Holiday Reading List

As of today (November 5, 2018), there are 49 shopping days left until Christmas. Crap.


Of course that also means we are 3 weeks from a national break (and at our house, an amazing feast). In my personal life, it’s even more hectic as my wife’s birthday and our anniversary also fall within the next 49 days.

For most of my readers, it also signals a massive slow down. Campus activity trails off like a hockey stick graph from about the 2nd day of Finals to the day grades are due. Most schools close altogether from Christmas to New Year’s Day, also closing down dorms, perhaps leaving only a skeleton crew to manage the one dorm housing international students who have no way to get home. In other words, life is about to slow down for most people associated with a college or university.

As such, I know a lot of people will travel, organize time with family, and more. But I also know a lot of faculty, staff, and administrators will take some time to catch up on some long-overdue reading. There is a LOT to choose from on that front, obviously and some may already have a book or curated list of articles ready to go. At the same time, some may only wish to read within their specific major / genre / context…but I hope not. We know so much about the power of information gathered from other contexts and how it is really the best way to truly innovate. I truly hope (as an example) that math professors are reading about education, that education staff are reading about technology, and that Provosts are reading about cognitive bias.


So to that end, here is a potential list of some great reads. Yes, you will find “learning” as a thread that binds them all, but most of these books were not authored with educators as the primary audience. Add them to your Amazon wish list and maybe you’ll receive one as a present. Or just buy one now so you have something ready for Thanksgiving evening, as you eat turkey sandwiches and try not to fall asleep on the couch.

  • The End of Average (Rose, 2015): How we measure people is fundamentally flawed, and not from a philosophical point of view, but actually from a mathematical perspective. By placing people into clusters by “average” we are doing ourselves and our students a tremendous disservice. This is a must read for any educational leader, teacher, or staff member and would be my highest recommendation this holiday season!

  • Mindset (Dweck, 2007): It would be hard for me to argue that any other book written in the last 30 years is more important than this one regarding how to frame education. Often paired with Duckworth’s, “Grit”, Dweck brings years of research, theory, and practice to readers explaining success in ways many school leaders still have not considered (likely because they have not seen it). A book that both frees academics while also holding them accountable in new ways, this book is a must read for leaders and should be operationalized as a matter of course.

  • How People Learn (Bransford, et al, 2000): I have heard passionate, deliberate, highly reasoned arguments from “hard science” professors throughout the years, suggesting that their “soft science” counterparts are not great with research, suggest far too much policy based on either ‘gut’ or ‘emotional aptitude’, and that teaching stem related information simply cannot leverage the same methods as liberal arts. So it may be refreshing to read a book on learning as assembled by scientists, engineers, and educational psychologists. Also powerful is how they infuse brain science with learning research to suggest the best ways to promote actual learning, and not just good test taking. (Oh, I should also mention it’s a free e-Book!)

  • Make It Stick (Brown, et al., 2014): Similar to the book above, but with another decade and a half of research, this book will prove to traditionalists that methods like re-reading, highlighting notes, and lecturing are scientifically bad form. They are not best for students / learners, yet they are propagated throughout education mostly because educators practice what they experienced, having never researched what is best. This book will show that teaching and learning takes a very different approach, if designed for the learner and not simply easy for the instructor.

  • Sticking Points (Shaw, 2013): Any and every college or university leader, administrator, staff, or professor should be researching generational differences with a regular cadence. We are in a place where 5 generations are legitimately interacting at our institutions, yet many schools still promote processes and methods that are designed for 1 or 2 at best. This book, not written for educators but sharply aligned to education should be on your shelf.

  • The Fifth Discipline (Senge, 2006): This may very well be a re-read for many, although the updates in the 2006 version are notably important. Senge’s description of system thinking (and how absent it appears to be within higher education) is profound. Most institutions are simply not setup to handle this kind of holistic architecture, yet Senge illustrates that anyone who spends the time and resources to do so, will likely reap tremendous benefits.

  • The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team (Lencioni, 2000): Taking massive amounts of the author’s own organizational behavior research, this book, written more as a parable, describes how teams fail, but importantly, also details how to fix and transform teams into effective, successful experiences. An absolute must-read for any group of people who have not found success nor satisfaction, but wish to be effective.

I hope you find one or two in this list that peak your interest. If you enjoy them, which I am fairly certain that you will, I hope you will come back and try a few more, perhaps at Spring Break or next Summer. Research has shown us a lot more about any number of things and these books will try to point at some methods, processes, or paradigms that likely need to be changed, transformed, or potentially scrapped. IICE will try to setup a second list for Summer, but hopefully these books will help you with your own learning journey this winter.

Good luck and good learning.