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The Problem with Principals who Used to Read

Sometimes I write to reflect and other times I write to share an idea. Today is different. Today I'm writing to dialogue about something I saw on social media recently.

Last week, Donalyn Miller shared something that caught my attention. She prefaced her post by acknowledging it might be an "unpopular opinion of the day." She went on to explain, "...if somebody online asks for a book recommendation and all you can come up with is a book that was written 20-50 years ago, you should probably get off the internet and start reading."

As I read through the comments written in response to Donalyn's post, I noticed some thoughtful pushback that said something to the effect of, "If I read and enjoyed a book that was written 20-50 years ago is there any reason why I shouldn't be able to recommend it?"

In thinking about this question, it's important to point out that Donalyn's original post did not say books written 20-50 years ago are bad. What I heard her say was that if the only books we have in our reading repertoires were written several decades ago we need to do better. This is an important distinction.

In full transparency, there was a time when the only children's books I could recommend were Zoom, Charlotte's Web, and a handful of other books I read aloud to students during the school year. So that's exactly what I did. I recommended the books I used to read. It’s not that these books were the contrary, they are incredible.

The problem was my reading diet (or lack thereof) was contributing to a huge blind spot. And when we show up with blind spots it's ultimately our students who suffer. This suffering could include:

  • Missed opportunities to build empathy

  • Decreased relevance to students' lives

  • Diminished chance of seeing themselves in the books they're exposed to

  • Perpetual exposure to stereotypical-belief systems

  • Less likelihood they'll connect with contemporary authors (e.g. blogs, social media, YouTube)

  • And the list goes on...

But let me be clear about the problem as I see it. Books like Charlotte's Web and Hatchet will always have a place in schools. It's the educators who haven't prioritized reading books written since students were born who I'm worried about.

The good news is there's always hope because when we know better we can lead better…and read better. If you're looking for a good place to start, try doing a quick search for #BradskiWinningBook, #ReadThis Now, or #PernilleRecommends on Twitter or Instagram. These hashtags hold countless high-caliber children's and young-adult titles.

I also wanted to share a few of the professional titles that have impacted my thinking recently. I share these in the spirit of reciprocity...knowing that so many of you always manage to return the favor by adding to my "must read" stack.

I'm Still Here by Austin Channing Brown. I can probably count on one hand the number of books I have either read multiple times or plan to reread. This book is one of them. In fact, I'd go so far as to say anyone serving in education should read it. As its subtitle implies, the book delves into black dignity in a white world while sharing some of the author's experiences with racism. It also provides powerful insights into how certain actions (or inaction) might be experienced by people of color.

Lead with Appreciation by Melinda Miller and Amber Teaman. I'm the type of person who feels a deep sense of gratitude and respect for the people I work with. The problem (for me) is that when I don't share this appreciation outwardly people don’t always know how much I value them as people…not to mention their contributors to the team. This book takes the guess-work out of "gratitude" for me. And it's written by two of the best school leaders in the business.

Personal and Authentic by Tom Murray. I had the chance to review this book before it was published and fell in love with the heartfelt stories and, as the name implies, its authentic nature. It's written by a good friend of mine, and he's taken special care to capture the heart of the work we do while also integrating actionable ideas alongside many different voices in the profession.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott. I'm wanting to learn more about communicating with empathy and compassion, while at the same time being very clear on what I'm seeing and wondering. (In my family we refer to this as, “Speaking the truth in love.") Although I'm only a chapter into this book, it's already delivering for me.

Never Surender by General William Boykin. While this is not a professional-educator title, per se, this book is a riveting first-hand account from an original member of DELTA forces. I heard the author speak at our church a couple months ago and knew I had to read his story. With Veterans Day (USA) being right around the corner, this is also a timely recommendation.

We covered a lot of ground here. What did I miss? How might we ensure our own reading practices are not limiting student-opportunity or learning? And what are YOU reading?!

If this blog post resonated, you might like my newest book, Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education. The book tackles a tension many educators are feeling using a combination of stories and practical strategies. If you’re interested in technology integration, Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students is a best-seller with Corwin Press. Both books are built on the belief that everything we do in education starts with relationships and connectedness.



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