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A Summer Reading List for the Master Teacher

Summer Professional Development for Educators

By Dr. Jeff Borden, Executive Director — Institute for Inter-Connected Education

As this is my first blog on this site, permit me a brief introduction. I always want to know if the blog I am reading is from a credible source or not, so hopefully this will help you ascertain ‘why’ reading this blog is beneficial.

My name is Dr. Jeff Borden, but you can call me Jeff. I am a husband, dad, teacher, professor, stand-up comedian, musician, blogger, and disc golfer. I have taught Education, Communication, and Composition at the high school and higher ed level(s) for 22 years. My last formal post was Chief Innovation Officer at Saint Leo University, where I also taught pre-service, Education majors about some of the things I plan to discuss here.

But as many hours as I have logged in the classroom (which is a lot), I have even more as a researcher, trend-spotter, consultant, and speaker.

I ran an academic “think-tank” of researchers who worked with folks from institutions around the globe for a time. Ironic to our current context, we ran a gamified experience for multiple high school students across North America and Australia where we “unleashed” a global pandemic, with every class acting as a unique actor in the scenario. (Social Studies classes acted as country leaders, Science students tried to identify the virus, Speech students provided editorials, etc.) Then we studied the efficacy of the entire experience. I have had the pleasure of architecting dozens of initiatives like that over my time. And finally, I have taken that research about theory and practice and provided more than 200 keynote addresses, hundreds more workshops/seminars, and consultations to dozens of districts and institutions over that time. ( for more info if you’re interested.)

I’m also a voracious consumer. From books to articles to social media to videos and beyond, I seek out…intersections. See, over time, patterns have emerged in the content. So, in my thirties, I reported a lot of other people’s findings and information, but as I moved into my forties, I started to notice the overlap between important concepts, often found in completely disparate fields.

As prominent neuroscientist Dr. John Medina told me just before I introduced him at a conference, “neuroscientists and educators don’t do conferences together…heck, we don’t even have lunch together despite being on the same campus!” But it’s not just the lack of integration between what should likely be obvious partnerships like cognitive science and learning science. To me, there are also obvious linkages from learning to innovation, education technology, cognitive psychology, leadership, and systems thinking to name a few.

A Must-Read List for Teachers

If this has you nodding along, then I’d like to see if I might provide some helpful tools as we move through the summer. I realize this summer is like no other, depending on what your district is doing in and around the virus, returning to school, professional development, etc. But assuming you get at least some time to upskill, let me see if I can provide a good platform by which to begin. Consider the following a Summer Reading List for the Master Teacher who is genuinely interested in promoting learning amongst students:

  1. Brain Rules: As already mentioned, Dr. John Medina explains a dozen things that we “know” about the brain. What does “know” mean, exactly? That scientists can replicate them with regularity. So, since they are so universally applicable, we should probably pay attention, right?
  2. Mindset: Carol Dweck’s work in and around Conation (a long forgotten term that is far and away the best word for the 3rd corner of the learning triangle: cognition, affection, conation) is seminal. Entire countries like Australia have moved to a “Growth Mindset” curriculum for K-11 and the best teachers in the world know how to spot it, how to implement it, and how to leverage it.
  3. The Innovator’s DNA: Dyer (et al) do a masterful job explaining what innovation is and why it is so hard to find. They also share why companies struggle to find innovators (which largely sits at the feet of education) but more importantly, how innovation is the key to success. The cool part? Innovation and learning science are inextricably tied together if you know what to look for. Innovation relies on juxtaposition and association, as does learning. Innovation relies on research and data, as does learning.
  4. The Case Against Education: Yes, you are reading that right. (Professor) Bryan Caplan does a heck of a job calling out the problems with learning in America. We claim to be teaching students how to think. We’re not. We claim to see student learning through testing. But they aren’t. Under the guise of “know thine enemy”, every educator should read this book and mitigate its findings in their classrooms.
  5. The Fifth Discipline: Senge’s work has gone through a few edition changes, but it really stands the test of time. Illustrating the importance of thinking broadly rather than narrowly, this book was likely the precursor to another important book (Range, Epstein) that shows just how important it is to generalize and NOT specialize, despite how we set up our learning environments as well as our students. Systems thinking will lead our students to be leaders and strategists far better than myopic thinking or learning.

Other PD Opportunities

I hope you might consider that a primer for some PD this Summer. And if all of that is too weighty, let me give you one “extra” for your list. You might also check out a book that is written completely as an allegory: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Lencioni. Not only will it make you look at your teaching group, administrators, and entire school differently, but it will also show the crucial nature of helping students figure out what it is to work in a team, lead a team, act in a role other than leader for their team, and more. As workers are in teams 80 percent of the time (or more), but students only see group experiences less than 15 percent of the time, we really are not doing right by them using our autonomous approach to learning so much.

So, with all of that in mind, I hope my personal credibility and the external credibility I have tried to provide here will not only help you find a few nexus’ with learning and other disciplines, but also encourage you to read more of my blogs as they become available.

I believe deeply in the transformative power of learning, but I also know that most humans do not understand the art nor the science of how to actually encourage learning in others.

Maybe we can unpack some of that together.

Good luck and good learning.

Dr. Jeff D. Borden

Jeff is the Executive Director of the Institute for Inter-Connected Education, the CAO for Campus, and a Davis Scholar in Residence (Akilah Institute, Rwanda). Having spoken to educators at every level, from Provosts to Principals, in 39 countries and every state, Dr. Borden is showcasing the best possible instructional ideas and strategies to transform learning at scale. Through award-winning “learning ecosystem” creation, curated book chapters, large scale learning games, and more, Dr. Borden will inspire change. Having presented to more than 5,000 audiences in 20 years, he will blog about practical, researched, intentional learning strategies.

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