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 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 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.

Book Review of The Making of Men

I first came across Dr Arne Rubinstein at the Positive Schools conference mid year. He making o fmenreally impressed me with his session about the importance of creating Rites of Passage for young men in the modern world, as well as how he ran the session. Initially, I was uncomfortable with the sharing and small groups, but of course by the end of it, felt much closer to the people around me. After all – according to Dr Rubinstein – ‘nobody ever liked each other less by knowing each other more’.
Between this, and a scheduled visit to my school this week, I made my way through his The Making of Men. Despite similar subject matter, I enjoyed this much more than the Carr-Gregg I finished just before it. This is a positive book full of advice about how to assist young men to be the best they can be. It’s informed by research as well as Dr Rubinstein’s personal experiences as a medical doctor and in the field. The entire last section outlines Rites of Passage in more depth and is well worth a look for parents and educators.

Book Review of Positive Education: The Geelong Grammar Journey

Oxford_PosEd_coverThis was wonderful work read charting Geelong Grammar’s journey to embed positive education into their curriculum and school ethos. It’s wonderfully done – laid out in a way in which those of us who are interested, could follow their steps and hope for the same kinds of wonderful outcomes.

I’m really inspired by what I read here. It covers details on the PERMA model, character strengths and all the things I would love to embed in my current workplace.

A worthy investment.

Book Review of Angela Duckworth’s Grit

gritThose of you who know me, know that I generally prefer fiction to non-fiction when it comes to my reading.  Although there is plenty of great non-fiction out there, and I have certainly been enjoying the books on Positive Psychology I have been picking up lately.

But when it comes to Grit by Angela Duckworth, I have no hesitation in saying that this is a book everyone should read.

Duckworth’s work was of interest to me as the longer I teach, the more aware I become that talent isn’t enough.  Time and time again, especially in my Year 12 classes, the most ‘talented’ student – the one with the greatest natural affinity for language – is trumped by one who works hard and works SMART.  The question I had was – how can I help each of my students to become that smart worker?  The one who succeeds in a way that surpasses their expectations?

Duckworth’s key mission here is to break down for us how some people achieve high levels of success – much higher than the average person.  She is particularly interested in understanding how they were able to do this, and how we can actually teach this to young people.  So it’s a great book for teachers and parents.

The bottom line is – Grit.  Those with Grit go further and do better than those that don’t.

But Grit does not just mean perseverance.  To truly have Grit – Grit that will lead us to success – she concretely discusses four things we need. The first is interest – high levels of interest.  We can only be truly gritty about things that deeply matter to us. But she tells us we can stimulate and develop interest, giving terrific advice for how to do this with children and even as adults.

After interest, we need to practice.  But we need to practice purposefully and strategically.  It’s not enough to work hard – we have to really consider what strategies will actually lead to improvement.  As a teacher we often see students working hard, but completing tasks that do not develop the needed skills.  Instead, Duckworth talks honestly about how painful practice can be and how to do it well – how to embrace negative feedback and seek coaching and set powerful goals.

After practice, she suggests that purpose helps separate high achievers as well.  If you have both passion and a sense of purpose about your work – if you love your chosen field and thin that you are making a difference – you are almost unstoppable.  Your motivation levels cannot be higher.  Sometimes even a few tweaks in thinking can assist us to re-evaluate and find the purpose in our work.

The final quality is hope.  This links in pretty strongly to Carol Dweck’s work about the Growth Mindset. We have to have hope – the belief that we can improve through the strategies that we have put in place.

Each of us will find some of these things difficult.  For example, having hope at times is hard.  Overcoming failure with a positive attitude sometimes relies on self-talk rather than a natural response.  I like how Duckworth acknowledges this – it’s all part of the process.  You don’t just HAVE Grit, you can learn to be grittier.  And that’s the message for us all.  We can all be better at those things we care about.  And what is more empowering than that?