This is One of the Most Important Educational Stories of our Generation

Late last night, after returning home from an inspiring conference on disruptive innovation, I was exhausted but my mind was swarming with thoughts about the future, inspired by countless conversations and presentations at the IBM iDisrupt Executive Summit. I drove into the driveway a little after midnight and found a small package by my front door. I picked it up, carried my luggage inside, and opened the package, excited to find a copy of a brand new book. I’d read this book a few months before, getting a chance to review it prior to publication, but I soon found myself sitting beside my luggage and reading it a second time. I read it from front to back before settling into bad in the early morning hours. Satisfied, inspired, and no longer thinking about the wonderful conference that I just attended, I instead found myself repeating a single sentence to myself. “This might just be one of the most important educational stories of our generation.”

I’ve followed Acton Academy for many years and had the honor of visiting the school a couple of years ago. When I speak at conferences and to school leaders in the United States and around the world, I almost always find myself referencing this student-driven learning community at some point. If you’ve read this blog for more than a few months, then you know that I make frequent reference to it here as well.

I’ve visited and studied hundreds of innovative models of schooling over the past decade, and Acton continues to be one of the most promising models. From their grounding the vision of the school in the metaphor of the Hero’s Journey to their humane and mission-inspired approach to assessment, their distinct and compelling vision for what it means to be a learner-driven community to their wonderfully reflective and emergent approach to nurturing a rich and compassionate community, Acton is a truly inspiring and exceptional school.

Even if one does not embrace the entire vision of Acton Academy, it has so many positive attributes  and innovative practices that can be applied in a variety of traditional school, homeschooling, and emerging school contexts. Instead of shaping their school by standard or commonplace practices in other schools, the founders take the time to learn from others, consider the breadth of possibilities, apply what they learn, but they do so with the humility, intellectual rigor, and reflection necessary to constantly review, revisit, and revise what they are doing. I believe that they are able to do this in part because they have refined a clear and compelling mission, established a list of core promises and beliefs, and hold firmly to a succinct educational philosophy (“We believe clear thinking leads to good decisions, good decisions lead to the right habits, and the right habits forge character, and character determines destiny.”). When you have these in place, and you actually use them to direct your thoughts and actions, good things are likely to follow. Acton Academy is certainly a testament to that fact.

It is with this context and background that I am incredibly excited that Laura Sandefer, co-founder of Acton Academy, displayed the courage, commitment, and conviction to put the Acton story on paper, writing what is soon to become one of my most recommended books to anyone who cares about the future of schooling. I am not exaggerating when I state that Courage to Grow: How Acton Academy Turns Learning Upside Down is one of the most important educational stories of our generation, and it is now in print, ready for you to read.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to consider a compelling possible future for education. In fact, it is not a future. It is a present reality. What I love about the book is that it is inspiring, fresh, authentic, and practical. Laura is not just writing about dreams and ideals. She tells the story of how they actually made such a distinct and compassionate learning community a reality, and she offers sage advice on how others can do the same. She tells the personal and important story of how the idea for the school came into existence. She tells the story of humble inquiry combined with bold action that led to first experiments and soon a new school. She tells the story of their struggle with rules and assessment. She tells the moving and wonderfully candid story of her own son’s search for the right learning community. She tells the honest story of a school, a learning community, that is continually learning. She tells the story of how this school emerged as what I’ve come to call one of the most compassionate learning communities that I’ve ever studied or witnessed. She tells many other stories along the way as well, each written with what seems to be the same care, reflection, and careful attention that went into the founding of the school.

Not only that, but the book includes some of those simple and practical components as well, everything from what tools they find helpful to some of their core documents (like the student contract). It includes their recommended reading list for parents, their use of badges, and reflections on the Socratic teaching that informs what they do.

