Book Summaries

The Novice Advantage by Dr. J. Eckhert

Dr. Margo Turner

Every year our faculty reads a common book over the summer.  Upon our return in August we meet with our principals in way of setting our professional learning goals for the year.  In preparation for those PGP (professional growth plan) meetings, we received this email request from our principal:

RE: Please send me your thoughts on what stood out the most to you as you read The Novice Advantage. 

I found the book especially helpful in terms of pedagogy and also very aligned with brain-based teaching and learning. I offer a few of my highlights in way of summarizing the book:

  1. In the back of the book I listed as I read any descriptor he used for 7th graders.  This was not his point but I wanted to glean all I could to learn more about my new students – “narcissistic, hormonal, relational chaos, “smooth” calls a big hit, signal not to call on – eye contact and smile, make work about them, sense of justice=cleaning dissection trays after class for disrupting, who is on their team or lab partner is most important, personal letter to each student, science genius challenge, t-shirt and name on plaque highest class prize, mercurial, hormone-ravaged, open up on social media vs. to trusted adult” to quote him directly.
  2. I thought tons about his use of my new favorite word for effective teaching – “deliberate” (ps which I find much more appropriate and realistic than differentiation)…he used it several times in terms of being more intentional in the planning (Eckert, 2016, 4) and teaching (ibid, 116)and relationship building (ibid, 131)and he also used in in terms of deliberate optimism (ibid, 31). I was VERY happy to hear this language and to be challenged in this text to be more meaningful in my teaching.  I have read much this year about deliberate teaching based on Ericcson’s Peak and deliberate practice, along with the interpretation of this perspective for teacher development from the Council of Deans in Austin, TX.  You can check out their  major document which is some of the best materials I have seen for teacher development.  Deliberate teaching is hard but transformational. I want to be this kind of teacher 160+ days, 7 hours a day this year.
  3.  His mentioning some of the shoulders I have stood on throughout my teaching was confirming for me: Hattie, Kounin, Danielson, Tomlinson, Dweck, Deci and Ryan, Wiggins, Hunter, Esquith, Palmer, and of course, Kohn.  I want to think more about their contributions and how I might be made better this year as a teacher. I was intrigued that there were some that he did not reference or provide fuller citations or references for (such as Dewey, Vygotsky, Glassar, Graham) but there are only so many pages! 🙂
  4.  The biggest tension point for me throughout the reading is my personal understanding that there is something that happens between reflecting and risk-taking in terms of his 4 Rs.  The point of beginning for me in terms of the teaching loop is not just reflecting…I am calling it “reason” right now to keep up with the r pattern, but it is the standards and the students – the desired end state along with who the actual students are …then comes the risk taking…I would love to think more about this.
  5. Finally, I appreciated his stance on the PLN model for development, along with his provided exercises and forms.  My theory on true teacher change is that is comes through intentional goal setting, coaching by more knowledgeable others, trial – what he calls risk, feedback – accurate and kind, actively sought (vs. forced) resources and support, and accountability.  This format (vs. the speaker/lecture sit and get) is TIME consuming, meaning there must be built-in time during the school week…but it seems to be more effective, and the Heath’s and others are helping us understand what it takes for change. Again I would love to think more about this!

I recommend this book to new and not new teachers!

Eckert, J. 2016. The Novice Advantage: Fearless practice for every teacher.  Thousand   Oaks, CA:    Corwin.

When Breathe Becomes Air

by Dr. Paul Kalanithi
Posthumously published by Random House on January 12, 2016
Finalist for Pulitzer Prize, NY TIMES Bestseller.

“The tricky part of illness is that, as you go through it, your values are constantly changing. You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out. It felt like someone had taken away my credit card and I was having to learn how to budget. You may decide you want to spend your time working as a neurosurgeon, but two months later, you may feel differently. Two months after that, you may want to learn to play the saxophone or devote yourself to the church. Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process.” 

This memoir, completed by Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s wife after his death, is a beautiful and powerful book for each of us who work, similarly to Paul, as care-givers.  As a teacher, I marveled at Dr. Kalanithi’s intention with each patient, seeing them as people not cases, and desiring to improve their lives, even in his decision during his last brain surgery while in tremendous pain to avoid possible infection in the patient by suturing with thread not staples.  His journey through his lung cancer, to becoming a father, and finally focusing on finishing the book provided many opportunities to reflect on how I want to live and work, and what I want my own legacy to be, when I too will die, which Paul reminds us is part of all of our lives. I appreciated his thoughtful and poetic interweaving of literature excerpts with the technical descriptions of neurosurgery and found these insightful into his heart and intellect.  After reading I found myself with an awakened desire to live fully present each day, contributing to the good for those around me, and to be contagiously grateful for life and hope.

Dr. Margo Turner

Texas Life-time Teacher License, Elementary Education and Reading Association of Christian Schools, Lifetime Educator Certification. EdD, Curriculum and Instruction, University of Texas at Austin MSE, Elementary Education and Reading, Texas Wesleyan University BA, Sociology, Ouachita Baptist University

Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

By: Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee
Harvard Business Review Press, 2013

This refreshed edition with a new preface by the authors, illustrates the power and necessity of leadership that is self-aware, empathic, motivating and collaborative. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence (2002) was basically refreshed in this newer, updated version. Primal Leadership means to “prime good feelings in those we lead.” That means to create resonance which is a “reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people.” Work on your own emotional intelligence (intelligence about your own and others’ emotions) and those around you can benefit and grow too! “Resonance comes naturally to emotionally intelligent leaders.” So basically, the primal job of a leader is his/her emotional responses and presence.

