Just one book…

The other day I was asked if I might be able to recommend one book, just one book, to be presented as a gift to some student teachers completing their final round of student teaching as they wrap up their degree and prepare for a career in education.  I had an instant reaction and replied, Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (2015).  Not an education methods, philosophy book at all.  However, it is a book I believe everyone could benefit from if they allow themselves to be the father, the central character in this tale, as he shares some thoughts about what it is to be a knight for his children prior to the next day’s battle where he’s certain he will die.  The development of personal character being the primary purpose from my point of view.  I’ve been an unpaid (and likely unknown to Ethan Hawke) personal promoter of this book for the past 18 months.  Must read material from my point of view but, the one book for a new teacher…maybe not.

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Returning to the question, one book, the best book for a new teacher, I found myself thinking about my library.  I have a lot of books, print and Kindle format.  After 32 years in education, coaching over 60 teams (mostly football), a Masters and a Doctorate in Education Leadership, there is a lot to choose from.  I believe deeply in trying to meet the needs of all students.  They come to our classes and schools in all shapes and sizes.  The exceptionally average, the high flyer, the kid where the school is her one refuge from an absolutely crappy life, the kid who at first glance one might think will never learn a thing…all kids.   To pick one book for the 2017 graduate I have to hope it’s a trigger book, one that lights a desire to get the second, third and so because there really isn’t one book that’s going to answer all the questions, provide all that a new teacher (or old) will need.  I think this is telling me I need to share more about the books I’ve read, books I’ve started, books others have told me you must read that have impacted me as I try to be the best teacher and leader I can be.  These books have impacted how I work with my fellow teachers, and how I work with anyone I have an opportunity to learn from and teach.

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Robert Marzano (2017) has written several editions of books that speak to the art of teaching while exploring the science that supports that art.  I’m a believer that if you don’t sense, feel, breathe and develop a personal passion for teaching, the art part of the work, you’re never going to be the best you can be for your students.  In the absence of the art, that passion for teaching, education is just a job.  If it’s just a job you will fall short of your potential to really maximize the learning experience for all your students.  If you fail to continue to learn, you cannot be the best teacher you can be.

I believe in a different twist on the saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”. For me, it’s, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him thirsty”.  A thirsty horse will drink wherever there’s water.  To that end, I’d hope that reading this first book would help build the thirst that would lead to book after book to fully develop the art and science of teaching, assessment strategies, instructional strategies, literacy, numeracy, working with challenging students.  Do you think there’s a book for students about surviving challenging teachers?  You have to believe you can make a difference in the life of all your students, and your peers.  For me, in order to be your best you have to believe you can work miracles, and then learn how.

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            My first book for the new teacher (with lots more to follow) is Dave Burgess’ work, Teach Like a Pirate (Burgess, 2012).  Here’s one paragraph from Dave’s section on passion for you to ponder:

My professional passion sounds like this: I’m passionate about creating lifelong learners. I’m passionate about increasing the self-esteem and self-confidence of my students. I’m passionate about having students leave my class with a larger vision of what is possible for their lives. I enjoy helping students who are apathetic about school get excited about coming to school, even if it is just because of my class. I love developing the creative and innovative spirit of my students. I am passionate about not letting them fall victim to the horrific educational trends that would have us turn children into test-taking automatons who are able to spit out facts and trivia but are unable to speak about anything of significance or meaning. I want to model and inspire a spirit of entrepreneurship and drive for constant self-improvement in all areas of life. I am also passionate about developing engaging presentations for my material. (Kindle location 174-181)

I like the way Dave Burgess thinks, it reminds me of why I loved teaching the poetry and story of Dead Poet’s in English, or took students out to a farmer’s field and measured out the distance of the battlefield at Passchendaele in Social Studies.

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It’s probably why I so loved Richard Mulligan’s character, Herbert Gower, in the 1984 movie “Teachers” which was released during my last year in and my last student teaching round.  Yes, ancient history.

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We can all stand to teach a little like a Pirate, I wonder, restricted to just one book, what you’d want that new graduate in education to read?  Perhaps it’s a title I’ll be sharing in some of the posts to come.


Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate: Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Hawke, E. (2015). Rules for a knight: The last letter of Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Marzano, R. J. (2017). The new art and science of teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Dave’s website: http://daveburgess.com/


Learning, Winning, and My Bad….

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_257dJohn Maxwell (2013) starts his book with a question, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail” (p.1)?  It’s certainly easier to cliff jump into a lake if you know it’s not going to hurt, the water will be warm, and there is no risk, no fear, no chance at failure, even if failure is a bit of a belly flop entrance to the water. But would it be the same experience?  The same challenge?

(this water was quite cold by the way…I’m 3rd from the top)

And sometimes more is learned than won….


Now, this isn’t about life-threatening experiences, it’s about the willingness to try, to reach, to succeed and ultimately to be willing to fail along the way to succeeding or perhaps as Maxwell later asks us to consider, “what do you learn when you fail”?  Stories, urban myth or otherwise are all around us of great inventors and the multiple times they failed in what they were working to develop before it worked.  They didn’t fail at say inventing the lightbulb, they learned 100 or 1000 ways that the light bulb couldn’t be built and then…after all those lessons like magic, let there be light.  The overnight success has more than a few hours of learning process invested that on many occasions looked nothing like a success.  Somehow, we must ensure we, as the guides for our students and those who work with us in education, embrace the learning process for what it is, a collection of peaks and valleys wins, and losses that can hurt a bit and reward a bit along the way.

Along with that line of thinking, I like this podcast series I’ve come across recently and while the voices are mostly teachers and administrators I think all of us in education can identify and could probably find a story or two to share.  It’s called “My Bad…” you see it in sports, the QB or point guard makes a bad pass, the receiver drops a great ball, they point to themselves and say to the others, “my bad…” I messed up, I didn’t get that right, and of course, implied in the statement is the notion that they will get it right the next time as a result.  (Doesn’t always work that way but hey I did suggest there were a few 1000 my bad’s along the way to inventing the lightbulb).

The website for the My Bad podcast is here https://www.bamradionetwork.com/my-bad/ you can also find the My Bad podcast in iTunes podcast section.  Some stories may not apply to you, others can hit right between the chambers of your heart.  Check a couple out.  More importantly, recognize the theme of the podcast; we are in the work of learning from mistakes, most of what we do is formative and “My Bad” is a part of that formative process when we mindfully work to learn and improve.

Maxwell, J. C. (2013). Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn: Life’s greatest lessons are gained from our losses. New York, NY: Center Street.

Moving Forward or Falling Back

Shinpo ProgressThe Japanese have a saying, or at least when I was in Japan years ago a Japanese individual told me they have a saying that goes like this, “Shinpo shiite inai kagari dairaku shiite imasu”.  Now over the years my Japanese has faded a bit and I’ve spelled it the way I remember but the translation is relatively simple, “to the degree we are not progressing, we are falling back”.  There is no such thing in this life as standing still.  Even if standing still is measured as an opportunity lost.

Joe Paterno wrote, “Every kid who has ever played for me has heard me say this a thousand times: ‘You either get better or you get worse.’ You never stay the same.  You get better as a person or you get worse as a person.  You do something every day to make yourself a better person.  You go by and pick up a piece of paper and put it in the garbage can.  That makes you a better person.  The same is true for football (or any other sport or activity) When you go out to the practice field, you are not the same player you were the day before.  You are better or worse.  That is life.  If you go out and practice poorly, you start to go down.  Make the effort to be a better football player.  Do not just go out and practice.  Think about the practice.” (Browning, 2001, p. 168)

These words expand upon the Japanese concept and Coach Paterno provides a sad reminder that the words hold true for our entire lives.  A great career can be significantly, and to some extent irreparably, blighted when you fail to continue to progress and hold the character ground you’ve attained.  Looking the other way when what is called for is action, big or small, to ensure the right thing is done is, at an individual level, getting worse as a person.  We must work to have the courage to own our actions and our inactions.

What am I doing today that is helping me improve?

How do I react to the suggestion that I need to know more about something, or that I may be wrong in my understanding?

Is there something calling for action on my part that I’ve resisted acting upon?  What can I do to change that in the next hour, day or weeks ahead?


Browning, E. (Ed.) (2001). Coaching beyond the x’s and o’s: By the experts. Monterey, CA: Coaches Choice.