Reading Suggestions for Teachers and Their Students

In keeping with the theme of this month’s issue, John Walcott asked the panel members to recommend some of their favorite books for Christian educators or for their students.


Justin Cook submitted the following recommendations for teachers:

An Ethic of Excellence, by Ron Berger (2003). Ron Berger is a master teacher in the expeditionary learning system of schools. He empowers his elementary students to do high-quality work that has authentic contexts by creating healthy cultures of critique in his learning communities. He urges us to take kids off of the treadmill of mediocre first drafts. Diving more deeply into projects, students complete multiple drafts of a product because they are committed to craftsmanship. Ron Berger helps us see all students as culture makers who help each other strive for excellence because they know their work is important. Video options: “What Does Good Work Look Like?” <> and “Austin’s Butterfly” <>, both by Ron Berger.

Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, by Andy Crouch (2013). Crouch’s follow-up to Culture Making, this new book identifies the ways that God has empowered us as his image-bearers in a creation that needs us for flourishing. However, misuse of power always leads to the double-edged sword of idolatry and injustice. As leaders in our schools, it is essential that we think carefully about the ways in which we exercise power over children. Although it isn’t overt in the book, Crouch helps us consider the way that we need to exercise and share power with children as a means to leading them into their own image-bearing role. Video option: Andy Crouch interview on Playing God, with John Wilson from Books and Culture <>.

Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson (2010). Curt Thompson provides a unique perspective on current brain research and its exploration of our relationality in combination with our biblical desire for love of self and neighbor—to know as we are fully known. Exploring neuroscience and the psychology of attachment, Thompson helps us understand our own narratives, how we have become who we are based on our upbringing and relationships, and then helps us to see how our being rooted in a mysterious grand narrative of scripture can deepen our capacity for love, joy, and flourishing.

The Social Animal, by David Brooks (2011). Serving as an intriguing companion to Anatomy of the Soul, New York Times columnist David Brooks creates a fictional couple, Harold and Erica, to reveal how human beings are motivated by often subconscious nonrational relational forces in our desire for flourishing. He relies on extensive, fascinating studies to help us ponder how our characters are formed in our various life stages from birth to death, individuals neurologically shaped by our social environments as much as by our genes. Video option: The Social Animal TEDTalk, March 2011 <>.

World Class Learners, by Yong Zhao (2012). Yong Zhao analyzes the way in which education in the West is desperately trying to compete with the East in international tests like the PISA, while simultaneously the East is desperately trying to become more western in its proliferation of entrepreneurship. Rooted in global economic trends and predictions, the book provides a powerful critique of standardized learning outcomes that suppress student uniqueness and diversity, and makes a compelling argument for how we might empower students to find their own creative gifts and to flourish through challenging them to be innovative in a “product-oriented” pedagogy that is illustrated at schools like High Tech High in San Diego, California. Video option: Yong Zhao Keynote, at PBL World 2013 <>.


Gayle Monsma offered the following suggestions for teachers:

Mindset by Carol Dweck. This book changed the way I view learning. It explains the necessity of having a “growth mindset” within the context of schools, athletics, and family. The terminology and content of this book have become part of our school ethos in how we approach student learning, as well as our own growth as professionals. If I could prescribe one book for all teachers to read (and reread every five years), this would be it!

Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. This is a fantastic novel that shows a dramatic example of how to live with hope in the midst of a world very unlike the one God originally created. It inspires us to continue to “play beautiful music” and as Christian teachers gives us a perspective on living redemptively in these “in-between times.”

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