It was neuroscience that allowed this book to be written with evidence. The science shows why leaders’ moods and actions have enormous impact on those they lead. Eyes turn to leaders for emotional guidance in all kinds of situations, minor and major. The leader has the maximum power to sway everyone’s emotions. Emotions of excitement, joy, enthusiasm, and performance can help others soar and yet emotions that are anxious, stressful, angry, bitter, and in despair can throw others off and decrease achievement.

The primary research that helps the reader understand the power of a leader is based on the open-loop system research. We have two types of systems in our body: closed-loop and open-loop. The closed loop system such as the circulatory system is self-regulating and does not affect or impact other’s systems. On the other hand, the open-loop system can best describe our limbic system or emotional centers of our brain and bodies and can be affected by external sources, like other people. Scientists have captured this attunement of emotions by measuring the heart rate of two people having a good, 15 minute conversation. By the end of this conversation, the physiological profiles of these 2 people look remarkably the same. The scientists call this “mirroring”. It happens hardly at all with neutral, non-emotional conversations. It strongly occurs when anger and hurt reverberate and goes on more subtly during pleasant interactions. Mirroring even happens when the interaction is just nonverbal. We catch feelings from one another, but it’s the leader who adds the strongest “seasoning”.

The four emotional intelligences are interwoven. Self-awareness and self-management are the personal competence pieces while the social awareness and relationships management are part of the social competence category. Self-awareness is the foundation for the other three. If we can’t recognize our own emotions, we will be poor at managing them and less able to understand them in others. Self-awareness plays a big role in empathy – if we are not tuned into our own feelings, how can we be tuned into how others feel? Social awareness is the next step in a leader’s task: driving resonance. Being in tune with how others feel in the moment guides a leader of what to say and do next and that is part of the relationship managing piece.

I love page 100 that has a cyclical visual of Boyatzis’s Theory of Becoming a Resonant Leader. First we must determine our ideal self and our real self. Then we need to determine how we can build on our strengths while reducing our gaps. So we create a learning agenda and experiment with and practice the new behaviors and thoughts until mastery occurs. We bring the bad habits into our perception and practice the new habits. Improving Emotional Intelligence can take months, not weeks or days. Along this journey we will need supportive and trusting relationships that make change possible. We should converse often with this person for feedback on the goals and for the gaps, and how we are achieving these emotionally intelligent skills.

This book is full of specific examples and strategies to help a person truly become a resonant leader. I highly recommend reading it, highlighting the pieces that you want to incorporate into your leadership, and start making the changes in your life to make a huge difference in your school, business, home, church and other places of significance.

Click here to get the book

The Upside of Stress

By: Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.

I’m very thankful for this book, and I know that any reader that experiences high stress on a regular basis will WANT to read this book and incorporate the research into daily living strategies, or daily mindsets. This research explained in the book basically supports the saying that has been around for years: “Life is 10% of what actually happens to you and 90% of how you respond to it.” Another title for this book: Stress: Your New Friend.

Dr. McGonigal explains how one’s belief in the stress being harmful or positive can actually hurt or help. The recent research actually goes against our conventional wisdom throughout the years about stress being the “killer” of brain cells, harmful to health, one of the leading causes of high blood pressure, etc. This research used 30,000 American adults who experienced some kind of stress on a daily basis (this could be anyone). The researchers tracked the group’s mortality rates for eight years. The results surprised most people and so the entire book is about the results and what we can learn and change about our mindsets about stress’ effects.


SubGroups –

  • Those with low-stress lives
  • Those with high-stress lives and a mindset that stress was NOT bad for them
  • Those with high-stress lives and a mindset that their stress was harming them.

Those who led low-stress lives and those who led high-stress lives (but didn’t think the stress was bad for them) had almost identical mortality rates.

Those in the third category (high stress with belief that it’s harmful), had a 43% higher risk of dying. Conclusion: Attitudes and belief systems about the stress appear to be more significant than the actual stressors themselves. By changing your thoughts about stress, you can change your body’s response to this stress.

Dr. McGonigal shares a simple process that can help readers activate a more positive response to stress. People who have a positive perspective about stress are happier, healthier, have a higher self-efficacy, and achieve more.

My favorite quotes from the book: “Feeling burdened rather than uplifted by everyday duties is more a mindset than a measure of what is going on in your life.” “Choosing to view anxiety as excitement, energy or motivation can help you perform to your full potential.”

I highly recommend reading this book. We’ve held onto some negative mindsets about stress and its affect on us for too many years. I also recommend watching the following TED Talk from Kelly her research.

Click here to get the book

Author: LeAnn Nickelsen, M.Ed. is the author of 11 books focused on teaching strategies: Deeper Learning (2008) and Bringing the Common Core to Life (2014) are the more recent books. LeAnn specializes in cognitive science in education by using the best tools to reach every student. LeAnn is passionate about schools becoming more empathy-centered. You can contact her: or visit her website: