Winter Reading

It’s not always easy to keep up much reading momentum during the winter, as holidays and the end of a semester jostle with planning for elementary outreach, master schedule building for the next school year, and the start of a new semester. For me, a good mystery stands a chance of holding my focus (at least in hour long intervals on the exercise bike), but for the nonfiction I read for work I tend toward thinner volumes and more episodic fare.

This winter, tucked between James Lee Burke and The Laughing Policeman, I managed three books: Mindfire by Scott Berkun, If You Can’t Fail, It Doesn’t Count by Dave Guymon, and Masterminds & Wingmen by Rosalind Wiseman.

Scott Berkun is a blogger whose short pieces I’ve often enjoyed. Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds is a collection of posts, organized in three categories: “Gasoline, Sparks, and Fire.” The unifying idea is that the book’s purpose is to “activate minds,” challenging readers to engage in their worlds thoughtfully, passionately, and creatively. As I read I kept thinking: I could use this to spark discussions with teachers, other administrators, and students. Chapters such as “How to be a Free Thinker” and “Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas” were made for discussion.

One of my favorite pieces from Mindfire was the innocuously titled “How to Learn from Your Mistakes,” which offered a creative and useful way to look at growing from our experiences. We’ve talked a lot about growth mindset here at Diegueño this year, and the notion of what Berkun describes as “putting yourself in positions where you can make interesting mistakes” really resonated with me.Without a doubt, Mindfire is a book I’ll share all or parts of, and I’m already looking forward to the conversation it will inspire.

The title of Dave Guymon’s book caught my attention, as I thought: “Yeah, If You Can’t Fail, It Doesn’t Count sounds right. It’s a quick read, and where Mindfire’s strength was in the diversity of topics and power of ideas, Guymon’s book, truly a unified volume, is at its best when appealing to the heart. Homey in tone, Guymon suggests that “the world we live in was not made by people who ran away from risk. The world we live in was made by those who ran headfirst into it screaming from the top of their lungs.” When I finished the book, I wanted to be one of those inspired souls screaming toward a future I help to create.

Guymon provides a slew of examples to illustrate his points, and more than a few prompted me to check out more detailed tellings of the stories he told in brief. He also does a nice job of describing the lizard brain and how to overcome the limited thinking that often holds people back. His book was a great reminder of the importance of acting on our ideas, and in addition to hearing this advice for myself, as a site administrator at a school, I took away a reminder of the importance of creating a space where those I work with can stretch creatively as well.

The third book on my list brought those more general ideas about creativity, engagement, and living life back to the reality of being a middle school administrator.

This summer I read a book about middle school aged girls, and I always knew that I’d compliment that reading with something about the boys; Rosalind Wiseman’s book fit that bill. Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World is a thorough tome with plenty of examples to illustrate the idea that a boys’ lives are “much more complex than popular culture gives them credit for.”

As a fellow who has made a living out of working with kids ages 12-18, I read this book with a hunger to better understand how best to work with the young males at my school, but without the immediate angst of being their dad. As such, I felt Wiseman’s insight and advice rang true, and I was being given some practical clues as to how to make a difference. I appreciated that she didn’t shy away from tough topics (drugs, porn, the perils of social media) and that she brought wit and insight into others (“Why Batman never smiles”). For anyone with a teen or tween boy, I’d say this book gives an unflinching view of boyhood that will help you parent/teach/coach/inspire.

Together these three volumes provided a nice mix of inspiration and ideas I could bring back to my work with students, teachers, and parents. They got me thinking about what I do, how I support the great (and innovative) work around me, and how I can best help the students and adults at my school, including me, learn and grow. I’d recommend them all to fellow educators, though until I get registration and the master schedule done, I think it’s time for me to stick to some Sherlockian short stories.

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