Why should parents read this book? This small handbook is really about marketing and the importance of connecting with people who can advance your product’s name recognition. Or, this small handbook is about the importance of social groups and friendships staying connected and in touch with what is happening. Of course, everything written above is true, even though the original purpose of the authors was to increase marketing share of products through interconnected groups of people and using those connections to sell products.
What does all this have to do with middle schoolers? Well…actually quite a bit. An adult’s social skills and ability to connect with people has to be learned somewhere. Adults who move adroitly between groups of people have learned how to “work the crowd.” They learned it from someone, somewhere, somehow. This means you should recognize that your child’s ability to learn social nuances and how to work with groups of people is being learned right now—today. Give your child some help by teaching them how to work with disparate groups of people with seemingly uncommon interests. As it turns out, they may have more in common than what it appears.
Why should teachers read this book? Enjoy a sociological adventure in a book primarily designed for the business world. After reading Grouped you will have a better idea of how your class works, how different clusters of students relate to one another, how and why teachers split into differing cliques, why parents seem to band together into various factions, and why superintendents must constantly flit from one community group to another, hoping and trying to keep everyone happy. Educators who know how to use the dominant themes in Grouped will be more successful than others, both in their classrooms of students and in their work groups and committees with other teachers.
Overall evaluation of the book: It is hard to overstate the importance of connections between groups of people. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? If you are searching for a simple and easy book to read on leadership, which doesn’t exhort you to follow the latest fads in management practices, dust off the bookshelf and reach for this oldie-but-goodie. When this book was written, it was widely read by the business and educational community, but I’m not sure very many individuals would recognize Warren Bennis’ name now in these modern times.
Leadership to Bennis is (and was) a process of becoming, of developing competencies, of knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and knowing what you want and why you want it. This is a message which is sometimes lost on parents today, especially those who are diligently exploring career options for their middle school child which are likely to be in demand the most in the future and pay the most money and have a certain amount of prestige of which the parents will be able to impress upon their next-door-neighbor. I mean, can’t you just hear the line? “My son is going to study nuclear biomechanical genetic engineering and will no doubt make well in excess of $200,000 after only a few years on the job.” Help your child find their own way and discover their own dreams and passions. Live your own dreams out with your life, not your child’s.
Why should teachers read this book? Be yourself and who you were meant to be. Don’t try to be the teacher or educator that someone else wants or thinks you should be. Express yourself in original ways in the classroom. Learn the important basics of being a great teacher and then hone your skills in ways that match your strengths. Handle adversity and problems and recognize you are probably going to get kicked in the gut a few times by thoughtless principals and superintendents. When this happens, get your wind back and straighten your backbone and forge onward. Don’t let others stop who you were meant to become. Dream big and follow your dream. Not someone else’s dream. But yours. Instill this mindset in your students and train them to rebound from obstacles and keep forging onward. Persist.
Overall evaluation of the book: Four Stars ★★★★
Why should parents read this book? If you love the Socratic line of questioning you will love this book. It will give you lots of ideas and suggestions as to how you may be able to approach problems with simple questions. The key to everything is to ask the right question. According to Berger, our human tendency is to keep plowing ahead, rarely stepping aside and thinking about what we are doing or whether we should be doing something else. The higher up the organizational hierarchy we move, the less able are individuals within the organization to ask the essential questions which might cause the organization to rethink its current path.
For example, rather than rushing in to grill your child’s teacher about something you think they did wrong, it may be useful to think about how Berger would approach the situation. I guarantee he would ask lots of questions to both the teacher and child before formulating his opinion of what really happened and what the course of action should be. The book was never written with the intention that it be used as a parenting tool but slowing down our thought processes to really think through problems is a valuable commodity, no matter what the topic.
Why should teachers read this book? Have you been wondering how you can improve the quality of questions and the quality of the answers your students spit back at you in the classroom? Because this book was never written for the educational market, it avoids some of the ridiculous jargon and silly checklists that tend to pop up in books which are mass-marketed for teachers. If you are familiar with the concept of Essential Questions, this book will resonate even more with you. If you don’t know what an Essential Question is, you’d better find out because your knowledge of educational trends is stuck in the 1990’s.
Overall evaluation of the book: This is one of the better survey books on questioning that manages to avoid plunging into a series of mechanical checklists and bullet points. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? If you have any likelihood of being alive in twenty years or have a child who will be impacted by the course of where the future is heading, this is an absolute must read. It’s kind of a geeky, nerdy look at future events and Canton’s view of the future is heavily influenced by technology, but many of his predictions—whether we like them or not—will eventually come true. (Whether they happen in 20 or 40 years from now may be immaterial to your child’s life.) If you want your child to be fully ready for the future and desire them to thrive in the upcoming technological world, this book will reorient you as to what skills they will need to succeed when they are thirty and forty. And you may discover that the skills they will need are not what is being taught in your local school.
Why should teachers read this book? If you are a confirmed luddite and dream of a romantic return to the days when schools focused exclusively on reading and math, Future Smarts is going to crush your romantic view of the educational world. If you are a technology-obsessed educator, Future Smarts will be your biblical rallying cry as to your accurate view of the new world order. Much of what Canton writes about will have a direct effect on today’s middle school kids and the real skills they will need in the future. Regardless of what the pessimists say, the general trends heading into the future can be anticipated and prepared for. The million dollar question for today’s educators is whether or not you are preparing your students for 2035 or 1985.
It’s a serious question.
Overall evaluation of the book: Although the author keeps repeating the same concepts and ideas again and again, the gist of what Canton writes is original and probably true. This is the type of book school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents should familiarize themselves with whenever they do strategic planning. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This manifesto on how to transform an organization from Good to Great is a useful guide as to how to interpret what is happening in your local school district. The best way to practically use Good to Great will be to compare what Collins says effective companies do with what your local superintendent, administration, and school board are actually doing as an organization. Sadly, many school districts are functionally dysfunctional and can’t seem to make progress on any set of coherent strategies and approaches for an extended period of time. If you have known something is wrong with how your local school district or school operates, but can’t place your finger on what exactly is wrong, Collins can help identify the malady.
