Summer Reading: An SEL Frame of Mind

Greetings Readers!

As the days grow shorter and Labor Day approaches, most of you are preparing your minds and classrooms for the start of the school year.  Increasingly, that means not only writing or revising academic goals and lesson plans but also considering how best to foster the emotional well-being and growth of a new group of learners.  What strengths and challenges will your students bring with them?  How will you cultivate the former and meet the latter?  We thought you might be interested, in this last gasp of summer reading time, to dip into some recent books about social emotional learning and mindfulness: what better way to get into a positive mindset about the fall semester?  The dozen titles below are recommendations from two of Norton’s authors whose own work and writing focus on the social and emotional aspects of educating the whole child.

-Carol Collins

Editor, Norton Books in Education

P.S. K-12Talk will take a break next week and will resume with Back to School posts after Labor Day. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

From Patricia A. Jennings, series editor of The Norton Series on Social Emotional Learning Solutions; author of Mindfulness for Teachers (2015), Mindfulness in the PreK-5 Classroom (2019, SEL Solutions Series)and The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom (2019)

  • Building Emotional Intelligence: Practices to Cultivate Inner Resilience in Children by Linda Lantieri (Electronic University, 2014)

A guide for educators, counselors, and parents teaching children how to respond to stress. This book presents exercises and activities to help children focus their minds and tune into their bodies and emotions.

  • Growing Up Mindful: Essential Practices to Help Children, Teens, and Families Find Balance, Calm, and Resilience by Christopher Willard, Psy.D. (Sounds True, 2016)

With more than 75 exercises, this book teaches parents, educators, and counselors how to empower children with resilience through mindfulness skills.

  • Learning to Breathe: A Mindfulness Curriculum for Adolescents to Cultivate Emotion Regulation, Attention, and Performance by Patricia C. Broderick (New Harbinger Publications, 2013)

Foundational meditation skills are tailored to the developmental needs of adolescents in this mindfulness program. Managing stress and difficult emotions and developing attention are among the crucial skills students will gain from this curriculum.

  • Little Flower Yoga for Kids: A Yoga and Mindfulness Program to Help Your Child Improve Attention and Emotional Balance by Jennifer Cohen Harper, MA, E-RCYT (New Harbinger Publications, 2013)

Based on the Little Flower Yoga program developed by a kindergarten teacher, Little Flower Yoga for Kids is an easy-to-read guide to teaching children yoga to increase focus and manage their emotions.

  • The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students by Daniel Rechtschaffen (Norton Professional Books, 2014)

An introduction to the Mindful Education movement and the many benefits of mindful practice for both students and teachers, with practical exercises and lesson plans for students of all ages and needs.

From Meena Srinivasan, author of SEL Every Day: Integrating Social and Emotional Learning with Instruction in Secondary Classrooms (2019, SEL Solutions Series)

  • Assessing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Guide to Meaningful Measurement (SEL Solutions Series) by Clark McKown (Norton Professional Books, 2019)

An essential guide to using social and emotional assessment in support of teaching and learning. This book provides educators with practical information that they can use to clarify their assessment goals, identify viable assessment options that meet their needs, and understand and use assessment data to inform their practice and improve student outcomes.

  • Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students: 30 Flexible Research-Based Activities to Build EQ Skills (Grades 5-9) by Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., and Steven E. Tobias, Psy.D. (Free Spirit Publishing, 2018)

This book provides an introduction to emotional intelligence and why it matters for students, as well as a detailed guide for incorporating EQ into your curriculum with thirty hands-on lessons.

  • Circle Forward: Building a Restorative School Community by Carolyn Boyes-Watson and Kay Pranis (Living Justice Press, 2014)

A guide to incorporating Circle practice into the everyday routines of school communities, including using Circles to teach and learn, to develop social-emotional skills, to promote connection, to develop students’ leadership skills, and many other purposes.

  • Creating a Culture of Reflective Practice: Capacity-Building for Schoolwide Success by Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral (ASCD, 2017)

A guide for administrators to helping teachers develop practices of self-reflection in order to promote the well-being and achievement of their students.

  • Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education by Thich Nhất Hạnh and Katherine Weare (Parallax Press, 2017)

The Thich Nhất Hạnh/Plum Village approach to mindfulness education spans the entire range of grade levels, from preschool to higher education, and stresses that educators must first establish their own mindfulness practice as a foundation for their work in the classroom.

  • Mindfulness Practices: Cultivating Heart Centered Communities Where Students Focus and Flourish by Christine Mason, Michele M. Rivers Murphy, and Yvette Jackson (Solution Tree Press, 2018)

A book of adaptable mindful education exercises that can be applied across grade levels, Mindfulness Practices illustrates the impact of mindfulness on the performance and well-being of students and provides the tools necessary to incorporate mindfulness into every classroom.

