Updated: Oct 10, 2021
I first wrote this in 2015 when I found myself reflecting on some of the non-fiction books I have read. Although I have read some books on teaching, perhaps the ones that have had the most impact are not specifically related to teaching. But they have had an impact on me as a person and perhaps that in turn has changed my teaching and my approach to leadership. Here is a 2018 update!
So in no particular order here are the books in question
1. Carol Dweck Mindset – Dweck’s theory is that intelligence and skills are not fixed but can be grown. Whether we believe that or not is crucial to our understanding of the world. I read it initially thinking that it would be something to help my students. It spoke to me first! I realised that there were areas of my life that I had written off and talked myself out of, believing that others were better placed than me. Dweck’s growth mindset idea encourages us and our students to work hard and value effort. Whilst it is a misunderstanding of Dweck's work to assume that we can do anything, it is certainly the case that with the right mindset and effort we can do more than we think.
2. Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence – A must read in terms of understanding yourself and others. Goleman argues that your IQ is not nearly as significant as you think. Your emotional intelligence or lack of it is crucial in deciding how successful you are at work, at home and in life generally. I have found that whenever I am dealing with people, the question of what feelings lie behind their words is a very powerful way of truly understanding what is going on. I am also aware that my own emotional reactions are sometimes not to be trusted and it is worth waiting for the emotion to pass before dealing with the issue!
3. Susan Cain Quiet – I am an introvert in an extrovert’s world. This book explains for me why I don’t always perform well in confrontational meetings, why I dislike open plan office spaces and why working in groups doesn’t always work. In teaching there has at times been a bias towards collaborative learning but this may not benefit the introverts in my class. Food for thought.
4. John Tomsett – This much I know about love over fear. This book is a fantastic account of school leadership that starts by valuing and trusting staff. At the time it was written, Tomsett’s philosophy was a minority view and many schools and colleges operated by a culture of fear. This book shows that another way, a better way, is possible.
5. James Hilton – Leading from the Edge. An honest and open account of a headteacher who suffered a breakdown as a result of the stresses of the job, and how eventually he recovered. I read this shortly after finishing writing my own book on wellbeing ‘the Elephant in the staffroom.’ I feel sure I would have included several quotes had it been available earlier. An important reminder that we cannot look after others if we do not first take care of ourselves.
6. Bill Hybels – Axiom. One of the best leadership type books I’ve read. Bill Hybels is an experienced church leader who writes 76 short leadership essays. Gems such as keeping ‘short accounts’ with those we work with, the importance of vision and values, and the need for a clocking off ritual each week have helped me greatly in managing my own schedule and in the leadership roles I have undertaken.
7. Bruce – Peter Ames Carlin – yes, a biography of Bruce Springsteen. Although I read it entirely for pleasure, there were lessons here too. Springsteen is incredibly determined and single minded. He is persistent and incredibly hard working. Success is not accidental. Yet he is also a complex character and that comes out in his relationships with girlfriends and with his band. A leadership lesson there. If you as a leader don’t deal with your issues, everyone else around you will have to…
8. Plato – the Republic . I have taught A level Philosophy for a number of years and this used to include set texts. This one became my favourite. It is a dialogue about justice, society and politics which contains the famous allegory of the cave. Plato sketches the ideal society and criticises democracy – he wants the philosophers to be in charge. Whilst I don’t agree with Plato, it is a beautifully written and well argued case that has a lot to say to us 2,500 years later. A warning to those who say we have had enough of experts!
9. Rick Warren -Purpose Driven Life/Purpose Driven Church. Rick Warren has over the course of 30 odd years grown a church in California from a handful of members to over 20,000 across many sites. Key to Warren’s philosophy is that everyone has a purpose and that any venture we undertake should have a clear purpose. Whenever I struggle to see the wood for the trees or I get lost in the nuance of policies or politics I find the question ‘what is this for?’ Or ‘why are we doing this?’ essential in getting to the heart of things.
10. Eric Mataxas – Bonhoeffer: pastor, martyr, prophet, spy – easily the most inspiring biography I have ever read. I am delighted that Bonhoeffer is now on the new OCR A level Religious Studies course that I teach. Learning how Bonhoeffer kept his integrity and did not flinch from his faith and principles in Nazi Germany was a very challenging read. I couldn’t help wondering what I would have done in a similar situation.
It is difficult to read any book without at least learning something. I worry about those who don’t read! What books have inspired you?