5 Great Non-Education Books That Might Change Your Thinking on Teaching and Learning

I love Twitter.

If you are looking for some good books to read over the summer break, take a look at this thread:

Lots of interesting suggestions there. Books I have read, books I haven’t heard of, and books that I have heard of that I have never read. These books are listed as ones that are beyond “good”, but have changed the mentality of many towards education.

To model an answer to what I have asked, I wanted to share five books that I have read that have shaped my philosophy, why I liked them, and some powerful quotes.

1. Drive – Daniel Pink

If you don’t think a book on the “science of motivation” applies to education, you are missing a huge opportunity in education. This book did not reaffirm a lot of my thinking; it changed it. As many, I thought grades and awards were an excellent motivator for people and students, but this debunks this notion in a world that needs creative thinkers. Think about it…how many kindergarten kids are worried about their grades? Schools condition them to that.

This led me to write a post on “The Impact of Awards“, which I receive emails on weekly with educators or parents, who are trying to convince their school of moving from a system of awards that may be detrimental to their students. I used to think that a lack of awards was about being “soft” on kids, but in reality, it is much harder to help children develop intrinsic motivation than to use “carrots and sticks” to learn. Although it is harder, it is increasingly beneficial long term.

Quotes from the book:

“When the reward is the activity itself–deepening learning, delighting customers, doing one’s best–there are no shortcuts.”

“For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation—the drive do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing—is essential for high levels of creativity.”

“People use rewards expecting to gain the benefit of increasing another person’s motivation and behavior, but in so doing, they often incur the unintentional and hidden cost of undermining that person’s intrinsic motivation toward the activity.”

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey

This book taught me that you can say something simple and profound at the same time.  The lessons here seem like common sense but are not necessarily that common.

Here are the “7 Habits”:

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6: Synergize
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

These lessons are not only beneficial to adults, but children as well. The spinoff book, “The Leader in Me“, helped me reshape my thinking to look for the strengths in both kids and adults, and move backward from there.

Quotes from the book:

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and
he will become as he can and should be.”

“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are──or, as we are conditioned to see it.”


3. Humanize – Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

This book made me look at the Internet and social media in a totally different way.  While many focus on the negative aspects of social media, this made me look for the positives and how we have this powerful opportunity to connect as human beings more now than ever.  It also helped me to focus on the importance of what this new era of transparency means for leadership.  When you can see other organizations so openly, it can easily shine a light on the weaknesses of leadership in your own organization.

Quotes from the book:

“One of the reasons social media has grown so fast is that it taps into what we, as human beings, naturally love and need and want to do—create, share, connect, relate.”

“As the Internet has become more central in our lives, we have begun to witness a revival of the importance of being human.”

“Creating human organizations requires more than social media. It requires new leadership.”

4. Mindset – Carol Dweck

This book was a springboard and influence for my own book (as were the others), “The Innovator’s Mindset“.  Carol Dweck’s work has made a significant impact on how we look at students and their potential, and how they learn, as well as how we look at our own learning as adults. If someone changes their mindset, their potential is limitless. We are often the biggest barrier to our own success.

Quotes from the book:

“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”

“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

“What on earth would make someone a non-learner? Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn. Infants stretch their skills daily. Not just ordinary skills, but the most difficult tasks of a lifetime, like learning to walk and talk. They never decide it’s too hard or not worth the effort. Babies don’t worry about making mistakes or humiliating themselves. They walk, they fall, they get”


5. The Paradox of Choice – Barry Schwartz

We often talk about “choice” as being crucial to students, and I agree, that there are many options for our children today.  That being said, too much choice can be crushing to people. As an administrator, it influenced my thinking on how I would at one time bombard my own staff with too many options on their use of technology when it only led them to be overwhelmed and unsure if they went the right direction (See – Conference session on “100 Tools To Use in the Classroom”).  Not only is this important to understand in schools that are drowning in initiatives, we have to recognize this for ourselves.  Do we inundate ourselves with too much?  In a world with so many options, “choice” can be a benefit or detriment depending on how we see it.

Quotes from the book:

“Focus on what makes you happy, and do what gives meaning to your life”

“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”

“Most good decisions will involve these steps: Figure out your goal or goals. Evaluate the importance of each goal. Array the options. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals. Pick the winning option. Later use the consequences of your choice to modify your goals, the importance you assign them, and the way you evaluate future possibilities.”


When I look at this list, I realize how many of these books have had an impact on me not only as an educator but as a writer. For those “aspiring” authors out there, my best advice if you want to write, read other books.  Reference ideas you get from them, but also think of the different styles of writing and what you enjoy reading yourself.

As people are preparing their own summer reading lists, any books you can suggest in the comments would be of great value.

Source: George Couros