The Main Idea: Current Education Book Summaries

This one is absolutely too good not to share.



THE MAIN IDEA helps you take instructional leadership off of your “to do list” and make it a reality.









“Jenn David-Lang has the heart of a teacher, the brain of a think tank, and the patience of a librarian. THE MAIN IDEA puts all these talents together to cut through the word weeds in the edu-press, and shows us the flowers that have the power to make our classrooms and schools brighter and better.” 

–Norman Atkins

Teacher U


Below is a partial list of books that have been summarized in the past. All current subscribers have free access to all previous summaries of books.

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Accessible Mathematics: 10 Instructional Shifts That Raise Student Achievement

By Steven Leinwand (Heinemann, 2009)

Math teachers leave too many students behind by continuing to teach math the way they’ve always taught it. Without having to buy new books or a new program, Leinwand shows how we can improve mathematical thinking and student achievement by making 10 key instructional changes.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Active Literacy Across the Curriculum: Strategies for Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

by Heidi Hayes Jacobs (Eye on Education, 2006)

Literacy achievement is essential to academic success. To improve literacy at your school, you must ensure that everyone is working toward this goal consistently. This acclaimed author provides 7 practical strategies for all teachers – in every grade and every subject — to integrate literacy instruction into their teaching.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Becoming a Learning School

By Joellen Killion and Patricia Roy (National Staff Development Council, 2009)

This book is a comprehensive resource for anyone who wants their teachers to work effectively in teams. Collaborative professional learning is a powerful way to improve schools. To help train staff in many different aspects of collaborative professional learning there is an accompanying CD-ROM with tons of tools.

To learn more or purchase the book go to:


Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools

by Tony Wagner and Robert Kegan, with Lahey, Lemons, Garnier, Helsing, Howell, and Rasmussen (Jossey-Bass, 2006)

This book presents a powerful approach to creating real change in schools. Based on a five-year study, the authors provide concrete tools and exercises to show leaders how to help both their schools, and the individuals within those schools, change. By focusing on changing these two crucial elements at the same time, the authors present an approach to change that is truly comprehensive and realistic.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Classroom Assessment for Student Learning

by Richard J. Stiggins, Judith A. Arter, and Jan and Stephen Chappuis

This book shows you how you can use formative assessment to actually improve learning and motivate students. They describe the different components of quality classroom assessments that create — not just measure — student achievement.

For 60-minute workshops on formative assessment to use with your teachers, email Jenn.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


College Knowledge

By David T. Conley (Jossey-Bass, 2008)

High schools often prepare students to become college eligible (gain entrance into college), but not college ready (able to succeed once they’re there). Conley provides vital research-based recommendations to help this problem. He specifically outlines what students must know and be able to do in order to succeed in college and shows high schools how to better prepare students for college success.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Creating a Digital-Rich Classroom: Teaching & Learning in a Web 2.0 World

By Meg Ormiston (Solution Tree Press, 2011)

This book provides practical strategies to integrate technology into instruction in order to increase student engagement and achievement. See the technology PD workshop ideas from The Main Idea below.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Designing & Teaching Learning Goals & Objectives

By Robert J. Marzano  (Marzano Research Laboratory – Powered by Solution Tree, 2009)

Dr. Marzano is at the forefront of educational research on best instructional strategies. In this book he takes the research on learning goals and translates it into practical suggestions

for teachers to implement learning goals that actually improve student achievement.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Differentiated School Leadership

by Jane A.G. Kise and Beth Russell (Corwin Press, 2008)

Learning about personality type theory can help you better understand yourself as a leader. Because this book helps leaders discover how they lead, collaborate, and communicate, it is an important tool for developing principals and school leadership teams.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Differentiation and The Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom

By David A. Sousa & Carol Ann Tomlinson (Solution Tree Press, 2011)

How can teachers possibly address the great variety of learning needs in their classes? The top thinkers on differentiation and neuroscience show us how to create differentiated classrooms, backed by brain research, to address the wide variety of student needs in our classrooms.

To learn more or purchase the book go to:


Driven by Data: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction

By Paul Bambrick-Santoyo (Jossey-Bass, 2010)

Bambrick-Santoyo shows how data-driven instruction, if implemented well, can significantly impact student performance. He clearly the describes the 4 essential components: assessment, analysis, action, and a data-driven culture. The second part of the book (over 50 pages!) contains workshops to train staff in effectove data-driven methods.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher

by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong

(Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc., 2005)

If you want to read one book to help teachers start the year successfully with vital classroom management, organization, discipline, and other strategies, this is the book for you. The book has sold almost 3 million copies because the authors identify the 3 characteristics of an effective teacher, and show teachers, in detail, how to become one.