Nearly everything Collins writes about is applicable to the school environment even though naysayers will attempt to tell you the school environment is a unique entity and can’t be compared to organizations and companies in the world of business. This is nonsense, because the similarities vastly outnumber any differences.
Why should teachers read this book? Schools are organizations and as such are susceptible to the same ills and problems which affect business organizations and corporations mentioned in this book. For example, the plague of the great and charismatic superintendent who will save the school district from all the problems swirling at the gate is a prominent myth among school boards searching for their next savior superintendent. They fail to understand that effective school districts are led by a number of what Collins says are Level 5 leaders—ordinary people who are extremely effective at what they do.
The best way for educators to use this book is to use it as a reference as they continue to move the school district and individual schools forward. As long as educators have the right people on the bus, a continual push and even incremental progress can result in significant gains five and ten years down the road.
Overall evaluation of the book: A classic which continues to hold its value for change-minded leaders in it for the long haul. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? The primary purpose in parents reading this book is to use it as a resource in determining whether or not your local school district is engaging in a slow decline or trying to do something to make itself relevant and useful to the customers—students and parents. Although this book was not written for the educational community, I believe the contents are just as applicable to schools as they are to the business community.
Is your local school district complacent? Do they think they are “good enough” and don’t need to transform themselves into delivering services which students will actually need in the future? Are they stuck in the past, using a 1950’s industrial mentality in training their teachers? Do they deny that social, cultural, and economic circumstances have changed around them? Are they constantly searching for the great leader or fantastic program which will save them from oblivion? According to Collins, these are signs the school district is heading for a “mighty fall.”
As schools become more market-driven and customer-focused and parents have more options for schools and classes, I think the message of Collins has become even more important. Schools which are nimble and can respond to the needs of the customers and teach relevant curriculum to their students will survive and thrive. On the other hand, schools which insist that the larger society adapt around their needs will find themselves in a slow death spiral, from which it will be very difficult for them to recover.
Why should teachers read this book? Use this book to gauge whether or not the school you are considering working for is on the correct path. Analyze your current school to determine whether or not the administration and school board are looking forward into the future or gazing backwards into a mythical time when everyone supported the schools and teachers could do whatever they wanted in the classroom and the curriculum revolved around what individual teachers thought was important. Is your school filled with hard-working individuals who are spending time on the wrong things? Does your faculty yearn for the fantastic principal or superintendent who will finally “turn things around?” Read Collins for his thoughts on these behaviors and viewpoints. Warning: you may not like what you discover.
Overall evaluation of the book: Nothing revolutionary is found in the pages of this book but school districts which lapse into oblivion haven’t been paying attention to non-revolutionary thought. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This classic will help prioritize and focus your time on the very important things in your life. But this is not a simple time-management system, in which your sketch out your week and month and then go back and drop in your daily activities. This is a time-management system in which you focus your efforts on the more important but not urgent activities—such as preparation, prevention, values, clarification, planning, relationship building, and empowerment—as they speak to your “true north” or ultimate destination.
Covey’s work has been well received by the business community and this book has proven to be no different. The true benefit to parents reading Covey is to have a philosophical framework or orientation such that parents can organize their lives in such a way that their destiny (so to speak) is fully realized and they live a wonderful and meaning-filled life. And guess what? Parents who lead meaningful lives tend to instill in their kids those same traits, tendencies, and attributes.
Why should teachers read this book? Let me ask a ridiculous question. Why are you teaching? Seriously. With literally hundreds of occupations to choose from in your local community, what is it that is keeping you in teaching? Is the money? Job satisfaction? The benefits? The kids? It’s important to ask ourselves this question, from time to time, because if we don’t have our game together, it’s going to be difficult to help our students. Make sure teaching is your “true north.” If it is not—and there is no shame if it isn’t—then do yourself and everyone else a favor and go do something else. The world is a big place.
Spend class time on the most important activities. Don’t waste time with ridiculous worksheets and stupid word-find puzzles. Wring the most out of class time by starting and ending on time. Apply Covey’s “law of the farm,” and reinforce with your students the importance of preparation and constant attention to help them get what they want.
Overall evaluation of the book: The message is fairly simple and plain but you will run across lots of adults who can’t or won’t implement the “true north” and “law of the farm concepts. Make sure you are not one of them. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This is one of those books on leadership and self-improvement which has stood up to the test of time. Covey is more famous for his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People but this book fits in nicely with his philosophy. If you read these books together, they will collectively make sense. You do not, however, have to read them together to benefit from their wisdom.
Your middle school child will either succeed in life or not succeed based primarily on their people skills, and not necessarily on their academic prowess. The world is filled with very smart people who did well in school but who really shouldn’t be in charge of anything important. This book will help you understand the important skills which are rarely taught in formal schooling but will make a tremendous difference in the life of a middle school child. The reality is that kids do need to know and demonstrate principle-centered leadership, be continually learning, be service orientated, radiate positive energy, believe in other people, lead balanced lives, be adventurous and synergestic, and practice self-renewal on an ongoing basis. You can help your child enormously by stressing these orientations with them on a regular basis.
Why should teachers read this book? You want principle centered students in your classroom. And where do principle centered students come from? They come from adults who intervene in their lives and who specifically teach and instruct them in these important life skills. This means you have to make a deliberate and intentional effort to instill those values into your students. After all, their success in life will be determined by their critical thinking skills, depth of knowledge, mental agility in dealing with new problems, and ability to work cooperatively with lots of different people. Great teachers weave all of these concepts together on a daily and weekly basis.
