Books to improve you

30th June 2006 at 01:00
DIY training (2): Sara Bubb compiles a list of titles rich in CPD tips and advice

Having problems getting your school to give you any time or money for training? Continuing professional development (CPD) isn't just about courses. One of the most individualised, cheap and flexible ways to teach better is by reading. And it's a lovely thing to do, whether you're standing on the train going to work, sitting in the garden, lying on the sofa or even snuggled under the duvet.

Am I a book-loving loner in these active and collaborative learning days? I've been asking teachers on The TES website*. Potatoes5, a Scottish headteacher, was surely trying to be provocative when he posted: "I don't read books. I do my job as headteacher and learn from any errors of judgment as I go". Because I've been inundated by people telling me how books give them ideas, food for thought and inspiration - to be better teachers.

Managing children's behaviour is a fairly constant concern. Bill Rogers's books seem to have had a big impact on teachers. CathyD says that "Cracking the hard class helped to stop me feeling sorry for myself and start working on how to sort it out". Books like Misunderstood Minds, by Mel Levine, and Luke Jackson's Freaks, Geeks and Asperger's Syndrome have proved popular sources of insight into the way some children see the world.

Dibs: in search of self by Virginia Axline, which is about how play therapy helped a disturbed five-year-old, is a great favourite of many and is guaranteed to have you sobbing.

Books by John McBeath, Tony Bush, Michael Fullan, Peter Earley, Daniel Goleman and Charles Handy are popular with people in leadership roles. Dr Jennifer Longhurst, headteacher of Surbiton high school, describes Tweak to Transform: Improving Teaching by Mike Hughes and David Potter as "invaluable". Ken Blanchard's The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey helps with delegation issues, and Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese? is rated as a great book about dealing with change.

Justin Heath, deputy head at Southover Church of England primary, in Lewes, East Sussex, says, "The most inspirational thing I've read recently has been Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It's changed the way I look at things at quite a fundamental level."

Many teachers have found pearls for teaching within fiction. CathyD recommends A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. "When I read it at the age of 11, it was just a cracking good wizard story. When I read it again, years later, the bit about only achieving wholeness and freedom when you recognised and took responsibility for your failings, rather than consuming yourself in the battle to escape them, really struck a chord."

Autobiography is popular too. Alan Standish, a consultant in the Midlands, feels that Milligan's War has helped him be a better teacher. He writes:

"Spike Milligan's black humour portrayal of life and death combined with knowledge of ancient civilisations, brought home to me the value of an education. This had a powerful effect on my teaching as I questioned how do I pass on information which is experiential, purposeful, with humour and effective - in a way that can be remembered for a long time."

Need some inspiration to help you battle with a tough class? Golden oldies include Ronald F Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days, How Children Fail by John Holt and To Sir With Love by Edward Braithwaite. Sophrosyne1 treasures her mother's 1969 copy of Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner. She says, "I dip in to it when I'm feeling like I lack direction." Chicken Soup for the Teachers' Soul by Canfield and Hansen is rated by gentleman_starkey as "an ideal, if soppy read, for when you're feeling that you don't really matter".

Ronan Dunne, deputy at St Gregory's primary in Liverpool, recommends St.

Jean Baptiste De La Salle's Meditations for Time of Retreat: "While the religious tone may not be to everyone's taste, the messages he gives his tired teachers as they mull over the year and prepare for the next are as fresh today as when they were written. Anytime I've given it to teachers to read, it's changed their lives," I tried to find people who had been helped by the plethora of free Deparment for Education and Skills publications, but the only mention was of the national literacy strategy booklets Progression in Phonics, Playing with Sounds and Developing Early Writing.

Laura Standing is one of many teachers who rate Paul Ginnis's The Teacher's Toolkit, recommended to her as a newly qualified teacher. "Four years into my teaching career and this book has taken on a well-loved look due to it being taken off the book shelf so many times."

The ALPs Approach by Alistair Smith and Nicola Call has gone down well too.

Juliateacher says, "I've read it about five times now to try and make total sense, and have had to adapt to fit it into my school. But my class wrote a code for learning and one boy said 'Never miss a minute to learn something new'."

I couldn't agree more.

* Bubb's Helping Teachers Develop, pound;15.99, is published by SagePaul Chapman and can be ordered through the TES bookshop

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