By Ren Cedar Fuller, Education Consultant at Bellevue Discovery
It’s been an invigorating summer of reading. Parents thinking about their children’s educational paths often ask me for recommendations, so here you go:
I Highly Recommend:
“There is no permanent utopia for education, just a constant striving to create the best conditions for real people in real communities in a constantly changing world. That’s what living in a complex, dynamic system means.”
You know Dr. Ken Robinson’s TED talk, and if not, consider it an inspirational homework assignment. I reread this book during our family vacation and it resonated just as much as the first time. All of the work we’ve done at Bellevue Discovery over the past few years to define who we are – as we prepared for our new Head of School – gave me a new mindset as I read Robinson’s words again. Looking over my shoulder as I read it on Kindle, the lovely Mr. Fuller asked if it would be easier for me to just highlight the entire book.
The Importance of Being Little: What Young Children Really Need from Grownups by Erica Christakis
“It is a paradox that bored children often need to engage more deeply in an activity, not less. But teachers have increasingly been turned into carnival barkers, drumming up business for the various choices or centers around the room, and sometimes can’t find the time to help children struggle with something long enough to become un-bored.”
This is another book filled with my highlighting. I highly recommend it for early childhood educators and parents of young children. Helping little ones grow is a constant balancing act: we need to create a feeling of safety, excite them with new ideas, value how they learn with their whole bodies, stand back and let them create their own learning … all while being human ourselves and not always catching the mini-cues that let us know the exact right support a child needs.
“If we want to do better things for students, we have to become the guinea pigs and immerse ourselves in new learning opportunities to understand how to create the necessary changes. We rarely create something different until we experience something different.”
I read this on my first day of summer vacation while flying to Barcelona. I use the one-chapter-rule: if the first chapter doesn’t draw me in I put the book down. Oh, this drew me in. It might be a “teachers’ book” – maybe a non-teacher could read it and let me know if you find it as inspiring and challenging as I did. I found it the perfect read to help me move from work mode to vacation mode, ready to immerse myself in unfamiliar places.
Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are by Daniel Nettle
While comparing human personalities with variations in finch beaks on the Galapagos Islands and discussing why humans haven’t evolved toward an “ideal” personality, Nettle wrote: “Even if there is one beak size that over many years is the best on average, then episodes of fluctuation in selection make it much more difficult for selection to settle on just that optimum and eliminate all other variation.”
We visited the Natural History Museum in London, and when my brain was full I wandered to the gift shop. Since the lovely Mr. Fuller’s brain was not yet full and our son was immersed in the ornithology display cases for several hours, I looked for a new book. I found Personality and read half of it while sitting on the floor in the gift shop. A tourist from Germany asked me about the book and we got to talking about people’s temperaments. He wanted to buy the book, too, and since mine was the last one I handed it to him. I ordered a new copy and finished the book when we got home to Seattle. Because I am that kind of a mom, I assigned the chapter “Character Matters” to my son as an example of how scientists use statistics, and encouraged him to read the chapter “The Beak of the Finch” because it compares one of his passions with one of mine.
More Good Reads:
“The future isn’t written in the stars. There are no guarantees. So claim your adulthood. Be intentional. Get to work.”
My fabulous kiddo, going into his senior year of high school, asked what he needs to know before he goes to college. I figured there’s a good book out there – and yes, there are plenty with practical tips that could be summed up as “use good executive function skills.” My search led me to this book, written for 20 year olds but applicable to all of us who continue to make decisions about our life (so, all of us). I liked this quote, which won’t make sense to my son for many years: “The nicest part about getting older is knowing how your life worked out, especially if you like what you wake up to every day.”
For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood … and the Rest of Y’all, Too by Timothy Walker
“Reality pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning that has a primary goal of meeting each student on his or her own cultural and emotional turf. It focuses on making the local experiences of the student visible and creating contexts where there is a role reversal of sorts that positions the student as the expert in his or her own teaching and learning, and the teachers as the learner.”
I was fortunate (and challenged) to learn from a “reality pedagogy” principal when I taught in East Los Angeles 30 years ago, when I was young white teacher whose students spoke Spanish, Tagalag and Tongan. This book is geared toward high school teachers, but the ideas can transfer to any age. Good teaching focuses on the students – the real, live, individual students in the classroom. What gifts, challenges, experiences, learning styles, temperaments, culture, and passions does each child bring with them into the classroom?
Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms by Timothy Walker
“Much has been written about the importance to raising resilient (or “gritty”) students, but I haven’t seen too much literature on the importance of developing resilient teachers. Some of the most joyful teachers I know are some of the toughest – their confidence seems rooted in something beyond their performance. When these educators make mistakes, they bounce back quickly.”
On my way to a girlfriends’ weekend, I had long flight delay. After finishing the book I’d brought with me I found this in the airport bookstore. Of course I’d read Finnish Lessons 2.0 by Pasi Sahlberg years ago. Teach Like Finland is the perspective of an American teacher who taught in Finland for two years, bringing the research to life. Our Head of School, Jeff Snow, and I had been talking about balancing direct instruction, child-led exploration, and facilitated problem solving (project-based-learning) in our preschool curriculum. This book explores how this balance happens in Finnish classrooms, and how – surprise! – it all comes down to the student-teacher relationship.
Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in All Schools by Mara Krechevsky, Ben Mardell, Melissa Rivard and Daniel Wilson
“[Documentation is] the practice of observing, recording, interpreting, and sharing through a variety of media the processes and products of learning in order to deepen and extend learning.”
One challenge with inquiry-based learning at Bellevue Discovery is that our preschoolers don’t have daily worksheets to bring home to their parents to show what they did in class that day. This book surveys pre-K through 12th grade inquiry-based classrooms: How do schools show the process of learning when we don’t send home completed work products every day? Older students can reflect on their own learning: their iterations and research and mistakes and solutions. But preschoolers’ reflections are more adult-dependent: we ask them to think about their thinking, we ask what the hardest thing was, we ask, “What would happen if …?” I was telling the lovely Mr. Fuller that we haven’t yet designed good systems at the preschool level to document inquiry-based learning. Being a software engineer, he asked what we needed. I look forward to piloting our new documentation software at Bellevue Discovery this fall. (Thanks, honey!).