Overall evaluation of the book: A landmark book on leadership and social-emotional skills long before it became trendy to talk about emotional intelligence. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This is a very famous book whose ideas swept through the business world in the 1990’s. Many educators also read this seminal book but not nearly to the extent to which business people did as they jumped on the Covey train and spent thousands of dollars and hours bringing the message of Covey into the capitalistic environment.
Even though this is an older book than what I usually review, Covey’s messages remain just as true today as they did over twenty-five years ago. While it can be argued that Covey doesn’t really have any new information to present and that all he did was package personal improvement concepts into an understandable format—the fact remains that his materials have resonated with scores of people over the years. Your role here, as it relates to the message Covey delivers, is to help your middle school child begin to understand and apply the seven habits in their daily life. By repeatedly exposing your child to important concepts such as being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, putting first things first, thinking win-win, seeking first to understand and then be understood, synergizing and sharpen the saw, your child will be far ahead of the pack in their ability to lend a meaningful, impactful, and fruitful life.
Why should teachers read this book? Helping kids understand the people side of the learning equation has always been a minor goal of middle level educators. Helping kids think for themselves and to analyze and reflect over their internal thinking structures has not been as common of a goal or purpose in middle level education. However, helping your students focus their improvements over what they can control—themselves—is a major step in the right direction. The dominant theme running through The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is that an internal locus of control—a major psychological principle in all educational psychology textbooks—is a significant part of self-improvement and comes first before an individual is to lead Abraham Maslow’s self-actualized life. (Note: If you are an educator and didn’t understand the last sentence, you need to dust off your college books and do a little relearning—sharpening the saw in Covey’s language—before you can help your middle school students. The first rule of survival is that you must help yourself first before you can be of any benefit to anyone else.)
Overall evaluation of the book: This continues to be a valuable resource for individuals who want to improve their personal skills. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This famous book is actually more about parenting and socioeconomics than it is about pure economics. Dubner and Levitt’s main points tend to coalesce around the importance of the socioeconomics of the parents, the economy of the neighborhood in which the parents and the children live, and the reality that which school kids attend does not seem to matter as much as the pundits claim.
Advocates of charter schools and vouchers will not find much to like in this book because Dubner and Levitt present evidence that school choice is a false path—it apparently does not matter as much as some people hope that it matters. This is disconcerting news to staunch advocates for charter schools, who have almost entirely based their argument for the existence of charter schools on the premise that charter schools will academically outperform their public school brethren.
Dubner and Levitt focus the attention for higher test scores on mostly factors outside the control of the school—namely highly educated parents, the socioeconomic status of the parents, whether the mother was older or younger, the birth weight of the infant, whether parents speak English in the home, whether the child has been adopted or not, how involved parents are in the PTA, and how many books there are in the house.
Why should teachers read this book? Educators will find much to like in the writings of Dubner and Levitt. Mostly this will because they, Dubner and Levitt, will take nearly all the blame for students’ poor test scores out of the schools and teachers hands and place the causes on the backs of parents and larger socioeconomic issues. Teachers will find this to be a refreshing change from the political sermons pounded on the pulpit of school change by reform minded politicians, consultants, and ideologues, who regularly pin-point teachers as the number one reason why students are not achieving as well as we think they should. Unfortunately, as time has passed, virtually nothing has changed for teachers in the rhetoric wars toward teacher bashing. Teachers are regularly blamed for things in which Dubner and Levitt argue they are not responsible.
The most interesting chapter in this book, however, will be the one explaining how gangs function much like corporate McDonalds, in that the ordinary worker receives little compensation, even though they are doing most of the work. Once you think about this concept for a little bit and absorb the points the authors make, it will make a lot more sense.
Overall evaluation of the book: A defender of public education from the unlikeliest of places—economists. Four Stars ★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This book will reinforce the importance of your child learning how to deliver speeches in school and the necessity that they learn how to give great ones. Unfortunately, the ability to give speeches is rarely—if ever—tested on any state achievement tests, so speaking skills are probably given a raw deal in many middle schools because teachers tend to follow the state tests—they know what gets measured is important, and most states have determined that the ability of kids to give speeches isn’t important enough to be measured on state tests—not to mention the fact they don’t want to pay for the expensive assessment which would be required. However, an individual who is a great speaker has lots of life options at their disposal.
Why should teachers read this book? Having your students give scintillating speeches involves more than having them stand in front of the class and establish occasional eye contact while reading from their note cards. Everything in this book can be applied to the classroom and used to give your students significantly better speaking skills than students in other classrooms and schools. Make things more interesting in your classroom. Instead of telling your kids they are giving speeches, inform them they are giving TED talks. Set the stage, explain the criteria in this book, have your student practice, and they will end up as better and more confident speakers.
Overall evaluation of the book: If you ever have the inkling to deliver a TED talk, this book will tell you how to do it. As a bonus, the tips from Talk Like Ted can be used in any speaking situation. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This might be a slightly depressing book for parents to read because one of Gladwell’s major points is that parents don’t have as much of an impact in raising kids as they think they do. Huh? What Gladwell says makes even more of a difference in shaping the behaviors of teenagers is—not the parents—but the cultural and environmental and community context surrounding the teen. Gladwell argues that the friends and peers of the teenager make a significant difference in how the teen interacts in the wider world.
Gladwell also spends considerable time talking about the importance of connectors—people who exert a large impact on the relationships between people—solely because of their proximity to many different groups of people and their ability to influence large groups of people. For example, even though there were two riders who set out to warn the early colonists that the “British are coming!” only one, Paul Revere, has been remembered through the ages because he was a connector of people. The other rider, William Dawes, was apparently not as well known to the colonists and his name has subsequently sunk into the obscurity of local history.