If you are in education or care about education, this is a must read text. If you want your mind expanded about what is possible, this is the book for you. If you want to expand your sense of what is possible, this is also the text for you. If you are jaded by the current system, perhaps wondering if there is hope for anything else, this book might just take you down the road toward renewed hope. I read widely and pride myself in being well-informed about the most important and influential education texts of our age, and this is one of them. The stories are deeply human and humane. They call upon us to consider how we might nurture a better, more hopeful, more humane, and more inspiring educational ecosystem. It is my sincere hope that the stories in this book will shape and inspire the education of the future.

New Book- Adventures in Self-Directed Learning: A Guide for Nurturing Learner Agency and Ownership

I’m exited to announce the release of my fourth and newest book, Adventures in Self-Directed Learning: A Guide for Nurturing Learner Agency and Ownership. This is a short text that comes from over a decade of research to build a compelling case for the importance of nurturing agency, ownership, and a capacity for self-education in learners. This is my chance to cast a vision for education in a connected age. You can expect a philosophical defense of self-education followed by practical suggestions for how to get started, and how to work through common challenges.

While those who lead self-directed schools might be interested in this book, my main audience includes people working and teaching in more traditional schools that are not necessarily designed to promote self-directed learning. I offer ideas on how to get started even in more teacher-centered contexts.

As such, the book is a collection of 8 short chapters. The first chapter defines self-directed learning. In chapter two, I make a case for the importance of self-directed learning. In the third chapter, I posit the idea of school as a resource for learning and not necessarily the sole source of learning. This is an important concept as we understand education in a connected age. From there we look at the idea of a learner with a thousand tutors and the personal learning network. In chapter five, we revisit the idea of the digital divide, and I illustrate why self-directed learning is such an important part of overcoming that divide. Next, I work through common barriers to self-directed learning, followed by a chapter devoted to how you can design a self-directed learning friendly school and classroom. Then I finish the book with a final chapter of concluding thoughts, suggestions and encouragements.

This is not a research heavy book. It is short accessible, builds a case for self-directed learning, and offers plenty of tips as well.

I invite you to join me in spreading the word about the book. Please consider sharing this with others who might be interested. Most proceeds will go toward funding my work on Etale, the MoonshotEduShow podcast, and some forthcoming projects at Birdhouse Learning Labs.

I am also grateful if you help spread the word on your favorite social media outlets.

If you are interested in ordering, you can get the best price right now by ordering directly from the publisher site. Or, you can get it on Amazon and other online bookstores.

7 Reasons Why the Best Education Books Are Rarely the Bestsellers

The more I scan the Amazon bestsellers in the education section as well as some of the other major lists, the more I come to believe that the best education books are rarely bestsellers. There are exceptions to this. Some incredible books about education absolutely become bestsellers, and that is encouraging. However, they do so despite some of the trends, not because of them. Here are seven reasons why.

Bestsellers tend to stretch but not break the system.

We want to be stretched, but only so far. If there is a central truth that risks disrupting the system altogether, we would usually rather ignore it. Exceptions are often education books that get a readership outside the normal audience. They are books that connect with and reach a group that knows or lives the brokenness of the system. I put books like Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed in this category.

Bestsellers keep it concrete.

Even though some of the most important issues call for an examination of the theoretical and philosophical, many of us would rather settle for a simple 10-step guide or at least something straightforward and concrete. The issue might be complex, but we still want and hope for a simple solution. In the absense of that, we will settle for a reciple. There are exceptions, books that draw from theory and reserach to highlight a very practical and lived experience, but those are also the books where the authors come back in five to ten years to talk about all the ways that educators are misusing or misunderstanding their intentions. We see that with Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind as well as Dweck’s Mindset.

Bestsellers use or create buzz words.

We love buzz words in education, and we buy the books that use the latest ones. In fact, it sometimes seems like a recipe for success is choose a few buzz words, add some inspirational stories, include a list of tips, and you have a bestseller.

Bestsellers are about the celebrity educator as much as what they wrote.

There are many wonderful exceptions to this, but oftentimes it is just a matter of people who have a great following, they write a people, and those followers take if from there.

