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Look here for book reviews from our members.
Note: The opinions expressed in the reviews are those of the reviewer.

September/October 2013 Book Review


Title: Intentional Interruptions Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform Professional Practice
Authors: Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack.

Student learning is dependent on high quality teaching in the classroom and high quality teaching practices emerge from effective, purposeful professional learning. However, some professional learning is more about activity and less about learning.

Knowing that classroom practice is key to changing student achievement, professional development is offered to influence classroom practice. The logic is that if teachers learn something new through professional development activities, they will teach differently and thus have a positive impact on their students. However, as we all know this connection between professional development and changed practice breaks down during implementation. Why is professional development not making a difference? The gap between "knowing and doing is huge." (pg. 25) Activities, not learning, often define the substance of professional development experiences. The focus is more on "professional development objectives" rather than on "professional learning outcomes." The challenge is "how to get it (the learning) from the ballroom to the classroom." A key foundational tenet of this book is that professional development fails to make an impact because it tends not to focus on learning. To change student achievement, it is necessary to change classroom practice, and changing classroom practice requires new learning.
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Katz and Dack define learning as a "permanent change in thinking, behavior and/or practice."

Three key enablers of professional learning that change classroom practice are:
  • establishing and supporting clear learning foci (the What)
  • collaborative inquiry that challenges thinking and practice (the How)
  • instructional leadership (the Who)
To define a professional learning focus, answer the questions: what do teachers need to learn to support what students need to learn? What do leaders need to learn to support teachers? (New learning for leaders may include change management, how to create conditions/systems in schools/divisions that support learning, how to establish effective PLCs).

Collaborative inquiry, the methodology for moving a learning focus forward, involves people working together (collaboration) in meaningful ways to deepen understanding and challenge what they already know and do (inquiry) in an area of determined need.

If the focus is the what of professional learning and collaborative inquiry is the how, then instructional leadership is the who. It is not who learns (everyone's responsibility), but rather who leads the learning, the lead learner. The authors cite five leadership dimensions from a research review as especially powerful and significant:
  1. Establishing goals and expectations
  2. Strategic resourcing
  3. Planning, coordinating, and evaluating teaching and the curriculum
  4. Ensuring an orderly and supportive environment
  5. Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development
All five are powerful; however, nothing that a leader does has a bigger payoff in terms of enhanced practice and improved student achievement than the leader learning alongside staff in a school and publicly sharing his/her learning.

The authors listed a number of barriers that stand in the way of optimal professional learning including the following:
  • Educators and leaders often do not spend the necessary time up front trying to understand and identify the problem, and instead spend more time on activity.
  • Professional development activities often don't "meet the urgent and real needs of many of those it is intending to cater to." (pg. 26)
  • Professional learning endeavors do not take into account "how hard learning is," and the many psychological barriers that hinder new learning:
    • "our natural tendency is actually to be lazy when it comes to hard thinking." (pg. 52)
    • "...humans are quite poor at thinking through all possible options when making a decision." (pg. 56)
    • "...people tend to engage with the world in a way that confirms what they already think, believe, know, and do, and work hard to avoid evidence to the contrary." (pg. 57)
    • "When something is salient - or when it produces a vivid memory - is that people tend to overemphasize the likelihood of it occurrence."(pd.59) Hence we have to substantiate points by ratios, true statistics, not just our memory or myth.
    • "People place greater value on things that they recognize than on things that they don't" (pg. 61)
    • "people tend to overestimate their own strengths and underestimate their shortcomings..." (pg. 62)
    • "They are so afraid of the potential downside of action that they sometimes choose inaction." (pg. 63) People are risk averse.
    • "...people keep their questions to themselves and work hard to hide their vulnerabilities (real or imagined)," and "When being wrong is seen as weakness, it gets in the way of learning." (pg. 65)
So, how can we lift the quality of professional learning to result in successful and engaging student learning? Katz and Dack describe this action as "intentional interruption", purposeful action that creates permanent change in thinking, behavior, and/or practice. They identify, define, and discuss the following intentional interruptions that allow professional learning to be enabled:
  • Using protocols
  • Making preconceptions explicit
  • Ensuring that activities and interventions are rooted in problems of practice
  • Recruiting contradictory evidence
  • Viewing mistakes as learning opportunities
  • Encouraging a growth (rather than a fixed) mindset
  • Ensuring that problems of practice (focus) are questions that people are curious about
  • Giving people autonomy in time and task
Intentional Interruptions is a book that helps create "the conditions for real new learning." Interrupting a culture of superficial niceness and existing barriers supports educators to embrace true professional learning that leads to effective instruction and engagement for all students.

