From Theory to Practice

pjhiggins Twitterpoll: If you could have your administrators read one book this summer, what would it be?

This question comes from one of the administrators who has become part of my PLN over the past year. Now, before I go into how I responded, some of the replies were:

ssandifer @pjhiggins wikinomics

chrislehmann @pjhiggins Moral Leadership — Thomas Sergiovanni

Now, there are a few topics that I believe are becoming essential for administrators to have a working knowledge about:

Data and data management

Economics and global influence

Leadership and the leadership role

Assessment and Curricular Planning

Technology Integration

Students, parents and school community relations

Helping All students reach their potential

Conflict Resolution

Now, the list could be endless but I think that these topics, although very broad, will give an administrator some guidelines. One cannot possibly be up-to-date on all the topics of education but it is important to have a grasp of those things that significantly affect education. Some people might argue that there are other topics that could be added and they’re right. Some might disagree with the way I’ve set this up and so be it. The point is that there is no one book that will “be” the book to read. It might give us some insight into a particular area of education or school or economy or society or…. but it won’t be definitive.

So, what is my suggestion for a book or two to read through the summer? Well, my answer to the question was:

@pjhiggins “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (Charles Schultz) or “Scientific Progress Goes “Boink”  and “The Days are Just Packed” (The last two are Calvin and Hobbes books by Bill Watterson.)

What the? probably just ran through your mind. This is suppose to be for school administrators. What in the world do these books have to do with that? Well, nothing and everything. These are comics and, on their own, have nothing to do with being an administrator. However, they are about children, written in such a dynamic manner that they capture the angst of that time in a manner that I have yet to see done by any of the many books that I have read. In fact, it is during times when I’m very unsure of what I’m doing and where things are going that I often turn to these books, or others by the same writer, that I find inspiration for where I am going.

It’s from these images and stories that I find more real ideas than from many of the “expert” books that I have read. It’s the fact that these two writers are able to so magnificently capture the angst/joy of childhood and youth in a way that allows one to see beyond just what is there.

Life is a Comedy (of errors?)

As a young administrator, I was going to fix the schools of their problems. Yes I was. I had the answers and once people saw that I had them, everyone would listen, we’d bring about sweeping changes and I’d climb the steps all the way to the Division office in a few short years. Really. I mean, I’d spent 10 years honing my craft in middle year classrooms, working with incredible teachers, learning from them and beginning to explore how connecting students and curriculum was so important. I was ready.

Apparently, the rest of the educational world wasn’t quite ready for me and I was definitely not ready for what was follow. Let’s just say, I had a bit more than my eyebrows singed in my first years as an administrator. Now in my 8th year, I understand that I know very little, I have very little power and school administration is not even close to what I thought it was going to be. I was, in truth, completely clueless.

Don’t squirt lighter fluid on a burning fire

Truth be told, my learning is increasing each year as I see relationships that need to be explored and then look for information and ways of learning about the different parts of the relationships. As the school year screams along, I try to keep up with different ideas and thoughts regarding education. I also try to keep seeking out ideas and thoughts from outside education, looking for ways to blend and merge, to create an experience that is less “unreal” so students can experience “the real world” well before they exit from school.

In doing this, I sometimes find that I use to squirt lighterfluid on bonfires which, if you’ve been camping, can be quite interesting depending on the size of the fire, the amount of fluid and the distance from the fire. I’ve since learned that this type of activity does nothing but create a much larger fire that usually singes hair off your body. (note – a person looks stupid with no eyebrows or eyelashes!) Instead, I’ve learned to that fires do not need any additional fuel from me and my job is to make sure they stay under control and are put out.

Cartoon Heroes

When things get really intense with my job, which is about every few hours, I’ve learned that if I take myself too seriously, I will make mistakes. That’s when a few moments to refocus and recenter is so important. My inspiration at these times is a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon. No matter the situation, it makes me smile and reflect. The theory is always useful but it’s the transfer to everyday situations and individual moments where it really counts. Sometimes it isn’t always easy to do and sometimes, it’s downright gut-wrenching. It’s times like that, when the two worlds are colliding and I’m searching, I spend a little time seeing what the comic philosophers have to say. It’s not that I’m looking for one specific answer. Instead, I’m looking at people and humanity through different lenses. In fact, most of my heroes come from those pages – heroes that may not save the world or always be stronger, faster and stronger. They’re my heroes because they point out our human follies and virtues in ways that are accessible to everyone.

So, my suggestion for reading during the summer might include a few “educational” books but it definitely will include those comic philosophers who will remind me of the importance of staying in touch with all aspects of being human. I’ve so much to learn. When I first stepped into administration, I had so many answers. Now, I have so many questions and, as an administrator, it’s all about the kids – all kids. I’ve felt like many of the characters in those pages. So, if you excuse me, I have a coffee table that needs some nails and a ball team that needs a pitcher.


  1. fran


    I am writing to you on behalf of Jenifer Fox, author of YOUR CHILDS STRENGTHS. I would like to send you a copy of her book, have you read it, and then post a review on your blogsite. Perhaps add to your “summer reading” list. Please let me know where to send. If you are not interested, I would only ask that you pass her book on to someone who might be interested.

  2. Reply

    As soon as I get that “Don’t squirt lighter fluid on a burning fire” thing down I’ll let you know.

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