  • Mindful Teacher, Mindful School: Improving Well-Being in Teaching and Learning by Kevin Hawkins (SAGE Publications Ltd., 2017)

A guide to transforming education through mindful practice. Educators can apply Hawkins’ approach to their personal lives, professional lives, and classrooms to benefit teacher, student, and school community.

And check out these related articles from some of our previous blog posts!

Summer Reading: Fewer Books, Better

Blogger George Evans recently wrote a blog post called “In Defense of Slow” where he states that “many things in education are simply too fast…in this rush to cover content, to get through standards…we lose the heart and soul of what we should be there for.”

I connected with this instantly, as I’ve often thought and written about how cramming too much feedback into a single paper or too much content into a single lesson often leads to less learning. Sure, the amount covered by the teacher is more, but the amount ultimately retained by the students tends to be far less.

It is worth remembering that the same is true in our own education as well. For most summers of my teaching life, I tried to blast through twenty, thirty, or forty books in a vain effort to chop my always massive to-read list down to a more manageable size, but at the end of each summer, this left me feeling less recharged and a bit fuzzier on the details of many of the books than I’d like.

So last summer I decided to focus on reading six books (one for each week I had off) and read them well and deep. The result was a far more enjoyable and fulfilling experience, so this summer I am doing the same. Here are my six books for the summer of 2019:

We Got This. by Cornelius Minor

I saw Cornelius Minor speak at a conference last year, and to say I was blown away is a major understatement. His affable, easy smile, charismatic anecdotes, and rhetorical flourishes entranced the crowd, but Minor is more than flash on the surface. In We Got This. he does a deep-dive into the importance of true listening to students and what that looks like in practice. Similar to Tom Newkirk’s Embarrassment (another pedagogical book I love deeply), Minor has given an essential, yet far too rarely talked about topic the attention it deserves, and I for one cannot wait to read it!

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life remains one of the most unique and mind-bendingly imaginative collections of stories I’ve ever seen. Part smart science fiction, part soul-questioning theology, and part fanciful magical realism—it makes for one of the most unique reads anywhere. Exhalation—which is filled with plenty of time traveling, a story of artificial intelligence going through adolescence, and an investigation of how relationships with others and ourselves would change if we could digitally revisit any moment from our past—looks to have more of the same.

Fewer Things, Better by Angela Watson

Angela Watson is a teacher who realized that many of the teachers around her (and herself as well) were burning the midnight oil and also burning out because they were trying to do too much. This led her on a journey in search of both efficiencies and answers concerning what we should and shouldn’t be investing our time in. The culmination of this journey was Watson’s wildly successful 40 Hour Workweek Club, a web-delivered series of lessons designed to refocus us on what matters. I’ve been curious about it for quite a while now, but somewhat ironically, I’ve never had the bandwidth to jump into a whole online course. This is why I’m really excited that she now has a book with the same ideas called Fewer Things, Better. As someone who is always in the pursuit of focusing my energy on what truly matters, I am really curious to finally hear what she has to say.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Rilke

I don’t often focus my reading energies on 19th century German poets, but in the case of Rainer Rilke, I’ve made an exception. Until this year I’d never heard of Rilke or his wonderful work, but this spring I stumbled across a Medium article discussing this slim volume where Rilke responds to letters from young poets. After reading the article, I read the first letter in the volume and knew I needed to read the rest. Rilke said so many things that I’d felt and thought but never been able to articulate about writing, creating, and being. Better yet, he also said it in a way that speaks to young people, which became readily clear when I loaned my recently purchased copy to a student, who gave it to another student, who then gave it to another student, and so on. I finally have it back, and judging by my students’ reactions, I think reading it is going to be a delight. 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Written in 2012, this book appeared quietly in my classroom library this year, and since that point it has become a not-so-quiet favorite of my students. Written by poet and author, Benjamin Alire Saenz, it is a lyrical journey through childhoods that, like far too many childhoods, contain far too many adult questions and themes. Like The Alchemist and The Secret Life of Bees, what makes this book special is that while it hits upon heavy themes, it balances them with the wonder, joy, and anticipation that are also present at times in even tough childhoods, making it a good and engrossing read for the classroom or the beach.

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Christopher Emdin

The last of my six books is likely the most important book I will read this summer. Emdin is a professor at the Teacher’s College at Columbia, and I’ve heard from a number of sources that this book is indeed essential for everyone, whether or not they teach in an urban school. What makes this book so important is that it is a case study exploring how idealistic, thoughtful, caring people can go into urban schools and by lunch time on the first day they have stopped being change agents and instead become active agents in perpetuating many of the systems they’d previously committed to fixing. I heard Emdin speak once, and that experience has me really excited to see what I can learn from him about the realities of education, both urban and otherwise!


