As we emerge from this unprecedented year in education, perhaps our most salient learning will be the need to place the social and emotional well-being of our students and teachers at the center of education.

But we shouldn’t have to wait until the next crisis to learn how to do this. We need to proactively address the inequities in our schools and the burnout educators are facing. And we can do that not only in today’s classrooms, but in the way we educate the teachers of tomorrow.

Our favorite education books of the year offer practical tips, theoretical frameworks, and historical context to help us on this journey. We hope they will inspire you as an education professional as you contribute to creating learning environments that are supportive, equitable, and empowering for all.

Teaching with a Social, Emotional, and Cultural Lens: A Framework for Educators and Teacher Educators, by Nancy L. Markowitz and Suzanne M. Bouffard

Harvard Education Press, 2020, 232 pages Harvard Education Press, 2020, 232 pages
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In their new book Teaching with a Social, Emotional, and Cultural Lens, Nancy Markowitz and Suzanne Bouffard have created a roadmap for teacher education and in-service teacher support programs that goes beyond an academics-only lens to include the holistic development of students and teachers alike.

The book centers on Markowitz’s Anchor Competencies Framework, which she created based on her years of experience as a teacher educator and now as executive director of the Center for Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child. This comprehensive model puts social-emotional learning into action, starting with specific goals including a safe and supportive learning environment, equity, resilience, academic success, and a greater good outlook—all oriented within a sociopolitical and cultural context. Teachers accomplish these goals through “Anchor Competencies,” such as building trusting relationships, fostering growth mindset and perseverance in students, and creating community.

Even though part of the book is geared toward teacher educators, offering practical lesson plan templates and observation protocols, in-service teacher trainers, school and district leaders, and educators themselves will gain much insight from the classroom examples and practices.

Transforming how we educate our children—an opportunity afforded us in this unique moment—requires us to tackle all aspects of the system, including those that shape our future educators and that support our current ones. Teaching with a Social, Emotional, and Cultural Lens is an important piece of the puzzle.

Schooling for Critical Consciousness: Engaging Black and Latinx Youth in Analyzing, Navigating, and Challenging Racial Injustice, by Scott Seider and Daren Graves

Harvard Education Press, 2020, 264 pages Harvard Education Press, 2020, 264 pages

In their book Schooling for Critical Consciousness, researchers Scott Seider and Daren Graves
paint portraits of five high schools that intentionally teach their diverse students to “recognize and analyze oppressive forces shaping society and to take action against these forces”—in other words, to become critically conscious of the world they live in. By doing so, they argue that the schools are helping their mainly Black and Latinx students to cultivate a sense of agency and to develop “psychological armor” against racial injustice.

Based on four years of in-depth research, the authors describe the ideological and pedagogical approaches of each school, along with the impact on students, most of which was very positive. For example, one school focused on making their students highly aware of systemic racism and how it affected them, while another worked to cultivate students’ political agency and skills to combat societal issues. And while none of the schools emerged with the perfect solution—they all had both challenges and successes—any school leader or educator would find enough guidance and inspiration in the book to begin this work in their own school.

After a year fraught with social and political turmoil, this book gave me hope that the solutions to many of our challenges lie in the education of our youth. And yet, at the end of the book, I was left wondering about whether these methods would work to teach critical consciousness to white students. Seider has done studies on this with mixed results, showing that more effort needs to be made by educators, schools, and curriculum developers to understand how to best involve all students in this work.  The burden of transforming our country into a society where all live safe, free, and equal needs to rest on everyone’s shoulders—otherwise we may not see the full realization of a dream whose time has come.

Coaching for Equity: Conversations That Change Practice, by Elena Aguilar

Jossey-Bass, 2020, 416 pages Jossey-Bass, 2020, 416 pages

“I think it’s easier to assume that we’re all racist, and we all have learning to do,” says Elena Aguilar to one of her coaching clients in her new book Coaching for Equity. Aguilar’s voice is clear, direct, and refreshingly practical as she offers a series of rubrics, tips, and strategies for engaging in meaningful conversations about race and power. Although this book ostensibly targets coaches and school leaders, it addresses educational professionals of all roles and racial identities. Bottom line, if you work and collaborate with other adults and you want to think more about how to interrupt inequities in schools, this is your book.

