By Becky Sipos 

kenrobinson-creativeschoolsCount me among the millions who have watched Ken Robinson’s 2006 Ted Talk on “How Schools Kill Creativity,” (the most viewed in the organization’s history), so when it was time to select books for my summer reading column, I knew one book I would choose was Robinson’s new book

Creative Schools The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education.”

The book is full of inspiring schools and creative educators. Robinson makes a key distinction between teaching and learning and many stories focus on that. I found particularly touching his example about a teacher in Mexico, who taught at a primary school in Matamoros, described as “a destitute town not far from the U.S. border that regularly serves as a backdrop for drug wars.” After several years of traditional teaching with limited success, Sergio Juarez Correa decided to focus on empowering students to learn for themselves. He built his lessons around open-ended questions and encouraged collaboration and conversations.

The transformation was amazing. One girl who lived by a dump and had never done well turned out to be a math prodigy and scored the highest math score ever and was featured on national television. But 10 other students scored in the 99th percentile in math. Not that Correa was impressed by their standardized test scores as he was focused on empowering them to think and do so much more, but the scores showed others the potential that had been ignored among his students.

Although Robinson never mentions character education, much of what he promotes is in line with our 11 Principles. His emphasis on engaging students in the learning process offers much for our principle 6. He also has good suggestions for engaging parents and the community (principle 10). I found the book to be a quick read full of engaging, inspiring stories. The book is a comprehensive look at what needs to be changed in today’s schools, but you can find something to emulate right away in your own classroom or school.  I highly recommend it. 

The second book I chose for my summer reading list is “Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and Beyond by Larry Ferlazzo (published in March this year). It’s the third book in his series on motivation, and unfortunately, I haven’t read the first two. But this one is powerful on its own. When I learned from a Gallup poll last year that the longer students are in school, the less engaged they become, I was really disheartened. I also know that in our Schools of Character evaluations that many schools struggle with instilling “intrinsic motivation.” Ferlazzo’s book is a solution for both of those problems. It offers a lot of strategies to prevent students from becoming disengaged.

He looks at classroom conditions that are necessary for motivation to grow. His first chapter opens with a quote from former Secretary of Education Terrel Bell, “There are three things to remember about education. The first is motivation. The second one is motivation. The third one is motivation.”

He refers to Professor Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s work on human motivation that suggests three elements combine to nurture intrinsic motivation: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. He adds later studies that include a fourth criteria–that “the work must be be seen by students as being interesting and valuable to them.” His ideas and lessons are designed to help students motivate themselves through cultivating these four qualities. 

While the first two books are great for inspiring your teaching and work great as summer professional development reading, the third book I wanted to review is David Brooks’ new book “The Road to Character.”  But it is more for personal character growth than professional pedagogy. Alas, I am #277 on the waiting list at my public library so I haven’t read it yet. I fear summer will be over before I get it read unless I decide to go buy it.

But I love the concept behind the book, based on the excerpts I’ve read in the New York Times. Brooks’ distinction between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues makes you stop and think about what is truly important. The résumé virtues are the skills you build for your job searches. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — what kind of person you were.

However, to round out my list of three professional character development books, I’ll add: Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy” by Emily Bazelon. If you didn’t read it when I first wrote about it two years ago, it’s still worth picking up. She takes three stories of bullying that had all made the news and explores them in-depth. Her perspectives add much to what had appeared in the news — but what is particularly helpful about Bazelon’s book is her thoroughly researched section entitled “Solutions.” She cautions about accepting the bullying hype: that bullying is an epidemic (not true) or that it’s the biggest problem kids face today (also not true.). She offers thoughtful suggestions and even includes a Q & A section and a list of resources for kids, parents and educators. If you want to know more about the book, take a look at our blog post by Rob McManamy.

Happy Reading!