Book Dipping

One of my favorite places since I was little has been the book store. I love the smell, the sounds, and the scores of books that lines each wall. I’ve been a book store junkie for as long as I can remember. And in the past couple years, I have taken to what is now starting to become a “back-to-school” ritual for me. I go book dipping. What I do is first choose books – some I’ve read and some I haven’t – that fit with some problem I’m trying to solve or focused work I’m trying to complete, and spend about ten to twenty minutes with each book. It is one of my most productive and favorite ways to get my head back in the game. Here’s a quick recap of some gems I pulled out of each of these books:

  • Excellent Sheep, William Deresiewicz

What a great reminder that we’re focusing on what’s important at Mount Vernon. I love being part of a school that realizes the importance of growth mindset, social intelligence, and the growing need to be systems thinkers:

“To put it in the language of computers, you can download all the data you want, but it won’t be any good to you unless you have the software to make use of it” (174).

  • Thinking in Systems, Donella H. Meadows

I’m going to use “The Blind Men and the Matter of the Elephant” interlude to spark a conversation about systems thinking and help the iD learners launch themselves more purposefully into their whole venture. I also think it’ll help us rethink that iD is not just about each individual venture or passion, but it’s an innovation of itself – we are redefining the system of school. Here’s the story:

Beyond Ghor there was a city. All its inhabitants were blind.
A king with his entourage arrived near by; he brought his army and camped in the desert. He had a mighty elephant, which he used in attack and to increase the people’s awe.
From among this blind community messengers ran like fools to find it. As they did not even know the form or shape of the elephant they groped sightlessly, gathering information by touching some part of it. Each thought that he knew something, because he could feel a part. When they returned to their fellow citizens, eager groups clustered around them. Each of these was anxious, misguidedly, to learn the truth from those who were themselves astray. They asked about the form, the shape of the elephant, and listened to all that they were told.
The man whose hand had reached an ear was asked about the elephant’s nature. He said: ‘It is a large, rough thing, wide and broad, like a rug.’ And the one who had felt the trunk said: ‘I have the real facts about it. It is like a straight and hollow pipe, awful and destructive.’ The one who had felt its feet and legs said: ‘It is mighty and firm, like a pillar.’ Each had felt one part out of many. Each had perceived it wrongly.

What a powerful story. I also plan to use it with my AP Lang students, to help us look more holistically at writing (rhetorical triangle, SOAPS etc).

  • What if?, Randall Munroe

Semester two of iD involves a higher volume of mini challenges (we call them adVentures), and this book helped me uncover one more: Student learners are given one of the absurd questions to work through in a team – the purpose is to reiterate that the act of asking questions can lead you down paths to learn things you never expected – and hopefully we can highlight crossover between “disciplines.” Here are some questions I loved:

How high can a human throw things?

How hard would a puck have to be shot to be able to knock the goalie himself backward into the net?

Which US state is actually flown over the most?

  • How to Be Interesting, Jessica Hagy 

I’ve never read this one, nor have I ever heard of it, but it was sitting on the shelf sort of out-of-place, so I picked it up on impulse, intrigued by the tagline “how to live at the intersection of wonder, awe, and curiosity.” This page spoke to me:


What a great message for iD. As a group, these learners are motivated by things bigger than the status quo. How might we continue to push the status quo of what is considered “school” in Semester Two of the program? In year Two?

  • The Smartest Kids in the World, Amanda Ripley

This book was the last I visited, so I didn’t give it as much time, although, I do want to come back and read more. But for right now, I turned to a page that talked about boredom and engagement and what each looked like in schools. I found myself asking the question I have been wrestling with for a while: What does engagement look like? and Does it even matter?

We are in the early stages of implementing Instructional Rounds on our leadership team, and during our debrief this question continues to rise for the top for me. On one of my recent reports, the three observers had very different takes on which students “seemed engaged” and their reasons were slightly varied. In my own reflection notes, I wrote: “It’s interesting you thought Sam (name change) was most engaged because he was the one taking the most notes during the socratic seminar. I’m actually not sure he’s truly present and absorbing or if he is doing what he thinks he should be doing. In fact, he took more notes than I did…was I disengaged?”  As a team we discussed this a bit, but we have a great deal more to dig into to come up with a shared understanding of what engagement looks like or if engagement is even something we should focus on, or if we should place more emphasis on risk taking, resilience, empowerment or enthusiasm.

*    *    *    *

Of course, I did much more than book dip, and these little excerpts are just the tip of what each of these reads sparked for me. This afternoon I’ll be double dipping into Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovator’s, which has really been a powerful read for me during this break in helping me shape and refine my approach to Semester Two. Feeling ready and excited to head back to MV after a glorious two weeks with my family!

How do you get ready to head back to school after a break?


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