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Turning Book Burners into Lifelong Learners

An essential collection of the latest books for district-level leaders

First I saw the smoke, then the fire. In the alley stood a half dozen teens pitching books, notes and papers into a flaming trash can. I approached the group with the worry of a former principal to investigate.

"We're burning our notes and books," they said. "We're outta there!" Final exams were over and nothing but graduation lay ahead for these seniors. They were celebrating. Upon further inquiry, I learned that these were A and B students, most headed to college.

What did this encounter say about 13 years of heroic efforts to educate students by scores of teachers, counselors, administrators and parents? It brought to mind a common definition of "at-risk": A student who leaves school with little likelihood of continuing learning. These honor students were at risk.

Beneath all too many schools lurks a chilling message to students: "Learn or we will punish you." Under the specter of high-stakes tests, teachers and administrators continue to ratchet up the punishments for not learning.

But educators can promote lifelong learning so students who perform well under the direction of school won't 'burn their books' later:

Give learning a good name. Schools do this when they include, honor, embrace and make use of all of the many ways a person learns and feels passion about something. Real learning is not, as a typical sixth grader might believe, simply listening to the teacher, reading assignments, working alone filling out worksheets, taking exams and being graded.

Allow students to pose and answer their own problems. Teacher-posed questions limit students' learning potential.

Reduce teacher-directed, didactic instruction. Ample research suggests that what a person retains a few weeks later is perhaps 5 percent of what he or she was told.

Promote pleasure and success. Students must experience both often enough to feel absorbed, committed and satisfied in their learning. They'll want to experience the same level of pleasure and success outside of school.

Reward instead of punishing. Find ways to decouple learning from punishment. The message that "learning brings its own rewards" is better than "learn or we will punish you."

-- Roland S. Barth

Adapted from

On Common Ground: The Power of Professional Learning Communities

National Educational Service

Ed. by Richard DuFour et al., $29.95

Beyond the Numbers

Advanced Learning Press

by Stephen H. White, $24.95

Examining the process of data analysis for practitioners, the author shows how teachers and school leaders can be experts in data analysis instead of number crunchers. The five Rs to examining data--recognize, realize, reflect, respond and replicate--are explored through case studies, charts, checklists, worksheets and discussion questions. A free online study guide is also available.

A Practical Guide to Effective School Board Meetings

Corwin Press

by Rene S. Townsend, James R. Brown and Walter L. Buster, $30.95

Written by former superintendents, this book approaches the board meeting as more than just a "to-do" list task. Rather, it's a path to reaching district goals. After a look at the roles of the superintendent and board, the guide offers tips for pre-meeting planning, conducting meetings and post-meeting follow up and "recovery." Resources include sample meeting protocols and agendas.

Also new: What Matters Most for School Leaders: 25 Reminders of What is Really Important ($32.95). The book offers must-do tips and don't-do lists on, for example, avoiding childish choices and signs you're a bureaucrat.

Recruiting, Retaining and Supporting Highly Qualified Teachers

Harvard Education Press

Ed. by Caroline Chauncey, $19.95

This pocket-sized book offers 12 perspectives on improving the quality of teaching in schools--from finding and hiring the best candidates to building instructional relationships that support professional growth for novice and experienced teachers. It includes eight previously published articles from the Harvard Education Letter and four new articles. Topics include new teacher induction, non-traditional paths to teaching and collaborative teacher evaluations.