Books that Improve Teaching and Learning: 6 Books to Inspire New and Experienced Teachers

My current relationship with books is, “It’s complicated.” Since the pandemic struck, I can barely focus on a news article, much less a full-length novel. I haven’t been able to overcome the stress and distraction of political unrest and community spread of the novel coronavirus. Recently I’ve been setting reading goals for myself. My first goal, which I wrote about in THIS blog post, was to read The Innocent Classroom, use some of the strategies from the book, and share them on

Do you have a favorite teaching book or teaching blog that inspires you? Add it to the comments below!

Writing about my enthusiasm for The Innocent Classroom reminded me of books that inspired me to teach. In my graduate teaching program, one of the first books I was assigned was Setting Limits in the Classroom: How to Move Beyond the Dance of Discipline in Today’s Classrooms by Robert J. Mackenzie. Teachers, we all lapse in doing what we know works with upholding the rules and boundaries in our classroom. When I find myself exhausted by my interactions with students, a warning light goes off in my head. It blinks at me, “Go grab the Setting Limits book.” 

Mackenzie encourages teachers not to engage with classroom disruptions in a way that takes over your learning time. You can have a 6-step interaction with a student, or you can shorten that dance down to 2-3 steps. Setting Limits encourages a form of discipline that keeps the dignity of students intact, and supports teachers in restoring the balance in the classroom. 

Shortly after feverishly highlighting my copy of Setting Limits in the Classroom, we did a jigsaw read in my graduate-level behavior management class. I was last to choose, which meant my one choice was Alfie’s Kohn Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community. Knowing nothing about Alfie Kohn and judging a book by its cover, I was not enthusiastic about reading this book. After putting off my reading responsibility, I dug in one weekend and couldn’t put it down. 

Beyond Discipline is the book that established the foundations of my teaching philosophy in my early years as an educator. Kohn is incredibly humane in his approach towards children, which is not to say he’s permissive. Kohn recommends teachers have clear boundaries while thinking through what consequences should look like in your classroom. Soon after reading Beyond Discipline, I was visiting one of the afterschool programs I was overseeing. I watched as a 6-year-old kicked a pile of interlocking blocks all over the floor. In the past, I might have both insisted the student pick up the blocks and would have compounded the consequences by taking away a recess time. As I watched him cleaning up the blocks, I stood off to the side, staring off into the distance and trying to tease out what Alfie would do in this situation. Kohn would ask, “What is your desired outcome?” I thought to myself, “I want him to clean up the blocks.” After he cleaned up the blocks, I sent the student outside to burn off some energy and have some fun. Case closed. 

As I mentioned in my post about the book, The Innocent Classroom, I like to read books that will inspire me over winter break. In the past I’ve read Elena Aguilar’s Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators and Jim Knight’s Better Conversations. Early in my teaching career, I read, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students by Ron Berger. We had taken a quick flight to San Diego for winter break and while comfortably tucked away into my plane seat, I devoured the book. While Kohn’s Beyond Discipline shaped my opinions about relationships with students and building boundaries in the classroom, Berger’s book helped me to create a vision of teaching and learning. 

Ron Berger has an empathetic writer’s voice. I could feel his deep respect for students and families in every chapter. Berger believes in helping students construct their own understanding as they learn, giving them choice and responsibility, and being unafraid to teach cross-curricularly. Is there a way to teach math while allowing students to build all of the furniture in the classroom? Yes. Can students demonstrate their learning in ways other than traditional grades? Of course. Can students show ownership of their own learning to adults? Certainly. 

As I progressed through my teaching career, it was always my intent to be an elementary level teacher. Active duty spouses have little choice in their duty stations, and eventually I began to consider teaching middle school. My education background includes degrees in Art and Chemistry, and eventually I was hired for my current position as a middle school science teacher. It’s a mistake to think that teaching science is just about the content. As a proponent of cross-curricular education, I hold tightly to my elementary roots and believe that all teachers are reading and writing teachers. The book that elevated my teaching in English Language Arts (ELA) was Strategies that Work: Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Learning by Stephanie Harvey.

If you walked in on one of my non-fiction reading lessons, you would hear me parroting the language used in Strategies that Work. “Good readers ask questions,” I say at least once a class period. Reading Harvey’s book gave me a strong foundation in teaching reading and writing in the content area classroom, and a roadmap for teaching essential skills such as questioning and making connections. This book was so influential to me that one of my students actually made up a hand movement to show that he had a connection to the content (Putting his thumb up to his forehead while his pinky was sticking out, sort of like a unicorn horn). I still teach kids this move! 

Wading through the doldrums of January and February doesn’t have to be an act of suffering for teachers. Find the book you need now to invigorate your teaching. Here are some great places to find reads that will increase your engagement in the classroom:

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