In the last few years, I’ve started to read a lot of books about education and teaching as a form of continuous professional development. In college we were required to read texts about education, and so the thought that I might voluntarily do so as a fully qualified teacher, literally never occurred to me until a teacher friend told me about some very interesting books that she had read and learned a lot from. I started listening to audio books versions on Audible, and once I realised that I could basically engage in CPD while doing other things like driving, cooking, gardening or cleaning the house, I was hooked! I really can’t get over how much I have learned and how easy it is to keep up-to date with current best practice in education in such a time efficient way.
So, in this post I will share recommendations for books that I have found both very interesting and beneficial to my teaching. Some of these books are aimed specifically at educators and outline best practice in educational methodology. Others are memoirs or books about psychology (but which have relevance to education) and have made an impression on me.
As this is reading that I have done out of interest and not as part of post graduate work, I have only included books that are accessible and which are aimed at a general audience and not solely those in an academic setting (That said I have only included books by reputable authors and many of them do include extensive references to educational research, although it is presented in a reader-friendly way!). I have divided the books into different categories below and give a brief description of what the book is about.
- Why Don’t Students Like School?, by Daniel T. Willingham – This book provides an accessible introduction to the field of cognitive science, with a focus on how we learn. The book is very engaging and outlines evidence- based approaches that teachers can apply in order to improve student learning and engagement.
- When Can You Trust the Experts, by Daniel T. Willingham – New programmes and approaches to education come out every day and it can seem impossible to keep up-to-date with it all, never mind determining which are based on sound evidence and how the learning brain actually works. In this book, educators are given the tools to be able to determine which programmes are based on sound evidence and should be adopted in the classroom, and those that are not.
Behaviour/ Classroom Management:
- Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, by Alfie Kohn – A book that I wish I had read earlier in my career! This book outlines that damage that is done through the use of reward systems, and gives an alternative roadmap for promoting positive behaviour which enables children to develop intrinsic motivation and self-regulation.
- When the Adults Change, Everything Changes, by Paul Dix – This book challenges commonly accepted behaviour management strategies which are in widespread use in schools. As an adult in the classroom, you only have absolute control of your own behaviour, and this is where we should start in order to promote positive behaviour amongst the children we teach.
- Running the Room: The Teacher’s Guide to Behaviour, by Tom Bennett – A guide to creating a learning environment that is calm, safe and where everyone is treated with dignity.
- Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, by Maryanne Wolf. “This book explores our brains’ near-miraculous ability to arrange and re-arrange themselves in response to external circumstances. This title examines how this ‘open architecture’, the elasticity of our brains, helps and hinders humans in their attempts to learn to read, and to process the written language.” – Summary from Google Books. In places this book can be a little heavy as it details much empirical research on reading development, however overall, it will be fascinating for anyone who teaches reading.
- Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, by Maryanne Wolf. “… a lively, ambitious, and deeply informative epistolary book that considers the future of the reading brain and our capacity for critical thinking, empathy, and reflection as we become increasingly dependent on digital technologies.” – Summary from maryannewolf.com
- The Knowledge Gap, by Natalie Wexler – I was completely absorbed when reading this book and I wish it was one that I had encountered in the early years of my career. The book explains why background knowledge and vocabulary development are essential to children’s reading development, and how cutting subjects like SESE in order to provide more time for literacy instruction, is hindering rather than helping children’s reading ability.
- Closing The Vocabulary Gap, by Alex Quigley – In a similar vein to the previous recommendation, this book outlines how closing the vocabulary gap between “word poor” and “word rich” students could prove the difference between school failure and success.
- “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk. This international bestseller was written by one of the world’s leading experts on trauma, and while it is not specifically aimed at educators, it is extremely relevant as so many children come from traumatic backgrounds, or have experienced traumatic life events. It completely changed my understanding of some of the behaviour I was seeing in my classroom and my approach to managing it.
- “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook” by Dr. Bruce Perry. In a similar vein to the previous recommendation, this book isn’t specifically aimed at educators, but is incredibly relevant as it gives a deep insight into child trauma and the related learning, emotional, and behaviour difficulties that can be result from it. I was slightly concerned that some of the stories of abuse might be too distressing to read about, but Dr Perry writes with so much compassion and insight, and it gave me hope to hear about the healing journey that the children went on with him. I can honestly say that this is one of the most important books I have ever read as a teacher, and as a person, as I came away from it with a deep understanding and compassion for others. I also read another book from Dr. Perry where he collaborates with Oprah, and if you are interested in this area, I would recommend it too. It was called “What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing” by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. “Oprah Winfrey and renowned brain development and trauma expert, Dr Bruce Perry, discuss the impact of trauma and adverse experiences and how healing must begin with a shift to asking ‘What happened to you?’ rather than ‘What’s wrong with you?’. Through wide-ranging and often deeply personal conversation, Oprah Winfrey and Dr Perry explore how what happens to us in early childhood – both good and bad – influences the people we become.” Summary from Eason.com
- “Creating Trauma-Informed, Strengths-Based Classrooms: Teacher Strategies for Nurturing Students’ Healing, Growth and learning” by Tom Brunzell. In contrast to the two previous books, this is a book on trauma that is specifically aimed at educators.
- “Poor” by Katriona O’Sullivan. “As the middle of five kids growing up in dire poverty, the odds were low on Katriona O’Sullivan making anything of her life. When she became a mother at 15 and ended up homeless, what followed were five years of barely coping.
This is the extraordinary story – moving, funny, brave, and sometimes startling – of how Katriona turned her life around. How the seeds of self-belief planted by teachers in childhood stayed with her. How she found mentors whose encouragement revitalised those seeds in adulthood, leading her to become an award-winning academic whose work challenges barriers to education.
Poor is not only Katriona’s story, but is also her impassioned argument for the importance of looking out for our kids’ futures. Of giving them hope, practical support and meaningful opportunities.” – Summary from the publisher, Penguin. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t read this already, I would highly recommend it. I listened to it on Audible where Katriona movingly narrates it herself.
- “Dibs – in Search of Self” by Virginia Axline. Written in 1964 (but still fascinating today), this book chronicles the progress of a troubled child over the course of a year of play therapy.
- “The Leavetaking” by John McGahern. “A day, crucial and cathartic, in the life of a young Catholic schoolteacher who has returned to Ireland after a year’s sabbatical in London where he married an American divorcee. As a result he now faces certain dismissal by the school authorities. Moving from the earliest memories of both the man and the woman, the novel recreates their breaking of the shackles of guilt and duty into the acceptance of a fulfilling adult love.” – Amazon.com description. As well as being a beautifully written novel, this book is a good reminder of how far Ireland, and Irish education, has come since the 1960s. It is based on events from the life of the author who was dismissed from his teaching job due to the nature of his writing and for not marrying in a Catholic church. Descriptions of teacher training in St. Pat’s in the 1950s will be very interesting to anyone who has trained there more recently!
This post was written in January 2024, but I will continue to add any future books which I read and find excellent to this post.
Have you read any books that you think other primary school teachers would benefit from reading too? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below!
Note: all of the books are ones that I’ve bought myself and none have been gifted to me. I’m sharing books based solely on whether or not I found them helpful as a teacher and not as part of any paid promotion or partnership!