Why should teachers read this book? Little things can make a big difference. The problem is that we, as educators, will have not a lot of advance warning as to when those smaller things can “tip” into something more momentous. The moral of the story, if Gladwell were penning one, is to press hard on the details while being aware of the levers and how you can move things quickly. This means that what we do as educators must be memorable and contagious to the extent that our students remember and apply what we want them to remember and apply. While this point may seem obvious, it does drive home the importance of having a lively classroom which is exciting, creative, and full of mystery. This is how kids get hooked on learning.
Overall evaluation of the book: A thoroughly enjoyable book which makes you think. Four Stars ★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This is a fascinating and interesting read on how successful people become—well, successful. We like to think that success in the adult world is based on the magic formula of: hard work + persistence = success. While this time-honored formula for success does have kernels of truth embedded into the fabric of mathematical addition, it is also, according to Gladwell, flawed. The real formula for success: is hard work + persistence + advantages + opportunities + luck = success. It’s not about talent—it’s about being fortunate enough to be the right person, at the right time, for the right problem. The world is littered with hard working, smart adults who failed because of sheer dumb bad luck.
As the contents of this book relate to middle school kids, this has profound implications for parents. It means that if you, as a parent, continually position your child so they have coaches and resources available to them, that you can produce a highly successful kid, with a high degree of skills, even if they started out with mediocre skills. Education and training do matter. What advantages you have as a parent can be advantages for your child.
Why should teachers read this book? You will be able to get lots of mileage out of the 10,000 hour rule—the one which says that to become an expert on something, we need to accumulate around 10,000 hours of sustained practice. Next time when the kids in your class are complaining about studying for 30 minutes, you can stun them with the fact that, after they are done studying for 30 minutes, they will only need 9,999.5 more hours of study to become an official expert.
Much of this book is an ode to the old-fashioned concepts of hard work and persistence, albeit wrapped around the mind-numbing number of hours which is needed to become a true expert. It is also an ode to the concept which teachers have suspected all along—that parents matter and what the parents do or don’t do can position the child in a strategic position to dominate the competition.
Overall evaluation of the book: Gladwell is known for addressing everyday topics with fresh eyes and this one is no different. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This is a somewhat famous book and even though it was written well over ten years ago, there is no reason the tenets found within the book are still not applicable today. As you read this book, Godin will remind you of the importance of being exceptional, being the best at your game, or searching for the purple cows—a purple cow is something which is so remarkable that it sticks out like a purple cow in a barnyard filled with black and white cows—hidden in the vast conformity of most jobs and businesses. The book is an encouragement for all of us to search for the creative side of our brain.
Purple Cow is a very quick read and you don’t need to worry about throwing away hours of your life on a book of questionable value. The primary way to use this book with your child is to encourage them to retain the creative side of their brain and to not dull their head with rote work and groupthink. Encourage your child to be “different” from other kids. There is no rule which says your child must think and act like everyone else in middle school—though they may very well want to do so. Consequently, don’t be alarmed if your child wants to go off on a tangent and spend lots of hours studying or playing something which doesn’t make sense to you. It doesn’t have to make sense to you. Help your child develop an agile and quick mind by making sure they are in contact with interesting people and have stimulating board games and learning experiences close at hand, so that eventually, as adults, they will have an easier time spotting the purple cows which may clop across their highway of life.
Why should teachers read this book? Be a little more receptive to students who don’t think like everyone else in the room. Not all students need to think alike. Your job isn’t to produce automatons for the factories of the 21st century. Your job is to produce kids who can think for themselves and have the mental agility to overcome obstacles and push ahead of the pack. Your job is also to be a Purple Cow teacher, and take risks in teaching and how you deliver assignments. There is much to be gained in having your students view you as a Purple Cow in the teaching world. Kids remember their Purple Cow teachers for a long, long time and they are the ones they constantly refer back to as teachers who made a significant difference in their life.
Overall evaluation of the book: A thin but profound book. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? If you want to know the type of world in which your child will be immersed and if you are fairly ignorant of technology, then you need to read this book. It will open your eyes to the limitless possibilities waiting for your child if they are savvy and determined enough to create their own group or tribe—a tribe is a group of people who are connected to one another because of a leader or an idea or an institution. It’s certainly not like the days of my childhood, when we called one another on our telephones mounted to the wall to see if the “tribe” wanted to get together to play baseball. There is a certain ra-ra-ra element to this story but Godin is a good writer and what he says makes sense, so I don’t see any problem with a bit of a motivational pep talk.
Do everything you can to help your child belong to several different groups—or tribes as Godin calls them. These tribes could include church tribes, school tribes, after-school tribes, community sports tribes, and community arts tribes. Don’t be worried about your child being invested in too many tribes. As long as they appear to be happy and engaged, don’t worry about it—even though you may tire from watching them bustle from one tribe activity to another tribe activity.
Why should teachers read this book? The gist of this book is that the internet has smashed through the traditional boundaries limiting the creating and growth of tribes and created unlimited opportunities for any of us to belong to unique tribes, or even to start our own tribe. In a very real sense, your classroom is a tribe and you are their chieftain. How your tribe responds depends almost entirely on you and the relationships, rituals, cultural understandings, and connections you help students make in the classroom. This book wasn’t written specifically for teachers, but much of it directly applies to the classroom—think of analogies between what Godin writes about and the role of the teacher. The analogies are almost impossible to miss.
Overall evaluation of the book: I really liked this book. It’s simple to understand and helps explain the impact of social media and why kids and adults sometimes flock together. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This is a book about leadership which covers more interesting ground than the typical books on leadership lining the shelves of your favorite bookstore or online retailer. As such, it is more useful than most.