For 60-minute workshops on classroom management to use with your teachers, email Jenn.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Five Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program (Primary, Upper Elementary, and Secondary School)

by Larry Ainsworth and Jan Christinson (Lead + Learn Press, 2007)

Rather than suggesting that your school abandon its current math program, the authors outline the five essential components necessary for any successful math program, and show you how to fill in the gaps. These five components are: computational skills, problem solving, conceptual understanding, mastery of math facts, and common formative assessment.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Going with the Flow: How to Engage Boys (and Girls) in Their Literacy Learning

by Michael W. Smith and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm (Heinemann, 2006)

Smith and Wilhelm share a brilliant approach to help boys (and girls) become more involved in and achieve more success in their literacy learning. By studying the conditions that led boys to feel passionate about their outside-of-school interests, the authors learned how to increase the boys’ engagement in school by recreating those conditions. The book presents those five conditions and explains clearly how to implement them.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Leading Lesson Study: A Practical Guide for Teachers and Facilitators

By Jennifer Stepanek, Gary Appel, Melinda Leong, Michelle Turner Mangan, and Mark Mitchell

(Learning Point Associates, NWREL, and Corwin Press, 2007)

Lesson study is a professional development practice in which teachers come together to collaboratively plan a lesson. Then one teacher teaches that lesson to students while the others observe. Afterwards, the teachers debrief, revise the lesson, and reteach it. It is an opportunity to bring teachers collaboratively through the processes of unit planning, lesson goal creation, and lesson planning – three important processes that teachers often rush through.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Leading School Turnaround: How Successful Leaders Transform Low-Performing Schools

By Kenneth Leithwood, Alma Harris, and Tiiu Strauss (Jossey-Bass, 2010)

This book describes how to substantially improve an underperforming school and sustain those gains. It outlines the practices and behaviors exercised by leaders of successful turnaround schools.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work

by Richard DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker and Thomas Many

(Solution Tree, 2006)

This is the book to read to learn how to set up collaborative teams of teachers that work relentlessly to improve student learning. These distinguished authors have argued for years that the best way to increase achievement is by carefully crafting effective professional learning communities and equipping them with specific strategies and structures, all of which are clearly explained in the book.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges Are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them

By Dr. Ross Greene (Scribner, 2008)

Kids with challenging behavior act that way because they don’t have the skills necessary to stay in control. We’re losing these kids because our schools don’t teach those skills they’re lacking. This book shows you how to identify and address these skill deficits. With its compelling narratives, this book is a great read and would be perfect for a teacher study group.

To learn more or purchase the book go to:

If you want to do a book study group, click here to see The Main Idea’s discussion questions.


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

By Carol Dweck (Ballantine Books, 2008)

This acclaimed psychologist describes how your mindset – your belief about yourself – has a powerful impact on your life. By helping students develop a growth mindset we can actually improve their experiences in school. 

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Organization Made Easy! Tools for Today’s Teachers

By Frank Buck (Eye on Education, 2010)

A lack of strong organizational skills seriously threatens our ability to address the needs of students. This book provides strategies to help us improve the organization of our paperwork, tasks, appointments, computer and email use. It is aimed at teachers but much of it is applicable to the school leader.

To learn more or purchase the book go to:


Ready for Anything: Supporting New Teachers for Success

by Lynn F. Howard (Advanced Learning Press, 2006)

This book contains 11 easy-to-implement monthly seminars so you can help your new teachers thrive. Rather than simply providing tips, this book offers an entire program, adaptable to any school, with an organized monthly professional development calendar.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation: How to Work Smart, Build Collaboration, and Close the Achievement Gap

By Kim Marshall (Jossey Bass, 2009)

Our current method of supervising and evaluating teachers does NOT lead to student achievement. Marshall proposes a powerful new approach that will. His model involves 4 components: mini-observations, interim assessments, “backwards” planning, and teacher evaluation rubrics.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Shaping School Culture: Pitfalls, Paradoxes, & Promises

By Terrence E. Deal and Kent D. Peterson  (Jossey-Bass, 2009)

A school’s culture affects every part of the school.  This book is a classic on school culture and the authors are experts on organizational culture. They pull together the best of what is known about culture in both education and business to help school leaders develop a repertoire of ways to improve school culture.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Part 1 / Part 2

Skillful Leader II: Confronting Conditions That Undermine Learning

by Alexander D. Platt, Caroline E. Tripp, Robert G. Fraser, and James R. Warnock

(Ready About Press, 2008)

Mediocre instruction undermines learning in schools. This book looks at the causes of mediocre instruction and shows the skillful leader how to confront these conditions. To improve instruction across an entire school requires leaders to build accountable professional communities — and this book shows you how.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Part 1 / Part 2

The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills

By Jon Saphier, Mary Ann Haley-Speca, and Robert Gower (Research for Better Teaching, Inc., 2008)

Skilful teachers have a wide repertoire of strategies they use and the ability to choose the most appropriate ones. By breaking down teaching into its component parts, and introducing this repertoire of strategies (in over 500 pages), this book clearly shows how teaching is a skill that can be learned. This book serves as the comprehensive knowledge base of teaching.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


The Strategic School: Making the Most of People, Time, and Money

By Karen Hawley Miles and Stephen Frank (Corwin Press, AASA, & NASSP, 2008)

The authors studied high-performing schools and found that they share a similar approach to allocating resources. They focus their resources in three areas: teacher quality, meeting individual student needs, and emphasizing core academics. The authors help you develop a strategic resource plan to maximize your own school resources that includes: a staff and student grouping plan, a master schedule, and a plan to continuously improve teacher quality.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement

By Stephanie Harvey & Anne Goudvis (Stenhouse Publishers, 2007)

This book shows teachers in all content areas how to explicitly teach reading comprehension. If they use these strategies not only will teachers improve their students’ understanding of texts, but they will help their students with reading test scores and increase their engagement and interest as well!

To learn more or purchase the book go to:


Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College

By Doug Lemov (Jossey Bass, 2010)

Lemov carefully observed teachers whose inner-city students perform at dramatically high levels. Then he broke down what they do into carefully described techniques that all teachers can put into practice. The accompanying DVD also helps to clearly illustrate what these techniques look like – a resource sorely needed by the teaching profession.

To learn more or purchase the book go to:


Teaching Adolescent Writers

By Kelly Gallagher (Stenhouse Publishers, 2006)

We are simply NOT preparing students for one of the most important 21st century skills – writing! The majority of our students lack proficient writing skills and yet many schools do not do an effective job of teaching writing. Gallagher introduces six key writing principles to get schools on track. These can be used with any writing program or approach you currently use.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Teaching the iGeneration: 5 Easy Ways to Introduce Essential Skills with Web 2.0 Tools

By William M. Ferriter and Adam Garry (Solution Tree Press, 2010)

This book shows how to use digital tools not just for the sake of including technology, but in order to teach important 21st century skills — information fluency, persuasion, communication, collaboration, and problem solving. See the technology PD workshop ideas from The Main Idea below.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


The Three-Minute Classroom Walk-Through:

Changing School Supervisory Practice One Teacher at a Time

by Carolyn J. Downey, Betty E. Steffy, Fenwick W. English, Larry E. Frase, and William K. Poston, Jr.  (Corwin Press, 2004)

By conducting shorter classroom visits, principals will be able to see more classrooms more frequently and will know more than they ever have about their teachers’ practices. The walk-through process has tremendous potential to help principals strengthen their skills as instructional leaders, increase their visibility, add to their repertoire of instructional strategies, improve their ability to identify areas for staff development, and alert them to teachers who might become marginal.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


Tools for Teaching: Discipline, Instruction, Motivation

By Fred Jones (Fredric H. Jones & Associates, Inc., 2007)

Jones describes the skills exceptional teachers use to manage their classrooms effectively. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to help teachers with the common foibles they face in dealing with pesky students.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:


When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do

By Kylene Beers (Heinemann, 2003)

Teachers often have no idea what to do when students at the secondary level (grades 6-12) struggle with reading. Beers argues that teachers can make a difference and shows them how to diagnose and address reading problems with practical strategies. This book is essential for middle and high school teachers who want to help their struggling readers.

To learn more or purchase the book go to:


Why School Communication Matters: Strategies from PR Professionals

By Kitty Porterfield and Meg Carnes (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2008)

School leaders have so many pressing issues that they don’t think enough about communication. However, communication is the key to whether all of your efforts sink or swim. The authors show school leaders how to think more strategically about communicating more effectively with all of their constituents.

To learn more or purchase the book, go to:

Additional Workshops Provided by THE MAIN IDEA


Classroom Management Workshop

Two 60-minute workshops based on the ideas in the Wong book (above) to help newer teachers with classroom management.


The Facilitator’s Agenda

A Classroom Scenario

A 4-page Resource Packet for Teachers


Formative Assessment Workshop

A 90-minute workshop on formative assessment based on the ideas in the book Classroom Assessment for Student Learning (above).


The Facilitator’s Agenda

A 3-page Resource Packet for Teachers


10-Minute “Book Talk Video”

This video is a simple “book talk” in which I introduce 5 books that teachers can read over the summer for their own professional development.  There is a wide enough variety of topics that every teacher (K-12) can find one to read. Topics include: literacy, classroom management, teaching math, dealing with challenging students, and teaching writing.

Click on this link to see the video:


3 Simple Steps to Create Staff Book Study Groups

Teachers, principals, or other administrators can come together to study a book on their own with these three simple steps. The overview of books from The Main Idea will help the group know where to start.


3 Simple Steps to Create a Staff Book Study Group


Technology PD and Workshop Ideas

The first section is for the less tech-savvy principal. There are suggestions for your own professional development to help you better understand some technology tools (blogs, wikis, online surveys) and how to use them. It will also help you prepare for the legal and ethical issues around technology. The second part has workshop ideas to introduce technology to teachers.


Workshop to Create a Year-Long Professional Development Plan

Conduct a workshop with your leadership team to help create a year-long PD plan. Assess your school’s top academic needs, create a PD plan, and then plan to evaluate and sustain that plan.

Links: The Facilitator’s Agenda

What Some Experts Say About PD

Leadership Team Agenda

To suggest other outstanding books that education leaders should read, please email

Jenn David-Lang at

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