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NEA President Dennis Van Roekel Shares His Favorite Books for Summer

Whatever your summer plans – and I hope they include some well-deserved R&R -- a good book is a great way to pass the time. From bestsellers to classics to everything in between, books are a fun way to enjoy a hot summer day without breaking a sweat. For your enjoyment and reading pleasure, here are my top summer reading picks.

My Losing Season
By Pat Conroy

What It Is: Pat Conroy, author of highly acclaimed novels “The Great Santini,” “The Lords of Discipline, and “The Prince of Tides,” chronicles his senior year of basketball at The Citadel, while sharing the humor and emotion behind the story.
Why You Should Read It: There are a lot of things about this book that I love. First, I’m a basketball fan, so I enjoyed reading a story about how this losing basketball season dramatically changed Conroy’s life. There’s a reason why he’s one of America’s great storytellers. But what makes the book so compelling is the way Conroy brings out the beauty of teaching. Mr. Monty, his English teacher at Gonzaga High School, gave extra credit for reading hard books, so Conroy decided to read “The Sound and the Fury.” In a memorable exchange, as Conroy grasps the meaning behind this book’s narrative, Mr. Monty tells him: “This is a very good day in the history of your education, Mr. Conroy. It is a very good day in the history of mine as a teacher.” It doesn’t get any better than that!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
By Stephen R. Covey

What It Is: Now in its 20th year, this bestseller presents a framework for personal effectiveness, reinforcing the message that change starts within oneself.

Why You Should Read It: This book is a classic with staying power for its “universal and timeless” advice. I have put many of these habits to work in my professional and personal life: Be Proactive. Think Win/Win. Seek First to Understand then to be Understood. Begin with the End in Mind. Every time I read it the lessons become more clear and meaningful.

Teaching an Anthill to Fetch: Developing Collaborative Intelligence @ Work
By Stephen James Joyce

What It Is: This book teaches how to create meaningful participation and effective collaboration, and instill a strong sense of purpose to teams.

Why You Should Read It: I asked the NEA Executive Committee and the Board of Directors to read this book and convened a strategic discussion so they could share their feedback. I’m intrigued by its team-building ideas and the potential it holds for making schools more flexible, collaborative, and successful. This is essential to closing the achievement gaps, reducing dropouts, and improving the lives of struggling youth. If all youngsters are to have an equal opportunity to succeed, schools must accelerate the pace of transformation by promoting effective collaboration among educators, parents, administrators, and communities.

The Answer To How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters
By Peter Block

What It Is: This guide shows how our obsession with tools and techniques – the “how” – can actually prevent us from doing things we believe in, and teaches individuals to identify what matters and to act on that knowledge.

Why You Should Read It: It’s a quick read (about 200 pages) with an interesting premise: Real change is often stifled by “how” questions because people become paralyzed with inaction. How do you do it? How long will it take? How have other people done it successfully? Block’s answer is simple: first say “yes” to the vision, the values, and the goals you want to achieve, then figure out “how” to get there. When our Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, they never asked “How will this work?” They laid out their ideals and chose to act. These same principles are on display in school districts like Syracuse, New York, where Say Yes to Education, Inc., a non-profit education foundation, is committed to increasing high school and college graduation rates for inner city students. This book can fundamentally change your outlook on public schools and on life.

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Now that you've read Dennis's picks for summer reads,we want to know what books you recommend!

Share the books you're already reading, or those you'd really like to dive into this summer on our Summer Reading discussion board.