Learn after reading

18th December 2015 at 00:00
Learn after reading
What single book should all teachers have read? Chloe Darracott-Cankovic puts that very question to a host of education experts…

What makes a book useful to a teacher? It’s a harder question to answer than you might expect. Education touches upon so many aspects of life – and there are so many factors involved in how a person learns – that what initially seems a restrictive categorisation suddenly becomes incredibly broad.

So some sympathy is required for the leading education figures for whom we made this challenge even harder. We asked them the following question: “What single book do you believe is essential reading for a teacher?”

Many were, understandably, initially reluctant to pin their choice down to one, while some stuck to their guns and chose multiple titles.

Will every reader agree that each selection fits the brief? Perhaps not. The choices are varied: compelling classic and modern fiction, biographies of inspiring figures, research summaries, essays on achievement, theories of intelligence, books on social and political history, psychology, and philosophy. But few could argue that any of the books chosen have no connection with education (though they may argue that this connection is too fragile for the book to be the single most essential read for teachers).

Is there anything else to connect the seemingly random collection of books listed over the following pages? Disappointingly, the books are overwhelmingly written by male authors. There is also a distinct lack of an international perspective; the UK and the US – both in terms of the nationality of the author and the focus of the content – dominate.

More positively, the desire for teachers to gain a deeper understanding of the business of teaching is clearly the core aim of every recommendation. That the method of gaining that understanding and the decision on the most important area to focus on differs between respondents is simply testament to the glorious diversity of the education profession and the nature of teaching.

So peruse the recommendations, make your own judgements and, with a week to go until Christmas, perhaps add a few to your wish list.

Nicky Morgan

Secretary of state for education and minister for women and equalities

How Children Succeed: grit, curiosity and the hidden power of character

by Paul Tough

“There should be no tension between academic success and character education – the two are mutually dependent. Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed offers an important contribution to the debate around the role of character education in schools and, in particular, the value it can have for disadvantaged pupils. I want all children, no matter what their background, to leave school well rounded, with a range of interests.”


Sir Tim Brighouse

Former schools commissioner for London, education author and TES columnist

Leading in a Culture of Change

by Michael Fullan

“Michael Fullan’s book is cheap and a quick read, so it starts with two great advantages for busy school leaders. You could start each senior leadership team meeting with a short debate on each chapter. I guarantee it will help your school be a better and more cheerful place to learn and teach. The Idiot Teacher by Gerard Holmes, Bounce by Matthew Syed and Howard Gardner’s Education and Development of the Mind should also be must-reads.”


Dame Alison Peacock

Executive headteacher at The Wroxham School and TES columnist

Children, Their World, Their Education: final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review

edited by Robin Alexander

“This has to be the most important book in recent times for all those interested in primary education. The book and the accompanying volume of research papers provide a compelling synthesis of published educational research and findings that relate to the full range of issues encountered by everyone working with primary-aged children. It focuses on three core principles: equity, expertise and empowerment.”


Sir Kevan Collins

Chief executive, Education Endowment Foundation

The Creative Destruction of Medicine: how the digital revolution will create better health care

by Eric Topol

“I love roaming in related disciplines searching for clues and paths to our future. This book shows us how the powerful combination of good science and technology is already delivering ‘ultra-personalised’ health solutions. It also demonstrates how continuous feedback and automated alerts manage risk, and help promote fitness and wellbeing. Eric Topol points the way to a revolution that will sweep through our profession. It reminds us that informed citizens and democratic checks are essential if we are to deliver the benefits of technology to all.”


Why Don’t Students Like School: a cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom

by Daniel Willingham


Nick Gibb

Minister of state for schools

“Dan Willingham argues that we expect too much of students in terms of capabilities and skills, without focusing enough on the knowledge required to develop them. He demonstrates how the limitations of working memory, and the power of knowledge stored in long-term memory, should guide classroom practice.”


E D Hirsch

Founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, author and professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia

“In my experience, when teachers are informed about current cognitive science they are moved to change their practice for the better. Here, Dan Willingham explains the science clearly and agreeably.”


Daisy Christodoulou

Head of education research, ARK “Dan Willingham is brilliant at explaining complicated science clearly, offering useful reference to real classroom problems. Read it and you will never plan a lesson in the same way again.”

Samantha Twiselton

Director of Sheffield Institute of Education

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

by Mark Haddon

“The plot, characters, themes and perspectives that are so beautifully and movingly articulated have powerful messages for all involved in education. Importantly, Haddon has said: ‘[It is] not a book about Asperger’s…if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way.’ The novel should give all who read it important insights into their students’ perspectives on the world.”