Goffee and Jones describe the behaviors and attitudes your child will need to demonstrate when they assume positions of leadership. Some of what they cover is not new—such as leaders having a passion for big ideas, values, dreams, and visions. Other ideas will be refreshing twists on tired models of leadership—such as the dominant themes that leadership is a relationship between the leader and the led. In any case, the authors’ primary message is that individuals should “be yourself—more—with skill.”
Your child will go on to do great things with their life. If they can keep their core personality and be slightly enigmatic, while attracting followers to their cause, they will be miles ahead of the hackneyed leader who thinks that leadership is all about charisma and setting the goals of the organization. Isn’t that what we all want?
Why should teachers read this book? This book will restore your faith as to why your school is constantly trying to slip things into the classroom, like setting goals, following your inner heart, and being a more complete individual. Math and science reading are not everything your school teaches. Your school also teaches emotional intelligence and social skills to your students. In fact, a very good argument can be made that your ability to teach leadership and the softer social skills will be as important or more important to your students than the academic content you were hired to teach.
Overall evaluation of the book: Perhaps the most unique message in this book on leadership is that followers determine who they will respect and go along with on the road to higher performance. This changes the ancient model of leadership, from a charismatic change agent riding into town to clear up the problems bedeviling the organization, to a relationship-based leader who shows his flaws and knows when to be distant and when to get closer to people. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? One of the first things I always listen to when I board an airplane are the safety instructions for what I should do if disaster should strike the plane. One of the first things the airline staff always say to do first, when the oxygen mask drops down, is to first secure yours, and then focus on helping your children. The logic in securing your mask first is that you aren’t going to be any good to your children if you are dead because you didn’t put on your mask first. This is why you should read this book. Unless you are able to get your own life in order, it won’t do any good teaching your child skills which you haven’t even remotely mastered. Sometimes when your middle school child complains about how arbitrary your rules are and how they can’t tell what you are going to do next—they are telling the truth. Maybe you should listen and change your behaviors instead of focusing on theirs.
Why should teachers read this book? Goldsmith’s Top 20 “transactional flaws” is worth the price of this book. You will recognize many of the flaws and be able to create a long list of bosses and peers who are afflicted with many of the flaws. However, that is not what you should do with this list. You should apply them to your own life and help coach yourself on how you can be a better person by paying attention to these habits. For example, one of the bad habits mentioned by Goldsmith is talking too much when you are angry. There is value in recognizing when this is happening because you should have reasonable conversations with your class in a normal volume and not be shouting at them when you are angry over something a few members of the class have done.
Overall evaluation of the book: This was a surprising book to read. Much of it is really not about getting promoted to the next job. It’s really about being in control of your life. Well done. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? Do you want to help your child create memorable math, science, language arts, and history projects? Do you want your child’s performance to stand out in comparison to her peers? Do you want your child to know how to effectively engage with groups and positively impact their decisions? If the answers are “yes,” then you need to read this book. You don’t need to get fancy when applying the contents of this book. Simply follow the SUCCESS principles found in this book—simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.
Why should teachers read this book? Some ideas “stick” and some ideas fall away like post-it-notes stuck to my refrigerator door. When ideas “stick,” it means the ideas are understood and remembered and have a lasting impact. The main thrust of this book is how to make ideas “stick” with your target market (or class filled with students). In order to make your ideas “stick” they need to be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and in story format. The primary villain in preventing the creation of ideas which “stick,” will be the “curse of knowledge,” or the tendency to assume everyone knows what we know and the inability we have in imagining what it was like to not know something. Sound confusing? It’s really not when you think about it
Be a better teacher by teaching your students to keep main ideas simple. Explain and show them how unexpected events and situations can help them learn. Ensure they use concrete examples when talking about abstract concepts. Instruct them to use compelling details to be credible. Get them to inject some emotion into what they are doing. And tell them there is nothing better than an engaging and relevant story to convey their message. After all, how much students learn in your class is directly related to how “sticky” you can make their learnings.
Overall evaluation of the book: Well thought-out and clearly presented ideas to help your child and teaching stand out from the crowd. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This is an oldie-but-goodie. Fish swept through America like a firestorm in the early 2000’s and was partly responsible for rejuvenating the careers of many adults who either worked harder to change attitudes toward their current jobs or left their jobs to find more meaningful work elsewhere. Even though this book has sunk somewhat into obscurity, the messages found within its pages remain just as true today as they did in 2002.
As the message in this book relates to middle level education, you can either help your middle school child change their attitude and approach to things they don’t like or you can wait and hope the world changes its ways and becomes more like how your child wants the world to be. Which do you think will come first?
Why should teachers read this book? Teachers can use this book in several ways. They can use it to reel in their negative emotions and focus on improving their own attitude toward their job, or they can help their students develop better attitudes toward things they don’t like to do, such as studying, completing homework, and doing their absolute best in class. Many outstanding teachers use the Fish principles every day but rarely will poor teachers be using the Fish principles on a regular basis.
The real benefits for educators in reading this book will be to rediscover the days when teaching was fun and to be reenergized about the joys of teaching middle school kids.
Overall evaluation of the book: Fish is somewhat of a feel good approach to life but its primary message—that we can choose our attitude—is something to which everyone should be paying attention, no matter what their age. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This is an irreverent look at many of the social skills your child will need in the future when they are in the market for a job or attempting to improve their situation in the world of work. However, some of the recommendations are bound to annoy or shock some parents. For example, while McCammon talks about common topics such as how to dress, shake hands, and give short speeches, he also recommends drinking as a way to creativity and dropping the occasional swear word to make your point known in the office conference room. Consequently, as a parent, you are either going to love this book or hate it. While many of the author’s suggestions are very true to life, his delivery is such that I wouldn’t consider giving this book to your child to read.
