vermont
by Tal Birdsey
Birdsey’s memoir stands out in this list of generally more technical books for its poetry and the moving nature of its story. This is a story of the struggles and rewards involved in the founding of a small junior high school in Vermont.
With little in the way of infrastructure or technology, Birdsey’s school makes clear that sometimes the most important part of education is an educator with passion and subjects worth teaching.
This is an inspirational must-have for all committed teachers.
10. Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America
by Richard Halverson and Allan Collins
After the industrial revolution society had to entirely re-engineer its models of education, in this book two education professors argue that we are experience a “knowledge revolution” that is as transformative as the industrial revolution.
This is a very balanced book offering useful practical insights into the use of information technologies to reinvent education, including a model of online distance learning, while also honestly addressing what may be unavoidably lost in the process.
11. Democracy and Education
Dewey was an important American philosopher as well as one of the founding figures in functional psychology. But he is best known for his writing on education. In this classic text from 1916, Dewey addresses the central importance of a public education in providing an informed and intellectually active democratic society.
What he wrote then is as important today. Dewey’s argument is that societies only exist to the extent that their members successfully and meaningfully communicate with each other through a minimum like-mindedness.
It is education that provides us with the tools we need for the collective conversation that forms a true society.
12. Pedagogy of the Oppressed
by Paulo Freire
In 1968 Freire published this book, an account of the lessons he learned attempting to teach poor adults in his native Brazil how to read and write, and it has been a source of inspiration and controversy ever since.
The book draws on Freire’s experience to offer a ringing critique of what he called the “banking concept” of education, one in which students are encourage to be passive so that authoritative active teachers could “deposit” knowledge within their empty minds.
In contrast to this model Freire argues in favor of an interactive education focused on structuring the education provided around the daily concerns and practical knowledge of the students.
13. The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age
by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall
The authors of this book make the claim that the interactive digital community opened up by new technologies is more important than the increased availability of knowledge. What is most useful for educators is to become “connected” technologically to professional networks for continuing education while also providing their students with the digital tools necessary for collaborative work.
Never before have so many students and educators had the opportunity to interact and work together in an environment totally unlimited by distance. This book is especially valuable for all educators seeking strategies for making the most of internet social networking.
14. The Origin of Concepts
by Susan Carey
Carey, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, occupies a place on this list where Piaget’s work leaves off. Her work offers a detailed analysis of how children create and learn to employ concepts in the course of their mental development.
Of particular interest is Carey’s discussion of how children learn their earliest mathematical concepts. Like the work of Piaget, this book provides an understanding of the psychological processes actually involved in education.
15. Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World
by Tony Wagner
Unlike the works of Dewey or Nussbaum, which attempt to address education’s central role in our social interactions and politics, Wagner’s interests are primarily economic. His main question is how education can be improved to better guarantee the creation of innovative entrepreneurs.
Wagner focuses on success stories, such as that of Kirk Phelps who was the project manager for Apple’s first iPhone, and asks what it was about their education and early experiences that allowed them to become successful in the world of creative business.
Ultimately he lays out a vision for an education system that develops the spark of innovation through play and the encouragement of both passion and a commitment to a life of purpose.
16. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education
Diane Ravitch has spent her life addressing education reform at the national level in the United States. She held public office under both Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, eventually rising to the rank of Assistant Secretary of Education. In this best selling book, Ravitch makes the powerful argument that standardized testing and an increase in educational choices through privatization and charter schools are fatally harming American education.
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Controversial both for its content and for the extent to which Ravitch rejects proposals she had previously championed, The Death and Life of the Great American School System provides a necessary insight into national educational policy for educators throughout the world.
17. Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative
by Ken Robinson
Knighted for his contributions to education in England and advisor to Fortune 500 companies and governments throughout Europe, Sir Ken Robinson is one of the world’s experts on the development of creativity and innovation. He begins his book with a simple idea that leads to robust suggestions for education.
The idea is this: creativity is the most important skill we can have as adults and it is one we are all born with in abundance. The obvious question is what happens to our creativity? Robinson’s suggestion is that it is educated away and his book lays out a vision for how educators might avoid this negative side effect.
Beautifully written and persuasive, this book decisively changed the way I think about education.
18. Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture
by David Buckingham
I vividly recall in grade school being taught how to write and address a letter. Although still useful, today this lesson would neglect the much more common ways in which we interact. Buckingham’s argument is that education has been too slow to catch up to communicate in the digital era. Students need media education.
This is an education that would expand media literacy, or the ability to evaluate, interpret and use the vast plurality of digital media we are bombarded with every day.
More than anything else this book is a concrete guide that offers clear and precise methods for bringing media education into any classroom.
19. Chomsky on Democracy and Education
by Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky is an important linguist and philosopher teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This book is a collection of diverse writings and interviews specifically addressing the interconnection of education and democracy. Spanning subjects from what the development of language in children tells us about different methods of education to controversies over what science to teach in public schools and the purpose of universities, this book is a goldmine of provocative ideas for educators at any level.
20. A Tribute to Teachers: Wit and Wisdom, Information and Inspiration About Those Who Change Our Lives
by Richard Lederer
Unlike many of the books on this list, Lederer’s work offers no major theory of education or suggestion for improving our teaching to address contemporary challenges.
Rather, Lederer’s A Tribute to Teachers offers a collection of deeply enjoyable, often funny and always touching, stories and reflections on the lives of teachers and students. This is an ode to educators throughout which echoes Lederer’s motto “Blessed be the teachers.”
Whether you are in need of a pick me up after a hard day, or just wish to refresh your passion with the knowledge that you are appreciated and can make a difference, a teacher’s library requires this text like a body requires a heart.
21. Social Media for School Leaders: A Comprehensive Guide for Getting the Most out of Facebook, Twitter, and Other Essential Web Tools
by Brian Dixon
Have you ever wondered if Twitter or Facebook could be used to increase parent involvement in their children’s education? Have you questioned whether such tools can be used to better facilitate collaboration amongst educators? If so, this book has the answers you have been looking for.
Dixon uses his years of experience leading public high schools to provide strategies for how social media can increase community involvement in education to the benefit of educators and students alike.
22. Cultural Competence: A Primer for Educators
by Jean Moule
Most teachers today will find themselves with a multicultural student body or one that will need to navigate a multicultural world. It can be challenging to make the most of the resources a diverse student body provides or to preparing students to use these resources wisely in their own lives.
This book addresses this challenge with clear and direct guidance for a variety of educational levels and potential scenarios including, for example, how to avoid inadvertent bias in your curriculum and how to be sensitive to cultural difference when dealing with guardians. Part III of the book, with six chapters addressing specific topics to consider when working with six common cultural backgrounds, is especially useful.
Ultimately this is a much-needed roadmap for teachers working in our richly diverse society.
23. Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up to Old School Culture
by Kirsten Olson
Firmly based in case studies and qualitative research, this book dwells on the ways in which education can fail and even harm those it seeks to help. Olson’s balanced presentation challenges all educators to improve while also offering specific suggestions for which educational practices may be most flawed or outdated.
Addressing, in alternative sections, the struggles of students, parents and teachers there is no better vision for why we must do better and how we can.
24. Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students
by Gregory Michie
Holler If You Hear Me is Gregory Michie’s story of how his students from the inner city of Chicago taught him how to teach. It is a story of challenges and frustrations that any teacher will find familiar, if not necessarily to the extreme Michie experienced them. The key message rings true. Overcoming the challenges we face means learning to listen to our students. Michie’s story reminds us why we teach.
It also makes clear that when our students most challenge us we have the most to learn.
25. If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students: Guide to Success For Administrators and Teachers
by Neila A. Connors
No matter where or at what level you teach, teachers will have to deal with administrators and administrators with teachers. While this book is humorous and refreshing, its suggestions are dead serious.
Designed as a menu, with each chapter representing a phase in the preparation and enjoyment of a meal, this book helps to make the often frustrating disconnect between teachers and administrators much easier to bridge.
Whether reading the chapter “Pass the P’s Please”, which outlines a list of characteristics of good educational leaders including persistence and passion for the profession, or the 150 dessert activities offered at the end to keep teachers from eating the students the reader is sure to be both informed and amused.
26. Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking [Editor’s Suggestion]
by Susan Cain
While this book is not exclusively about education, it’s filled with fascinating research and stories relating to the classroom and the school in general. For example, did you know that introverts earn a disproportionate amount of graduate degrees, national merit scholarship and phi beta kappa, yet when surveyed, teachers perceive extroverts to be smarter?
The book also delves into how the current education system was designed exclusively for extrovert (despite the fact that a third to a half of us are introverts), and how some of the resulting techniques we use today are in fact ineffective.