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March/April 2013 Book Review


Title: Creating Innovators
Author: Tony Wagner.
Reviewed by: Andy Rothenberger, Stafford Public Schools, Instructional Resource Teacher.

Over the past few years, countless researchers have made the case that in the near future the planet Earth will face several critical issues including global warming, resource scarcity, and overpopulation. To endure these and other unforeseeable issues, educators agree that students must be instilled with innovation - the process by which perseverance leads to new or adapted ideas and products. With Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner shares his recent research as he attempts to identify strategies that parents and teachers can do to prepare the next generation.
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A genuine 21st century book, this interactive research study comes to life as readers can follow their interests and link to supplemental materials. With the snapshot of a QR code (in print) or tap of a hyperlink (in ebook), readers can view related materials and videos of the featured innovators. Through these videos the reader accesses primary source accounts of life events that empower an individual’s creativity, lead to a sense of purpose, and develop to a passion.

Children must be imparted creativity and innovation today, as they will be tasked tomorrow with solving issues of worldwide importance. Tony Wagner takes the initial steps, and anyone who aims to enable others with the power of innovation should read Creating Innovators.

Additional Information:
»  Book Website
»  Steve Hargadon interviews Tony about the book

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Title: Beyond the Hole In The Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning
Author: Sugata Mitra.
Reviewed by: Andy Rothenberger, Stafford Public Schools, Instructional Resource Teacher.

The advent of the Internet, the rise of international social networks, and access to the global knowledge base empowers individuals and profoundly impacts education. Through the writings of Dr. Sugata Mitra, discover the power of connecting learners to unlimited information and the emergence of self-organized learning groups that follow. Beyond the Hole in the Wall documents the beginning of Sugata Mitra's journey of educational research which has led him to win the 2013 TED Prize.

Imagine the educational obstacles encountered by some rural communities where geographical limitations make it nearly impossible to level the educational opportunities with those who live near cities and educational centers. Dr. Mitra theorized that even in remote villages, Read more...
learners require teachers to acquire knowledge. Beyond the Hole in the Wall describes the research and educational impact of a study that disproves his own hypothesis and shows that learners can self-organize and master content (even in a different language) without a teacher physically present.

Each chapter opens with a glimpse into the life of a young girl living in India in the near future. The vignettes emphasize each chapter's focus by allowing readers to envision the amazing transformations that are possible in a thriving global Internet community.

With his TED Prize Talk, Dr. Mitra challenges the world to "Build a School in the Cloud" and make learning available to everyone. His idea began with a 'Hole in the Wall' and has germinated for over a decade to what may become the first global educational system. To fully understand the background of this concept, read the book that started it all and envision what could exist Beyond the Hole In The Wall.

Additional Information:
»  Sugata Mitra's Research Website
»  Dr. Mitra's 2010 TED Talk
»  2013 TED Prize Update

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January / February 2013 Book Review


Using Inquiry in the Classroom: Developing Creative Thinkers and Information Literate Students - 2nd Edition Title: Using Inquiry in the Classroom: Developing Creative Thinkers and Information Literate Students - 2nd Edition
Author: Teresa Coffman.
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Education Publishing Group (2013).

Using Inquiry in the Classroom: Developing Creative Thinkers and Information Literate Students provides an overview of inquiry learning and the importance of developing creative thinkers and information literate students in twenty-first-century education. The text explores how learning can be directly applied in a classroom setting using real world application through technology oriented activities. Coffman showcases WebQuests, Web inquiry, telecollaborative, and problem-based activities with examples and skill-building exercises for readers to implement in their lessons for use in their classrooms. Using this guide, readers will work through strategies for effectively integrating technology into a teaching and learning environment so students gain maximum knowledge and understanding of core concepts. Plus, the content is personalized so that the reader can create activities and lessons for their specific curriculum needs.

Change, Lead, Succeed: Building Capacity with School Leadership Teams Title: Change, Lead, Succeed: Building Capacity with School Leadership Teams
Authors: Linda Munger and Valerie von Frank.
Publisher: National Staff Development Council (2010).