Why should teachers read this book? If you are looking for an adult-oriented book on how to improve your job performance among adults in the educational school system, this book will, as with the parents, invoke a strong reaction. You will either hate or love this book. I don’t think there will be much middle ground.
Should any teacher or school principal whole-heartedly adopt the author’s suggestions, and use these techniques on their students (or teachers), the ensuing debacle will be one for the ages. Because many middle school kids don’t get innuendo and sarcasm, teachers and school administrators who follow his suggestions will quickly become unpopular with the kids. That said, if you have the ability to screen out the raw parts of this book, the author does have some useful suggestions—such as how to interview and be interviewed, accepting your skill limitations, acting with confidence, and planning for obstacles so you are never late for any meetings. Ever.
Overall evaluation of the book: This is an incredibly funny book—for those who have a sense of humor similar to the author’s. For others, this book will be a horror story of social faux paus. For parents and educators who walk a straight line, it will be impossible for them to not be appalled by this book. Although the author may be right, this book is not appropriate as a social-skills-in-the-workplace-guide for most people. For a slim minority, however, it will be a godsend and home run. Because of its lack of universal appeal— Two Stars ★★
Why should parents read this book? The theme of this book is to stop over-managing people and let them do the work they were hired to do. According to Murnighan, it is not necessary for managers and leaders to micromanage their employees and be in charge of everything. Instead, the author suggests “doing nothing” and seeing what happens in the vacuum. You may be surprised at the results you get. Leaders and managers should be spending their time facilitating and orchestrating the performance of others. This is what great leaders do—they facilitate and orchestrate.
Murnighan also believes that leaders sometimes forget the travails and problems of those who have been left behind on the corporate ladder. All organizations are filled with lots of capable people who, for one reason or another, have been bypassed for promotion. Leaders need to focus on them, use active listening skills and shine the spotlight on them. Leaders must also begin with the end in mind—Stephen Covey anyone?—and work accordingly. Murnighan believes, however, in pushing people beyond their ordinary limits and that managers and leaders must be the ones who ask workers to do more than they otherwise would.
This is one of the better leadership books on the market. It is short, straight to the point, well-written and refutes the analogous mania to over-micromanage your child. One of the best analogy reminders in this book will be to think like a middle school child and what it was like when you were their age. Sometimes what is obvious to adults is not so clear to kids.
Why should teachers read this book? This is a good reminder to not micromanage your middle school students. You don’t have to determine all of their events and all of their classroom activities. Sometimes if you want your students to grow and develop their skills, it means you must let them make their own decisions and figure things out for themselves. But be clear—this does not mean you don’t continually push your student and stretch them to their limits by having expectations and direction. It means you don’t have to fill in all the details. Let them do some of that.
Overall evaluation of the book: This is a great book. If you stay open-minded, the analogies to your family and child and school will pop up like gophers in a Nebraska farm field. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This is a book about negotiating deals. At first, it may seem odd to be reviewing a book on negotiating for those who are interested in middle school kids and the education they are receiving, but if you think about it for a few minutes, it will make lots of sense. Life is, after all, one large negotiation session. Our kids negotiate for time spent playing videogames and watching television. They haggle for the right to take karate, judo, soccer, baseball, tennis, football, track, lacrosse, and hockey lessons. And they squabble with parents and teachers over rules and interpretations of those rules. Does the trash need to be taken out now or after I’m done playing video games? How are they not using negotiation skills?
Whether or not we like to think in these terms, our middle school kids will be negotiating every day of their lives. They will negotiate with spouses, bosses, and colleagues. They will discuss and deal with teachers and principals. And if they are going to be negotiating their entire lives, shouldn’t we be teaching them how to effectively negotiate?
Why should teachers read this book? The art of negotiating is a topic in which teachers and educators rarely receive any formal training. Usually this is because negotiating is something that is perceived to be a rarely used skill which comes into play only when buying a car or house. Or it is viewed as something done in the business world. Few educators would historically have viewed negotiating as a skill they should have or as a skill which their students should learn.
These views come at a cost, however, because the reality is that negotiating is a core skill which kids will use their entire lives. Their ability to advocate for their behalf and work with others in achieving goals will affect their future jobs, spouses, and children. There is actually much to be gained by following basic negotiating strategies such as figuring out what you want, figuring out what your counterpart wants, and what your negotiation strategy should be, based on what you know about yourself and what you discuss about your counterpart.
Overall evaluation of the book: While some adults will be hard-pressed to understand what negotiating has to do with middle school kids, the reality is that middle school kids who negotiate well will have clear advantages over those who don’t know how to negotiate. Three Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book?
In today’s world of multitasking and fascination with smartphones and technology—the average teen checks their phone over a hundred times a day—the problem of capturing people’s attention has become more difficult than ever before. The reality is that your child will need to make lots of presentations before they ever graduate from high school. And why shouldn’t your child make memorable presentation? If your child is going to create projects and scenarios and models, shouldn’t they know how to create them so they are eye-catching and attention-grabbing? Where do you think adults who are professionals in the world of work began to hone their skills? That’s right—it all began no later than middle school.
It’s a mistake to think that learning how to draw attention to an idea or product is something solved in college or graduate school. According to Ben Parr, all we need to do—to get people’s attention—is to pay attention to attentional triggers—automaticity, framing, disruption, reward, reputation, mystery, and acknowledgement.
Why should teachers read this book? Are you tired of your students giving listless and uninspiring presentations in your classroom? Are you ready to scream after being subjected to the ten-thousandth boring poster presentation on the birds of North America? Are you convinced there has to be a better way of teaching sixth graders how to make compelling Google Slides, a PowerPoint, or a Prezi? If you are, then read this book and teach your class some of the concepts found within the pages. Teach them how to make a mystery of the topic to make the presentation more compelling. Train them about framing a problem and solution so that everything makes sense for the audience. Instruct them on how to disrupt the audience’s expectations so their classmates are eagerly awaiting the final outcome. And talk extensively with them on how reputations are carefully built and destroyed by a few minutes of stupid decisions and behaviors.