Bestsellers bow to the sacred cows.

There are some things that you can challenge in education and others that you cannot. There is only so much openness to full and candid discourse. Any challenge to certain existing power structures will immediately put you on the “do not buy” list, although this sometimes works out too. When there are enough people outside of the system who resonate, that can be enough to start a movement.

Bestsellers do not bother with too much research.

Again, I am thankful that there are some great exceptions to this, but many of us in education do not want to bother with the hard stuff. We are all about following your instincts even if the research, sometimes even when the research, indicates otherwise.

Bestsellers get their by great marketing.

There are wonderful education books that do not release through top publishers with larger budgets, or they are not written by well-known personalities who have a large pre-existing audience. As such, they just don’t reach a large audience. That does not mean, however, that they couldn’t reach a larger audience with the right marketing strategy.

I realize that these are broad generalizations and, like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are some encouraging and wonderful exceptions to this. However, that is not my main reason for writing this. Instead, I write this article because I have been incredibly blessed to discover lesser known education books that have changed the way that I think about teaching, learning, and education as a whole. Some of them were bestsellers of a different era. Others never reached large audience. That doesn’t take anything away from the fact that they are insightful, even important, books about education. As such, I invite others to join me in doing the extra work to seek out books that might not be praised at education conferences, highlighted in bestseller lists, promoted among colleagues, or even known by others. The majority is sometimes wrong, maybe even the majority of the time. How will this influence your reading habits?

New Book – What Really Matters? Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education

What Really Matters Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary EducationIn 2015 I wrote a short article on this blog entitled “Ten Critical Issues in Education.” It was one of my most read and shared articles of that year on my blog. It clearly struck a chord with readers, which challenged me to think even more deeply about the subject. As such, I am excited to announce the result of that thinking, the release of my newest book: What Really Matters? Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education. This short text (only 120 pages in total) represents what I consider to be some of the more pressing issues in modern education. This is my attempt to challenge all of us to think deeply about what truly matters in education. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my assessment, but it is my hope and prayer that this little book serves as a resource for deep, deliberate, expansive thought and action in the contemporary education space.

If you are willing, I appreciate your partnership in helping to get the word out about the book.

You can order the book today at the publisher website. I will also update this section as soon as it is live on Amazon as well.

The Official Book Description

What really matters in education? Amid headlines about standardized test scores, global rankings of students from different countries, technology-enhanced learning, the unreasonable costs of higher education, and preparing the workforce of tomorrow, what really matters? If we want to pursue education reform and improvements that truly benefit the lives of current and future students, where should we focus our efforts? In What Really Matters?, Dr. Bernard Bull draws from over twenty years of research and experience to offer ten issues that truly matter if we are going to create rich, meaningful, rewarding, engaging, and impactful learning organizations that are rooted in the best ideas of the past while preparing people for the challenges and opportunities of the present and future. This is a text for educators, school leaders, community members, parents, students, policymakers, and others who aspire to move from educational buzzwords to some of the most important educational challenges and opportunities of our age.

A Couple of Early Reviews 

What Really Matters? is a must-read if you care deeply about how young people will fare in the twenty-first century. Bernard Bull–long a favorite thinker for those who care about transformational learning–offers ten themes that go far beyond the tired arguments that divide many educators. From discovering hidden talents to forging character to finding meaning, Bull offers observations and questions that will keep many of us busy for the next decade, if not longer.”
–Jeff Sandefer, Middle School Guide and Co-Founder, Acton Academy

“In What Really Matters? Bernard Bull brings a deeply moral sensibility to an analysis of issues that all too often are treated as mere technical matters of connecting effective means to unexamined ends. Bull illuminates the ways in which education is inescapably laden with human values and interests, and guides us toward reflectively engaging with fundamental questions of meaning as we make choices in education policy and practice.”
–Michael Olneck, Professor Emeritus of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison