Book Review of Sparks in the Dark

sparks in the darkI saw a lot of chatter about this book on Twitter and figured it might be a nice opportunity to get back in touch with the old Head of English who used to be pretty active in the space of promoting reading and writing.

And I can see why Sparks in the Dark is causing so much conversation – it’s a really good primer for those who are looking to transform their practice, to approach writing from new directions and to allow students a lot more freedom over their reading choices, so that what we actually foster is a lifelong love of reading.

This book will introduce you to some great thinkers in this space such as Nancie Atwell, Kerry Gallagher and Penny Kittle and is in itself littered with some great musings of the power of reading and writing in our lives.  A good read to begin a journey or to remind you of those new ways we can frame our classrooms.


Book Review of The Hope Circuit


hope circuitIt took me over a month to read Martin Seligman’s latest offering, The Hope Circuit and in fact, I was surprised to find how much I struggled given what a fan I am of his work.

But there are two reasons for this. The first is that – unlike his other books – The Hope Circuit is essentially autobiography. It tells of Seligman’s life from childhood up to now, focussing on his work and journey as a psychologist with also some small insight into the way his own mind has worked (Seligman himself claims that his mindset is naturally pessimistic and that his wife and his work on positive psychology have transformed him). So for those of you looking for advice on how to live, you won’t find it here.

Secondly, I think Seligman gets a bit lost in the details here. So many names are mentioned! While I am sure he is trying to acknowledge everyone who contributed to the work he has done in his field, it’s actually quite exhausting keeping up with them all – despite his efforts to use photographs to make it all easier.

While there are great insights into how he changed his focus from Learned Helplessness to Learned Optimism, as well as the inventions of Positive Psychology and Positive Education, this could easily have been shorter and in fact, more personal. Educative but not absorbing.

Book Review of Teach Like Finland

Teach-Like-FinlandThe Finnish education system has gotten  lot of attention over the years since they leapt to the top of the PISA rankings, and everything about their learning and teaching became a point of conversation for educators.

I have been sitting on this book for a while, and suddenly felt the urge to pick it up and see what I responded to.  It’s written by an American who went to teach in Finland, outlining what wet well and what his conclusions were.

The book is full of his honest personal experiences, and split into five sections: Wellbeing, Belonging, Autonomy, Mastery and Mind-Set.  It’s full of tips big and small – ones that you could implement yourself in your own classroom, and ones that rely upon much bigger thinking and processing, that you would need school structures to change for, or that would work only with a team of staff on board. Some of the key takeaways for me included:

  • The need for students to take 15-minute brain breaks every hour to maintain focus – and that teachers can actually use this to strengthen their team bonds
  • Text books definitely have a place – we can neither afford to ignore them nor rely on them totally. Instead we “mine them” for the good stuff.
  • Movement and mindfulness have an important place in the school day
  • Give students more responsibility rather than have them build up to it – show them you trust them
  • Eliminate the stuff that is all style and no substance.
  • Have more conversations with your students, about how and what they want to learn and about what they think they have learnt and how well.
  • Look after yourself – take breaks and vacations.  Don’t feel the need to be competitive with your colleagues as to who is working the hardest… instead work together to support each other as a team.

This is very readable and simply structured.  Quite a good reminder of what good practice is and how to sharpen what you are doing now.

Book Review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

TTOA_BookThis has been getting quite a bit of press lately, largely because it cannot be simply written off as ‘just another Holocaust novel’ (and heaven forfend we every do that, and stop trying to understand this dark chapter in human history).

The most amazing thing about this quite powerful story – is that it is actually true. Through years of interviewing Heather Morris was able to extract the story of a young man who was saved from the Gas Chambers of Auschwitz by becoming the tattooist responsible for marking every individual who entered those infamous gates.  While Lale feels guilt for every mark he makes, he tries to make amends by sharing his good fortune – from extra food to access to confiscated goods – with those who need them.  Central to his plight to is an unlikely love story with a woman he meets as she enters the camp.  For years their romance nourishes them, and losing each other becomes their greatest fear.  Until of course, Auschwitz reveals more horrors.  Lale is taken to the torture chambers when his actions are discovered, and other characters unfortunately attract the attention of Dr Mengele, whose menacing presence looms over aspects of the story, and whose evil is even felt by the guards.

Resourcefulness and love win out here, even in the darkest of times.  At times I questioned how all this could be true – but once again, it is proven that truth is stranger than fiction.  Definitely one I would recommend.

Book Review of Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart

too soon oldThis book was a gift from a friend and a wonderful choice for me.  In it, Gordon Livingstone M.D. writes a series of essays pondering everything from love to thinking and expectations.

Livingstone has an interesting perspective and much of this book was originally published in different formats on an online forum for bereaved parents.  Although Livingstone was there to find solace after the death of his two children – one through illness and another through suicide – his fellow participants found much hope and reason in his writings.  I did too.

The only thing I found myself battering against was his pragmatic statements about the nature of love.  He believes that the idea of true and everlasting love leads us astray.  While I agree that dangerously romanticising the idea of the perfect relationship may in fact be getting in the way of many people’s happiness, I’d like to think there are people out there who can grow and change together in warmth and happiness.  But perhaps I’m just over-romanticising that too.

Well worth a read – and lovely short essays that can be picked up and re-read whenever you need.

Book Review of Future Directions in Wellbeing

future directions in wellbeingThis is probably the best set of essays I have read in a long time, and a really great contribution to my professional reading this year.

All of these essays are Positive Education focussed, but varied in their approach to this.  Some suggest extensions to existing practices, some look at measurement techniques, character strengths, social media, staff wellbeing, international projects, policy, mindfulness and more.

I get the impression I will be dipping in and out of this a lot, referencing the different studies and using them to inform my own.  The chapters are short and very readable, you could read an essay a day for a month and consider it tremendous PD.

A pricey item, but definitely worth the investment.

Book Review of The Strength Switch

strength switch.jpgWhile this is a parenting book, Lea Waters presents us with some brilliant strategies for working with young people by helping them to get to know and utilise their character strengths.

To me, introducing people to character strengths – something that is entirely positive and empowering – is an exciting opportunity.  I’m doing a lot of work to try to expose the young people I work with to this whole concept.

Waters hypothesizes that not only do character strengths assist young people to know and appreciate what is special about themselves, but they also provide us with a terrific platform for reframing behaviours we would rather not encourage. It also provides us with a different way of having conversations.  Turning on the ‘strength switch’ allows us to be specific about what we admire and want to strengthen in you people and provides us with a vocabulary so that we correct behaviours positively and constructively.

The book is full of specific examples on how the be the kind of parent/ mentor/ teacher/ friend we all want to be.  It’s the book you want to buy everyone you know who spends time with young people.