Overall evaluation of the book: While very little new information is presented in this book—versus what was known in 1995—readers may be comforted by someone considered to be a “hot” commodity on the current writing circuit to be worthy of their time and effort. Four Stars ★★★★
Why should parents read this book? One of the critical skills your middle school child will need to learn is that of presenting or giving speeches. They will need to regularly stand in the front of the class and either by themselves or in a group, give a public performance on an academic topic. They will also be expected to put together a PowerPoint, Google Slide, Prezi, or some other type of electronic presentation. Consequently, an important part of schooling for them will be learning how to both give and create scintillating presentations.
Presentationzen is one of the better resources available on how to effectively give dynamic presentations which won’t lull your audience into a dull stupor. This resource will also tell you how to go beyond basic PowerPoint presentations and create memorable slides. Rather than cramming 400 words onto a single slide with 17 different pictures, you will learn how to coach your child into placing six or fewer words on a slide with only one striking graphic or picture.
Why should teachers read this book? Presentation skills need to be taught just like any other skill. Sometimes we forget to teach the simplest of things to our students because we assume someone else in the building is teaching the students how to make a dazzling Prezi or powerful Google Slides. Take the time to eliminate all uncertainty and directly teach your students how to give jaw-dropping presentations. Many of the resources at your disposal will give lots of advice on how to give academic and boring presentations. Do your students a favor and teach them how to give presentations like those found in this book. The students and other adults watching the presentations will thank you.
Overall evaluation of the book: Forget most of what you ever learned about giving digital presentations and follow the advice given in this superb book. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? I’m recommending a book you have probably never heard of before. Any why would I be recommending a book hardly anyone has heard of that is a good 20 plus years old? Have I lost my mind? No, I certainly have not gone bonkers. I’m recommending this book because it is the antidote to the “succeed-at-any-cost attitude,” the “win-win and damn-the-losers” type of thinking, the “I-must-climb-the-financial-and-social-ladder-of-success” compulsion.
Sometimes we create beliefs deep within ourselves after years of formal education, that the grades we receive in school are a reflection of the individual we are. This isn’t true, of course, but how many of us have worried about the grade in a certain class we thought we wanted, only to discover the anguish we went through wasn’t worth the price we paid? I think all of us have been there and done that.
Help your middle school child keep grades in perspective. (This, of course, means you must keep grades in perspective.) In some classes your middle school child will hardly do any work and receive an ‘A.’ In other classes, your middle school child will work hard and struggle and perhaps receive a ‘C’ or a ‘B’ for the course. Don’t delude yourself into believing the value of your child is determined by whether or not they made the ‘A’ or the ‘B’ honor roll. These are noble goals in of themselves, but the real goal should be the pursuit of valuable and worthwhile learning.
Why should teachers read this book? Stress, over and over, that the most important thing you are looking for in the classroom are hardworking, creative, inquisitive learners. You are not looking for mindless drones who can parrot back facts and dates and formulas and figures. A drone can play the role of a parrot but what you are looking for are inquiring minds who can adapt and change and figure out new problems they have never seen before.
Beware the trap of the grade point average. There isn’t any correlation to success in life and a high grade point average, so why do we keep focusing on something which may not matter as much as we think it does? Teach your students that bad things can happen and that effort will not always deliver the results they want. Teach them to bounce back from defeat and work around their weaknesses. And above all, teach them that the road to personal achievement is never the same for each individual.
Overall evaluation of the book: The antidote to parents and educators who believe that grades are the most important part of education. They are not. Four Stars ★★★★
Why should parents read this book? If you have ever wondered whether the selection process for which school your child attends could be improved upon, this may be a useful reference. However, if you are a parent or community member serving on a committee which is examining how to improve the total school selection process, this book is a home run, one you will want to devour.
While the author doesn’t give you any detailed specifics on how to improve the school selection process for parents and school administrators, Roth does give you enough broad details to ask the right questions when your local school district is looking to revamp the selection process system. Will your child be able to attend their first choice of schools? Or will they be forced to attend their tenth choice of schools?
Roth also covers some interesting topics which are related to the main topic—how do systems decide who gets what—such as why there is always a stampede to be the first one to get their choice in, and why earlier and earlier selection processes don’t result in improved systems, so there are tidbits which are fascinating in their own right.
Why should teachers read this book? The school selection process can be a nerve wracking process for parents and kids. Even though you may be insulated from some of the consequences of the process, the reality is that someone within your district was instrumental in creating the process. For that reason alone, there are reasons why this book should be read and more importantly, used as a reference.
Anyone in the district office should be reading Roth’s work—especially if they are responsible for some of the design or implementation of the school choice process. Can your system be more efficient and solve most of the inherent problems involving multiple buildings and hundreds or thousands of students? Probably. Do you know how to improve the system? Probably not. After reading this book you will at least understand why you are experiencing certain problems and how to look for potential solutions.
Overall evaluation of the book: Most people won’t want to read this book but for those designing school choice systems, it is required reading. Three Stars ★★★
Why should parents read this book? This is a short book which is packed with lots of insights, many of which will be already familiar to you. But it’s a good reminder of the skills your child will need to be successful in whatever line of work they ultimately choose. The essence of the book is that hard work and paying attention to details is what creates exceptional performance. (Note: The Encore Effect, is, in essence, a remarkable performance that causes the audience—or customer—to act, feel good, to think, and maybe even to laugh.) So the next time you tell your child it’s “okay to not do their homework,” or “take it easy in gymnastics,” you might want to rethink your position.