David Laws

Executive chairman, CentreForum

The Tail: how England’s schools fail one child in five – and what can be done

edited by Paul Marshall

“This focuses on the causes and the consequences of the lowest achieving quintile of children, who leave school without basic skills in literacy and numeracy. The power of this book comes from the fact that it challenges existing notions and demonstrates that, with strong commitment and effective incentives, ‘the tail’ is neither intractable nor immovable. Importantly, it puts teachers right at the heart of this challenge, reflecting growing evidence that the leadership and dedication of teachers can make the single biggest difference to improving outcomes for the tail.”


Dylan Wiliam

Emeritus professor of educational assessment at UCL Institute of Education

Switch: How to change things when change is hard

by Chip and Dan Heath

“Perhaps the most counterproductive idea in professional development over recent years has been that teachers need to share good practice – most teachers already have more good ideas than they can use in a lifetime. What they lack is time and support in putting their ideas into practice. In other words, professional development needs to focus on changing practice, rather than sharing practice; not knowledge giving, but habit changing. That’s why I recommend every teacher should read this book. It’s a brilliant, readable summary of the research on habit change.”


Vicki Davis

Author of the Cool Cat Teacher blog (@coolcatteacher) and host of educational podcast Every Classroom Matters

How to Win Friends and Influence People

by Dale Carnegie

“Schools are full of people. People need respect, love and attention, not manipulation and coercion. I’ve read this book on working with people at least once a year since I was 12. I’m still improving as I apply the ideas in this book. Kids still benefit from this book. Life is full of people; when we respect them, we all win.”

Chris Keates

General secretary, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers

To Kill A Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

“This is a timeless story about childhood and a child’s-eye view that conveys an understanding of human behaviour, justice and compassion, which is much needed in these times, when far too many lives continue to be blighted by inequality and prejudice. Its messages are as hard-hitting today as they were when it was first written.”


Neil Carmichael

Conservative MP for Stroud, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee

Legacy: what the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life

by James Kerr

“This book analyses the secrets of the most successful rugby team in history and how their disciplines in character, preparation and responsibility can be used by leaders in all fields. I know of school leaders who have already applied many of the tips to their work and I believe it’s of great use for inspirational leadership in education.”


Charlotte Vere

Executive director, Girls’ Schools Association

The Art of Being a Brilliant Teenager

by Andy Cope, Andy Whittaker, Darrell Woodman and Amy Bradley

“At a recent conference, Andy Cope delivered one of the best opening sessions I have heard on ‘The Art of Happiness’: from ‘special pants’ (yes, that’s right) to ‘mood hooverers’. It gave everyone there a basic belief that happiness is a state of mind that can and should be encouraged. So I bought my two children his book, which focuses on the younger mind. With all the talk around poor mental health in teenagers, it’s got to be worth a try, right?”

Mary Bousted

General secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers

Visible Learning for Teachers: maximizing impact on learning

by John Hattie

“Recognising what makes a difference enables reflection on how to do more that makes a positive difference. Reading this book should make obvious the swathes of time-consuming tasks that make no (or worse, negative) impact, making them easy to remove. It is fabulously well-researched.”


Lee Elliot Major

Chief executive of the Sutton Trust, a trustee of the Education Endowment Foundation and co-author of the Sutton Trust-EEF toolkit for schools

The Hidden Lives of Learners

by Graham Nuthall

“The Hidden Lives of Learners lays bare the truth of what really happens in classrooms. Hundreds of hours of videotape evidence expose the crude inefficiencies of everyday teaching: 50 per cent of what teachers teach, children already know; 80 per cent of pupils’ time is spent pretending to listen; teachers talk 75 per cent of the time. This book shows why effective feedback is so key to learning.”


Julie Robinson

General secretary, Independent Schools Council

Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google? The essential guide to the big issues for every 21st century teacher

by Ian Gilbert

“This is a humorous roller coaster of a book, full of big ideas to improve learning and make you a better teacher. Ian Gilbert inspires through insightful, enthusiastic, reflective and well-researched wisdom and experience. Read it to ensure that you are not falling into bad-teacher traps.”


Russell Hobby

General secretary, National Association of Headteachers

The Logic of Scientific Discovery

by Karl Popper

“I recommend this because of its unflinching analysis and its fascinating account of the accumulation of knowledge. An additional book for school leaders is The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig – it promotes a healthy scepticism about ‘advice’, and urges trust in your common sense rather than fashion.”


Pasi Sahlberg

Finnish educator, author and visiting professor of practice at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform: can we change course before it’s too late?

by Seymour B Sarason

“This book really changed the way I thought about my own school. It helped me to understand the importance of the culture of the school and how beliefs, habits and power relations between people are keys to school change. The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform is a must-read for teachers who want enriched perspectives to teaching and school improvement.”