Change, Lead, Succeed is a practical guide to redefining leadership in your school. The book demonstrates how to successfully build capacity of school leadership teams through professional learning. Readers will have access to articles, tools and resources in this book and a companion resource CD to help them better understand how to identify school leadership team members, examine practices needed to lead school-based professional learning, develop a professional learning plan and more.

»  View an overview of Change, Lead, Succeed in (PowerPoint)
»  View an overview of Change, Lead, Succeed in a (PDF)

November / December 2012 Book Review


Teaching Matters Most: A School Leader's Guide to Improving Classroom Instruction Title: Teaching Matters Most: A School Leader's Guide to Improving Classroom Instruction
Authors: Thomas M. McCann, Alan C. Jones, and Gail A. Aronoff.
Publisher: Corwin Press; 1 edition (June 6, 2012).

Everyone agrees that "teaching matters most" as the title says. But we also know it is easy for this to become rhetorical rather than reality-based. Making it the top priority for school leaders and staff is not as easy. If we want to change how students write, compute, and think, then teachers must transform the old "assign-and-assess" model of teaching into engaging, compassionate, coherent, and rigorous instruction.

The authors of this book show school leaders how to make this happen even in the midst of the myriad distractions, initiatives, and interruptions that occur during any given school day.
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Unlike books that only address evaluating teachers, this work demonstrates how to grow the instructional capabilities of schools.

The authors outline a three-step process that involves:
  1. envisioning what good teaching looks like and sounds like
  2. measuring the quality of current instruction against this standard
  3. working relentlessly to move the quality of instruction closer and closer to the ideal
The book includes guidance on hiring, induction, professional development, mentoring, and teacher evaluation. Each chapter offers action steps for building a blueprint for improvement. Also included are frameworks for completing instructional audits and probes, instruments, and protocols for measuring and tracking the quality of instruction. This book sets out a blueprint to advance the quality of teaching through an aligned plan that attends to teaching standards and professional growth needs.

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July / August 2012 Book Review


Inquiry: A Districtwide Approach to Staff and Student Learning Title: Inquiry: A Districtwide Approach to Staff and Student Learning
Authors: Nancy Fichtman Dana, Carol Thomas, and Sylvia Boynton. Foreword by Jim Knight.
Publisher: (Corwin Press, 2011).

One of the significant tenets from NCLB and RTTT requires districts to develop, implement, and sustain a quality professional development plan in which all students and staff members are learners who continually improve their performance. The purpose of this book is to provide districts with a comprehensive guide to building a powerful, systems-wide professional development program that will enhance the quality of teachers they employ.
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Building on recommendations from Learning Forward and the latest research on teacher and principal professional development, the foundation of this professional development system is the power of job-embedded professional learning, with a specific focus on inquiry and professional learning communities. Too often, professional learning fails to have an impact on teaching practice and student learning. The authors of this book describe a more effective professional development that is built with an understanding of learning relationships. The book provides an approach to professional learning that is entirely focused on real-life applications and provides step-by-step procedures. The authors explain what to do and then show how it is done through stories that illustrate inquiry in action.

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June 2012 Book Review


Quiet Leadership Title: The Will to Lead, the Skill to Teach: Transforming Schools at Every Level
Authors: Muhammad, Anthony and Hollie, Sharroky.
Publisher: (Solution Tree, 2011).

A team from my district previewed this book as we considered it for a required reading for all our administrators continuing our cultural competence work. Immediately, I was drawn into the framework presented in the introduction of the book. Educators need the will and the skill to create a positive school environment in which all students can achieve. The authors address "blame game" in which we blame the students, parents, and society as a whole when students struggle. But Mohammad and Hollie "challenge educators to look at themselves as not just a part of the problem, but as part of the solution."
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The book is based on the two important principals of Tyack and Cuban:
  1. All children have the right to have their gifts and talents cultivated through the process of education.
  2. All children can learn and become educated.
I see this as a very valuable book in helping educators, administrators and teachers, understand what it takes in "will and the skill" to teach all students. Part I describes the difference between will and skill and why both are necessary to create a positive school environment. I found the concept of the four zones of a positive learning environment very practical. Part II focuses on building the will to lead and Part III provides very specific strategies that we should see in classrooms that are responsive to all students. The reflection questions at the end of each chapter I found to be practical, engaging and effective in helping me connect the content to my work.

Overview of the Book (provided by the publisher - Solution Tree)

Successful school improvement requires both will and skill-the belief that all children can learn and perform academically and the ability to use responsive instruction that engages and reaches all students. Developing will and skill is the practical key to increased student achievement, particularly for students who struggle and are underserved.

