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Professional Opinion

The well-read K12 administrator

Books from other disciplines should inspire school leaders
For 25 years, Michael Niehoff has been a teacher, advisor, director of activities, learning director, principal and author. He writes on project-based learning, social media literacy, transformational leadership and professional development.
For 25 years, Michael Niehoff has been a teacher, advisor, director of activities, learning director, principal and author. He writes on project-based learning, social media literacy, transformational leadership and professional development.

Professional reading has long been a practice of leaders in many disciplines. Education is no exception.

However, to be truly innovative, educational leaders can discover amazing professional insights in the areas of business, politics, psychology, sociology, technology and the military.

Here is a list of non-education books that today’s educational leaders recommend to their peers:

The Power of Moments, by Chip and Dan Heath, explores why and how certain brief experiences in our lives can have profound impact.

It suggests we learn to create such defining moments in both our professional and personal lives.

Joe Sanfelippo, superintendent of Fall Creek School District in Wisconsin, says the authors discuss how we can help provide more of these moments that will be remembered long after kids have left our schools.

“Educational leaders live in a world where amazing moments happen often, but we don’t know the impact until years later,” he says.

First, Fast, Fearless (How To Lead Like A Navy Seal), by retired Navy Seal Lt. Commander Brian “Iron Ed” Hiner, is about going beyond the norm to get the seemingly impossible done.

“This book is invaluable,” says Andrew Schwab, associate superintendent of learning and innovation for Union School District in San Jose, California.

“Even if you don’t embrace the military metaphor, this directly addresses building effective leadership teams and also managing your own brand as a leader.”

The Circle of Innovation, the follow up to Tom Peters’ legendary book Thriving On Chaos, presents new ways of envisioning the challenges of today’s world, says Jon Corippo, interim executive director of CUE, an educational nonprofit.

“This has become a quick learning model representing the new normal,” he says.

“The book’s subtitle (‘You Can Shrink Your Way To Greatness’) has served me well for more than a decade.”

Start With Why by Simon Sinek perfectly illustrates the path to purposeful innovation with his concept of the “Golden Circle”: Starting with “why,” then moving to “how” and finally “what.”  

“When we follow this progression in our thinking, we are much less likely to fall into empty trends and much more likely to design purpose-driven ideas that represent our schools,” says Jason Markey, principal at East Leyden High School in Illinois.

Camen Gallo’s Talk Like TED focuses on the art of storytelling. There has been much emphasis of late for school leaders to connect with all stakeholders, and this book could up our collective game.

“We connect with constituents on an emotional level to reach their hearts,” says Brad Gustfason, principal at Wayzata Public Schools in Minnesota.

“There is real neuroscience behind this and it demonstrates how to take the art of storytelling to a whole new level.”

Naturally, this is not a complete list of non-education books educational leaders could read. It’s merely a snapshot of some highly recommended. Here are 20 more that came up often as well from educational leaders from around the country:

Tribes by Seth Godin

The Noticer by Andy Andrews

Capital Gains by Chip Gaines

Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success by John Maxwell

Daring Greatly by Brenee Brown

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

Creative Confidence by David and Tom Kelley

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

Thanks For The Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Refugee by Alan Gratz

A Sense of Urgency by John P. Kotter

Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Leadership And Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute

Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

The Book Of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

The Visible Ops Handbook by Gene Kim

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

A Complaint Is A Gift: Recovering Customer Loyalty When Things Go Wrong by Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller

The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything by Bob Johansen  


For 25 years, Michael Niehoff has been a teacher, advisor, director of activities, learning director, principal and author. He writes on project-based learning, social media literacy, transformational leadership and professional development.