Barbara Oakley

Professor of engineering, Oakland University, and author and co-instructor of the popular Mooc Learning How to Learn

Rebel Yell: the violence, passion, and redemption of Stonewall Jackson

by S C Gwynne

“S C Gwynne’s book helps us to understand that even the most reviled among us can have unexpected depth of character and ability. Teachers can bring this inspiring example to mind when they face challenges with the students who are in their charge.”

Tim Oates

Group director, Assessment Research & Development

The Expert Learner: challenging the myth of ability

by Gordon Stobart

“In 2011, a draft of the new national curriculum for primary maths came back to me and ministers with all mentions of ‘practice’ red-penned by officials. They said: ‘Practice in maths is just dull repetition of the same thing. It will switch children off the subject.’ We reinstated the word. Doing so felt contrary to the educational zeitgeist at the time, so we were relieved at the publication of Gordon Stobart’s brilliant, iconoclastic, evidence-driven analysis book,which puts practice at the heart of learning.”


Christine Blower

General secretary of the National Union of Teachers

The People: the rise and fall of the working class 1910-2010

by Selina Todd

“Policymakers talk a lot about the ‘disadvantaged’, but they hardly ever listen to them. Selina Todd’s book is a marvellous corrective to that attitude. Based on the voices of working-class people, it charts the history of ‘those who won wars, who got an education against the odds and who worked hard to give their children the best possible start’. Now, as inequality rises and austerity bites, the ‘anger and defiance’ of ‘the people’ have been muted. But as Todd points out, their experience shows us that social injustice can be challenged.”


Andreas Schleicher

Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, OECD

The Smartest Kids in the World: and how they got that way

by Amanda Ripley

“Amanda Ripley follows three American teenagers who each chose to spend one school year living and learning in a different country: Finland, South Korea and Poland. Through their adventures, Ripley discovers startling truths about how attitudes, parenting and rigorous teaching have revolutionised these countries’ education results. Ripley’s astonishing insights reveal how kids learn to think for themselves, and that persistence and resilience matter more to our children’s life chances than self-esteem or sports.”

Helen Fraser

Chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST)

Outliers: the story of success

by Malcolm Gladwell

“This is a must read for teaching staff. Gladwell explores why some people achieve so much more than others, and puts forward the theory that none of us is naturally talented. Rather, we become good at things by working away, for 10,000 hours, at whatever it is we want to excel in.”


Becky Francis

Professor of education and social justice, King’s College London

Black Swan Green

by David Mitchell

“Besides being a gripping, insightful, and hugely well-crafted ‘coming of age’ tale, Black Swan Green provides a timely reminder that schools really have got better since the 1980s. It also conveys the intensity and vulnerability of adolescence without ever patronising, and includes some reminders of the difference that great teachers can make.”


Sam Freedman

Acting executive director of programmes at Teach First and TES columnist

Thinking, Fast and Slow

by Daniel Kahneman

“Teachers are bombarded with theories about how best to do their job, so it’s crucial to understand how to make open-minded, sceptical judgements about what is and isn’t worth trying. Start with this – it’s an excellent guide to why our reasoning is so often misguided.”


Amanda Spielman

Chief regulator and chair, Ofqual

Measuring Up: what educational testing really tells us

by Daniel Koretz

“This book explains, with fascinating examples, the principles of testing and test design, including validity and reliability. By the end, the reader is well equipped to avoid many common pitfalls.”


Nancie Atwell

Author, teacher, winner of the inaugural Global Teacher Prize and founder of the Center for Teaching and Learning

Reading Without Nonsense

by Frank Smith

“As a literacy teacher for 40 years, Frank Smith continues to be the theorist who most informs my work with children. In this refreshing book, Smith rightly characterises much reading instruction as ‘ritual and nonsense’, starting with an overreliance on systematic phonics in both the UK and US. Instead, he urges teachers to understand what skilled readers actually do and what the beginning reader is trying to do.”


Julia Gillard

Chair of the board of directors, Global Partnership for Education

I Am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban

by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

“I suggest keeping a copy to hand and letting it inspire you on the days when the disadvantage that follows some children to school seems impossible to overcome, and when it all seems too hard. A book to remind us that education is precious, sought after and fought for.”


Baroness Warnock

Philosopher and chair of The Warnock Report (1978) Special Educational Needs

On Liberty

by John Stuart Mill

“Mill speaks of the ‘tyranny of the majority’, the fetters imposed on the individual by the need to conform to the role society has assigned them. Teachers must avoid stereotyping their students by categorising them: she’s a girl; he’s a West Indian; she’s a spoiled only child; he’s from a deprived background. Teachers should hope beyond expectation. All classroom teaching involves a degree of manipulation. On Liberty serves as an exacting warning.”

More online

For book recommendations by Tom Bennett, Anthony Seldon, John Dunford, Sonia Blandford and Fred Jarvis, see bit.ly/TeachingBooks

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