In Coaching for Equity, Aguilar describes her “Transformational Coaching” model, shares rich stories of her work with coaching clients, and provides a brief history of racism in the United States as she sets the stage for a meaningful series of how-to chapters. In the wake of this year’s racial and political conflicts, you might find yourself gravitating to her chapters on “how to talk about race” and “how to change someone’s mind,” in particular. Aguilar walks you through “10 tips for talking about race” and provides sentence stems for responding to racist comments, while encouraging you to see conversations about race as potentially healing rather than difficult.

Aguilar maps out the conditions necessary for establishing trust and safety so that we are open to seeing our own biases and ultimately changing our beliefs. At the same time, she draws on psychological research to address some of the reasons we struggle to change in the first place, including confirmation bias (our drive to look for information to verify what we already believe).

Of course, honest conversations about our biases can bring up challenging emotions. In a recent interview, Aguilar acknowledged: “There’s just no way that we can do the work around equity without attending to our emotions and without cultivating the emotions that will help us to navigate the discomfort.” Coaching for Equity presents a variety of tools to support healing conversations about race that will ultimately change the way we see our students, colleagues, and ourselves.

Teacher Burnout Turnaround: Strategies for Empowered Educators, by Patricia A. Jennings

W. W. Norton & Company, 2020, 216 pages W. W. Norton & Company, 2020, 216 pages

After years of studying how to help teachers navigate daily stressors, author and researcher Patricia Jennings decided to take a big-picture look at the “system” that creates the stress in the first place. In Teacher Burnout Turnaround, Jennings reminds us that individual educators have the power to collectively transform the education system—and we can start by changing the way we think about school.

If we want to turn around a system, we have to step back and view its stress points as potential leverage points, she argues, so her “Stress Matrix” outlines different levels of challenges (e.g,. teacher, student, student-teacher relationships, school, district, and society) and reframes them as access points for change.

On the individual level, she encourages educators to become aware of the “mind traps” that keep them from seeing the big picture in the first place. For example, she takes the problem of time urgency that many teachers experience daily (“I will never have time to teach this well”) and notes we can either shift the way we view time, as individuals, or change the way we do school in the first place (for example, with the innovative use of advisories and block scheduling).

Jennings’s primary tool of transformation is “design thinking”—seeing the school as a multifaceted system with the student “user” at its heart. She emphasizes the value in putting the learner-user first, practicing empathy by putting ourselves in their shoes, seeing the challenges to their learning through their eyes, and then actively brainstorming new and innovative ways of doing school (such as collaborative learning or project-based instructional approaches).

Unlike some of her books, Teacher Burnout Turnaround is more about thinking than feeling. Jennings urges a cognitive shift in our awareness that is refreshing, inspiring, and even collectively empowering. So when she quotes her colleague, Alexander Laszlo, it rings true: “Be the systems change you wish to see in the world.”

Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy, by Gholdy Muhammad

Scholastic Teaching Resources, 2020, 176 pages Scholastic Teaching Resources, 2020, 176 pages

In her book, Cultivating Genius, researcher Gholdy Muhammad reveals the lessons she learned in her exploration of the rich history of 19th century Black literary societies. Society members met in church basements, libraries, homes, and auditoriums to engage in reading, writing, debating, and speaking. What’s more, this path to cultivate self-empowerment, self-determination, and self-liberation was collaborative—there was a shared responsibility to pass on knowledge to each other.

Muhammad outlines the lessons of Black literary societies that are relevant to redefining the way we teach literacy today. “We must stop implementing curriculum and literacy models that were not designed for or by people of color, expecting that these models will advance the educational achievement of children of color,” says Muhammad. “This is the same as designing a size 2 ball gown for a size 10 model. We expect youth to work inside frameworks that were not designed for them.”

There are four goals in her Historically Responsive Literacy Model: developing students’ identity, skills, intellect, and criticality. She encourages educators to design lessons where students have opportunities to simultaneously learn about themselves and their strengths, develop their expertise in content areas, build their knowledge (including their self- and social-emotional awareness), and think about power, equity, and compassionate social change.

How do you begin to do this in your classrooms? Cultivating Genius is filled with thoughtful exercises, sample lessons, and self-reflection questions for teachers and administrators that will guide you toward a deeper understanding of and practical ways to use her equity-based teaching and learning model. She calls on developers and writers of standards, curriculum, and state exams to look closely at the literacy legacy of communities of color and her framework to help them design content that is more equitable and inclusive.

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