Anthony Muhammad and Sharroky Hollie present four broad steps to developing a staff's will: (1) aligning philosophy, (2) managing frustration, (3) creating a culture of collaboration, and (4) institutionalizing a healthy culture. They then define and develop the components of a responsive pedagogy focusing on four areas of instruction: (1) classroom management, (2) academic vocabulary, (3) academic literacy, and (4) learning environment.

This book provides:
  • Reflection questions for examining current practices and identifying areas for improvement
  • Analysis of the factors that contribute to healthy and toxic school cultures and staff frustration
  • A three-step process for developing and implementing responsive pedagogy
  • Many practical strategies and activities for use in the classroom
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May 2012 Book Review


Quiet Leadership Title: Quiet Leadership
Author: Rock, David.
Publisher: (New York: Harper Collins, 2006).

Several years ago, while visiting my mom at the Jersey Shore, we ran into a dilemma. The metal pole used to support the clothesline for hanging wet bathing suits lost its battle against corrosion. Given my short stay, we determined our best course of action was to get my Parkinson's afflicted dad involved. Despite the ravages this disease produced on his body, his engineer's mind was acutely intact. I pulled a chair beside the clothesline and helped my dad get situated. His challenge: figure a way mom and I could fix the line without replacing the pole and using only materials we had on hand. After about ten minutes of deep thought, my father hoarsely whispered, "I got it." His simple yet brilliant solution amazed me. Unmoved by my surprise, he said, "I'm an engineer. I get paid to think."
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In his book, Quiet Leadership, David Rock shares how our country's journey from an industrial society to an intellectual one requires different tools if we are to maximize the performance of what are termed, "knowledge workers." Workers designing and overseeing complex technology and its resulting processes do not need someone to "tell them what to do." Instead, they need obstacles removed, their confidence affirmed, and systems aligned so they can, in the words of Richard Florida (2002), "... be unleashed." Leading a team of knowledge workers requires an individual with strong coaching skills and a desire to "grow" others and watch them succeed. Rock spends the remainder of his book outlining his, "Six Steps to Transforming Performance" to accomplish this.

Rock's premise is that the more successful an individual, the less you can tell him what to do. The way to help him improve is to help him think better. Reminiscent of Donald Schon's work on reflective practice and Costa's cognitive coaching model, Rock's model details six steps:
  1. Think about thinking
  2. Listen for potential
  3. Speak with intent
  4. Dance toward insight
  5. Create new thinking
  6. Follow-up.
Like most coaching models, the six steps begin with permission for a conversation to occur at a mutually agreeable time to delve into a problem of practice. Frequently, the dilemma to be solved is a result of conflicting mental maps. Competing values, competing resources, competing priorities; all create a log jam. The leader or supervisor skillfully asks questions to help the individual frame the correct problem to be solved. The conversation moves toward helping the individual articulate how he will solve the problem. An iterative process, which Rock terms, "the dance," ensues until new insights are gleaned. Examples of the types of questions that may be asked include:

Thinking – How long have you been thinking about this?
Vision – What do you want to achieve here?
Planning – What's your plan for achieving these targets?
Detail – Tell me about what you've done so far,
Problem – What's in the way of hitting your targets?
Drama – Tell me what will go wrong if you don't hit your targets.

Rock acknowledges that learning to ask powerful questions is key to unlocking minds and creating new pathways that lead to solutions. With new insights, energy is restored. Leaders using this questioning process find their work becomes easier. They no longer feel responsible for "having the answers" and instead are sought out by those they lead to have conversations that lead to commitments to action. Like a ship's captain, the quiet leader helps his crewmate maneuver around rocks and stay in the flow of deep water.

Knowledge workers thrive on the challenge of solving their own work problems. Fixing the clothesline filled my father with pride. No longer able to use his hands and tools to mend things, he was proud to be of assistance to his family. Creating an environment that respects expertise and challenges workers to think better for themselves will result in increased commitment and productivity toward an organization's mission.

The leader's role is to give his people's new maps attention and positive feedback. By opening conversations to the possibilities of expanded thinking, all grow roots and branches that work to sustain the individual and the organization. Rock's book should be required reading for every school and business leader.

Dr. Patricia Wiedel
Director of Professional Learning
Stafford County Public Schools

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