Matthew Johnson is a teacher and writer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He writes for Edutopia, publishes his thoughts on writing instruction in his weekly Re-Write Blog (this is his July 1st post), and is the author of a forthcoming book from Corwin Literacy, Flash Feedback: Guiding Student Writers to Success — Without Burning Out.

Summer Reading: World Crime Fiction

Here’s a mystery: why, when I talk to teachers about what literature they teach, does crime fiction rarely if ever make the list? I can make some guesses: lurid subject matter, graphic descriptions of gore or sex, a kind of literary snobbery, anticipated parent and/or administration disapproval. However, having spent the last several years reading crime fiction—primarily from countries outside the U.S.—I could easily put together a collection of titles whose content is in no way lurid, does not truck in gore, and handles sex scenes, if any, in mature and discreet ways. That leaves the presumption that crime fiction is not serious literature and should therefore not be taught in school. Let me use the rest of my allotted word count to help us get beyond the loner, gumshoe, Sam Spade stereotypes and create an argument for those outside your classroom who would raise eyebrows or hackles or worse.

I argue specifically for world crime fiction as opposed to the homegrown variety for a number of reasons. The first is that we in the U.S. need to get over ourselves. Despite the efforts of America First nationalists, we live in a globalized community, one only getting electronically smaller daily. Crime happens everywhere. Although it may appear to be an odd idea to view crime as a unifying concept, learning the ways other countries contend with crime, support or don’t support victims, enable or disable police efforts, impinge on or guard privacy, and generally cope with crime woven into the complex fabric of their society provides critical insight into the values of those societies. Simultaneously, those insights provide means for us to reflect on our own values, maybe even to consider measures beyond mass incarceration.

World crime fiction addresses complex issues of lives lived in a technological, globalized, and diverse world.

Another significant reason for the focus on world crime fiction is that so much of it considers issues of social justice, equity, and diversity. The Nina Borg series written by Danish writers Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis has a Red Cross nurse as its protagonist. By setting these stories in a refugee camp, the authors use the setting to call attention to the illegal trafficking of children, hate crimes, and the lingering problems of civil war. The impact of immigration on immigrants and natives alike in countries where populations have long been mostly homogenous frequently pops up in a range of Scandinavian crime procedurals. These stories, like most of the world crime fiction I’ve read, take particular care to depict the heavy toll crime takes on victims, families of victims, police and medical personnel, and society as a whole.

Closer to home, Ausma Zehanat Khan writes of the transactions between the Muslim community living in Toronto and the European-based culture of the dominant majority. Through her books, I have learned more about the complexity of Islamic culture, the beauty of Islamic poetry and art, and the misbeliefs heaped by Western culture on Islam than any number of news articles on the subject. She manages that feat while laying bare the political intricacies of big city police forces and placing her characters in situations that pose significant ethical dilemmas.

Then there is the craft of the writing. Like all genres, world crime fiction, while generally well-written, also has its share of standout authors. Ann Cleeves, known for her Shetland and Vera Stanhope series, invites readers into the hinterlands of the UK by painting vivid landscapes and characterizations that place you among the locals. Robert Miller—perhaps the only author I mention here whose description of sex might be too explicit for a high school classroom—finds ways to marry 20th century history to the current political situations within Portugal and Spain. Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama is a dense but keenly insightful glimpse into the hierarchical politics of the Japanese police force. Finally, Tana French—my favorite—is just a flat-out great writer who I would read in whatever genre she chose to ply her many skills. Her deft use of voice in her Dublin Murder Squad series is a gift to her readers.

World crime fiction brings so much of substance to any classroom literature focus. The tight and interesting plots, pinpoint characterizations, and thoughtfully worded images invite engagement and discussion. Similar to graphica, which is rightfully finding its way into more schools, world crime fiction addresses complex issues of lives lived in a technological, globalized, and diverse world. In addition, so many of the authors are women, which certainly can’t be said of the traditional literary canon. And if sales are an indication, crime and mystery books are more likely than any genre short of romance novels to be read by choice rather than by assignment. It would seem to me that teachers should be celebrated and supported for introducing students to world crime fiction. Why this isn’t the case remains, well, a mystery to me.


Bob Fecho is a professor of English Education at Teachers College, Columbia University where he researches and writes about issues of adolescent literacy and dialogical pedagogy, particularly as both subject areas relate to student populations too frequently marginalized by schools. His most recent book, co-authored with Jennifer Clifton, is Dialoguing across Cultures, Identities, and Learning