Focus your child’s attention on working hard and paying attention to the details while considering the audience. Encourage them to take leadership positions in school organizations and clubs so they can develop their listening and motivational skills. If your child is emotionally and intellectually mature, you can consider giving them this book to read, but keep in mind some middle school kids won’t be thrilled with your recommendation. Still, it’s worth considering… If you do encourage your child to read this book, I’d suggest you read it with them and then have a brief discussion with them after every chapter about what they found interesting or important. Ask them questions but don’t lecture them.
Why should teachers read this book: The classroom is your encore effect. Why have a boring and stale classroom? Why not be an exceptional teacher and bring some life to your class by dazzling your students? This book argues against the mundane, the average, and mediocrity. If you think this doesn’t apply to your classroom—you’re wrong and your students are paying the price.
Overall evaluation of the book: Not much new ground broken here, but it is well packaged and there are a few remarkable moments which will give you pause to think about the level of work and attention to detail required to create memorable moments. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? This is one of the most famous organizational learning and behavior books to come out of the business world. It may seem odd in referencing this honored tome on a website dealing exclusively with middle school children, but it actually makes a lot of sense once you think about it.
Your child probably belongs to many different organizations right now and will one day work for an organization of some sort. If your child will spend a considerable amount of their life interacting with others in an organization, shouldn’t they know how to maximize their influence within an organization and help others within the organization function as effective human beings? Of course, they should. This is why a set of crucial skills you will help your child obtain will be related to working effectively with other people and to motivate and influence them for the betterment of the overall organization. If your middle school child can begin to think about some of the concepts Senge made famous—like mental models and systems thinking—they will find their future may have no limits.
Why should teachers read this book? Schools are organizations and classrooms are microcosms of these larger organizations. Effective teachers know how to work in larger systems and influence people so the entire school works better for its moist important clients—the students.
Senges five disciplines have stood the test of time and will undoubtedly continue to be referenced into the forseeable future. It’s hard to argue with what we now consider to be bedrock foundations of how people function within organizations—shared visions, mental models, systems thinking, personal mastery, and team learning. Almost all modern staff development activities and graduate coursework falls into one of these five disciplines. Effectively work your local school and classroom to the benefit of the students. Apply Senge’s five disciplines and watch the organizational health of your system gradually improve.
Overall evaluation of the book: A classic which has spawned innumerable books, seminars, and university courses in both the business and educational worlds. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? It may seem odd for me to recommend a business book on leadership and organization for your reading pleasure but this classic deserves to be recognized and applauded. The gist of this book is that linear models of prediction and reams of data can be meaningless when examined from a different picture. To get a better idea of what is really happening, we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. What is the larger pattern going on? Despite what the flow chart of the organizational hierarchy says, what are the real relationships between people and where does the real power reside?
Your child lives, eats, and works in a school filled with other children and adults. There are patterns of relationships and larger dynamics occurring on a regular basis. Your child’s ability to see the social dynamics and patterns of what is happening will account for a large measure of how successful they are in the larger system. It is never too late or early to help them spot, and more importantly, navigate these transactions.
Why should teachers read this book? Classrooms and schools are noisy, chaotic organizations. And yet, there is always pattern in the complexity of chaos. Learn how to manage and ride the organizational chaos into bliss and surrender. Bliss because you may as well enjoy the time on planet Earth that you have and surrender because you won’t be able to control everything anyway, so you may as well learn to let go of things and relax. For example, does that red-haired kid in the back of the classroom really need to be psychologically subdued and turned into a meek and dutiful student? Will it really matter if the principal starts managing the building the way you see fit? Probably not.
Look for the fractals in your classroom. Where are the strange attractors? Where does your attempt to control a linear classroom fall apart? Is there order in the disorder which confronts you? Can you make relationships which cascade and diminish the power of one negative student in a classroom of thirty-one?
Overall evaluation of the book: A classic in the field of organizational theory and leadership. Is it possible families and schools are really fractals existing in a nonlinear and quantum world? If you like books with analogies and metaphors with a touch of zen, this was written just for you. Five Stars ★★★★★
Why should parents read this book? Witt believes that every speaker needs to sound and act like a leader, because this is what the audience expects. When things get tense and major initiatives are experiencing stumbling blocks, it is at these moments in time when leaders need to take the stage and deliver powerful speeches while connecting with the audience.
Much of the book dispenses Witt’s advice on how to accomplish being a credible speaker. For example, Witt says all great speeches contain four primary elements—the speech is given by a great person at a noteworthy event and the message is compelling while being masterfully delivered. Sound simple? It’s not
This is a solid book to refresh your memory on the importance of making presentations. Does your middle school child ever have to make presentations to their classmates? I’m sure they do. If you read this book, you’ll know what advice you should give your child when they begin panicking at 8:30 in the evening about a period one science presentation.
If your child has a good teacher, they will have given some hints and suggestions to your child on things they should be paying attention to in the presentation. The teacher may even have given your child a rubric—or scoring system with details on how the presentation is being graded. Armed with the knowledge in this book (and the rubric), you will be able to further assist your child on making their presentation or speech even more compelling.
Why should teachers read this book? Teachers assign presentations to middle school kids all the time. What they don’t do, all the time, however, is to spend time helping their students understand and practice how to give great presentations. Do your class a favor and show them how to make good presentations. Model for them what a great presentation sounds like, looks like, and feels like. Have your students practice again and again how to hone their presentations and make them better until they become great. You won’t be wasting anyone’s time when you do this—you’ll be giving them a competitive advantage when they enter the world of work. Presentations which have highly relevant content combined with a dynamic presentation are tough for the competition to topple. It’s silly to not work with middle school kids on their presentation skills.
Overall evaluation of the book: I found this to be a very useful book, even if much of the information contained within is somewhat standard speaker material. There’s enough new stuff and angles to keep things lively and interesting. And it’s well written. Five Stars ★★★★★