Ten Non-Fiction Books Every Teacher Should Read

17 Jan 2019

“The differences between expert performers and normal adults are not immutable, that is, due to genetically prescribed talent. Instead, these differences reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance.

I didn’t write as much as I would have liked in 2018: it was a busy old year with the arrival of a wee chap who doesn’t fully support any writing (or sleeping) habits. I missed it: both in terms of solidifying thinking about teaching, and in giving scope and time to concentrate on what really matters in the classroom. This year I am making a conscious effort to make time for it, so I squeeze in an hour of writing in the early hours of every morning before life (and the wee chap) interrupt the serenity.

I am writing a book called ‘A Quiet Education’ which will be published hopefully towards the end of the year. Although given how slowly and painstakingly I write, it may well be 2035. It is in three sections: the first is on how to create the conditions for quieter students to thrive in schools; the second is on looking at maximising the potential of quieter teachers and quiet in the classroom. These article from TES from the start of the year are a general introduction to the first two areas: on quieter students and on quieter teachers.

The third section is on the development of quiet and invisible skills in our classrooms and for our students. I have been doing lots of reading and thinking about what I think is a fascinating topic and encompasses a range of significant issues: how do we improve attention and organisation; how can we develop our students’ metacognitive abilities; how can we improve motivation and self-awareness?

These are ten books that over the course of the past few years have been hugely beneficial in coming to some conclusions about the way our students learn, and how we can guide them towards some of these vital skills. They have also significantly impacted my own teacher behaviours, and how I go about building relationships with young people.

  1. Daniel Goleman: ‘Emotional Intelligence’. Is there a job in which emotional intelligence is as necessary and vital as teaching? The classroom is the domain in which emotional intelligence is ruthlessly exposed, without it our ability to form positive relationships is shattered. One of the areas I want to look at is self-awareness, both from a teacher perspective and our students, and this book is wonderful in that regard. “Socrates injunction Know Thyself speaks to this keystone of emotional intelligence: awareness of one’s own feelings as they occur”.

  2. Susan Cain: ‘Quiet.’ This is as wonderful and empowering book that looks at the role of introverts in society. Its release in 2012 has sparked a quiet revolution, in which the preconceptions of people more inclined to inner reflection have been challenged. It has had a significant impact on how I perceive myself as an introvert, and I hope to share some of the thinking in relation to how we perceive our quieter students in schools. “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

  3. Daniel Levitin: ‘The Organised Mind’. Organisation is very much an individual and ‘quiet’ skill. As an individual of rather poor organisational ability, this book has taught me a huge amount. I hope to explore that in more detail in relation to our young people, particularly the myth that multi-tasking is the best way to function. “As the old saying goes, a man with one watch always knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.”

  4. Chip and Dan Heath: ‘Switch.’ How can we encourage our young people to change bad habits, or to learn more from those around them? The book is most fascinating when looking at ‘Bright Spots’, something that can aid both motivation and engagement in our classrooms: ““What’s working, and how can we do more of it?” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, in the real world, this obvious question is almost never asked. Instead, the question we ask is more problem focused: “What’s broken, and how do we fix it?”

  5. Daniel Kahneman: ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’. How are our students thinking in our lessons? This book starts to unpick two types of thinking: System 1, which is fast instinctive and emotional; and system two which is slower, more reflective and considered. What I want to explore in more detail is how we can harness the potential of more system two thinking in our lessons. It also unpicks some of the biases in our thinking: “I call it theory-induced blindness: once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws”

  6. Daniel H. Pink ‘Drive’. This book is brilliant in exposing what really motivates us: our need for autonomy, to sustain learning and to have an impact on the world. It is also powerful in looking at how we use language and reward to motivate others. So much is vital and relevant for how we function in our schools and classrooms, an area I hope to delve into in much more detail: ““Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”

  7. Walter Mischel: ‘The Marshmallow Test.’ This is really interesting on self-control, and how we can improve our own and others. The Marshmallow Test is now an iconic test that showed that relying gratification is critical in leading a fulfilling life. What the book demonstrates, however, is that self-control is something that we can teach, both in ourselves and others. “Self-control is crucial for the successful pursuit of long-term goals. It is equally essential for developing the self-restraint and empathy needed to build caring and mutually supportive relationships.”

  8. Martin Seligman: ‘Learned Optimism’. Seligman is the father of the positive psychology movement, which has fascinating implications for what happens in our schools. Too often language and communication in classrooms is pessimistic, this has lots of strategies on how to make our mindsets and our actions more optimistic: ““While you can’t control your experiences, you can control your explanations.”

  9. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: ‘Flow’. I am currently reading this, and it is addictive and thought provoking stuff. It has got me thinking about how we can help students to enter a state of real focus and engagement: ““Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”

  10. Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool: ‘Peak.‘ How can we become expert teachers, and our students become expert learners? This is an inspiring read about how we can train ourselves through deliberate practice. It has such significant implications about what we ask students to repeat in our classrooms, and how they complete their individual practise: “This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.”

I will be writing lots more about all these topics, and thinking about the ways in which we can develop these internal skills in the classroom. In the meantime, if you were the recipient of the frustrating and pointless feedback of being “too quiet in lessons” or if you consider yourself more of a ‘quiet’ introverted teacher, I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.



Jamie Thom

English teacher, host of @TES English teaching podcast. Author of 'Slow Teaching.' MEd in Practitioner Enquiry, doctorate student #StrathEdD. Runner.

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