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Our Winter Break Reading List


Books to get you through the long, dark nights.

Our Winter Break Reading List

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, tomorrow we’ll see the least amount of daylight all year. Here, just outside of Philadelphia, the sun will say goodnight at 4:40 pm. But while it’s easy to tire of the early darkness and frigid temperatures, these are also the perfect conditions for cracking a good book.

After all, winter break is just days away. And whether you plan to spend it curled up in front of a fire, navigating airports on the way to visit family or someplace warm with your feet in the sand (we’re looking at you, Hawaii, with just a little bit of envy), be sure to take some reading material with you.

We asked education leaders what they’ve been reading lately. Here are some of their recommendations, both new and old, for books that are helpful, thought-provoking, challenging and inspiring.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance (2016)

An up-close, first-person view into a poor, white, working-class American family trying to create a better life for themselves and their children — and their triumphs and stumbling blocks along the way. We keep hearing from people losing sleep because they just can’t put this one down.

The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? by Dale Russakoff (2016)

Looking at Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million plan to rescue Newark, New Jersey’s schools, The Prize examines what went wrong and what didn’t as competing interests clashed in the midst of this educational reform effort.

blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, by Michael B. Horn and Heather Stalker (2014)

A truly comprehensive look at blended learning in K12: what works, what doesn’t and how schools can plan to use this powerful learning format to benefit their students.

The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community is Inspiring the World, by Nadia Lopez (2016)

Nadia Lopez received national attention when she was featured on the website Humans of New York. Her story of starting Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn and facing the challenges that came with it is worth reading for any educator.

The Sellout, by Paul Beatty (2016)

“Biting,” “caustic,” “scathing,” “bruising,” “darkly funny” — just a few of the words reviewers have used to describe this satirical novel tackling racial and social issues in a neighborhood on the edge of Los Angeles.

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education, by Ken Robinson, Ph.D. (2016)

An argument for major changes to our educational system, Creative Schools doesn’t merely point out problems in our nation’s schools, but lays out a plan for a more personalized approach. It’s an inspirational — not just practical — picture of creativity and change.

Conscious Leadership, by Chutisa Bowman & Steven Bowman (2014)

Understanding how to be more conscious in our personal and professional lives is critical as we approach future uncertainties. Given that leadership is a process of being rather than doing, the authors seek to empower leaders to choose to be “conscious,” which allows them to transcend their limited circumstances and realize infinite possibilities, stemming from creativity and innovation.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport (2016)

We all can relate to trying to concentrate in a world full of distractions. Cal Newport looks at the concept of “deep work” — cutting through the noise to focus on the task at hand, and offers steps to build habits that support such focus.

Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2016)

From one of the NBA’s greats (and bestselling author) comes a series of essays on race and inequality. Abdul-Jabbar draws on his own life experiences to not just highlight issues but propose solutions as well.

The Courageous Follower: Standing Up to & for Our Leaders, by Ira Chaleff (2009)

The concept of followership is expanding as more research emerges. This topic is excellent for empowering educators to understand how their voice is integral to the success of leadership. It’s also a great reminder of what it means to be a “courageous” follower as different situations may require oscillating between leader and follower roles.

The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs, by Marcia Reynolds (2014)

A great read for anyone seeking a better understanding of the good about discomfort. The authors remind us that the “discomfort zone” is the moment of uncertainty when people are most open to learning. Knowing how to tap into this opportunity emphasizes potential rather than problems. A great read for every coach, mentor or leader!

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander (2002)

A collaborative effort between Boston Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Benjamin Zander, and psychotherapist and painter Rosamund Stone Zander, The Art of Possibility explores how creativity and the concept of possibility can impact all aspects of our lives.

Collaborating for Success with the Common Core: A Toolkit for PLCs at Work, by Kim Bailey, Chris Jakicic and Jeanne Spiller (2013)

How can educators and Professional Learning Communities work together to implement the Common Core State Standards into daily practice? Here’s your team’s resource to better understand and leverage the CCSS in your curriculum.

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge, by David McCullough (1983)

One of the best-known writers of historical nonfiction makes it worth going back to a book first published in 1983. More than writing only about the building of a famous bridge in New York, McCullough dives into the political and cultural climate of late 19th century America.

The Feedback Process: Transforming Feedback for Professional Learning, by Joellen Killion (2015)

Why is learner-focused feedback so important to professional learning? What does the process look like, and what’s needed for it to succeed? What role does data play? How can you apply these principals to professional learning in your district? Joellen Killion claims a spot on our winter reading list with this resource for teachers, coaches and administrators.

Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems, by Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn (2015)

Fullan and Quinn focus on whole system reform — 100% of the system, be it a whole state, region or country. Coherence looks at which policy and strategy levers have the best and least chance of powering successful reform and achieving better, measurable results for students.

What’s on your nightstand? Have you recently (or not-so-recently) come across an excellent book or other resource? We’d love to hear about it — share it with us on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.


Ryan Estes

Ryan is managing editor for the global award-winning creative team at Frontline Education. He spends his time writing, podcasting, and creating content for leaders in K-12 education.