Tips & Resources
March 7, 2024

School & District Admins: Five books to double down on leadership today

Further your impact on students and teachers with tools from these essential texts, hand-picked by 25-year veteran educator and author.

Our ongoing Guest Blogger Series taps into teachers, tech coaches, and education thought leaders to share key experiences and strategies in the field. As the co-author of Otherful: How to Change the World (and Your School) Through Other People, 25-year teaching veteran Mike Kleba was the perfect pick to write this piece.

At this very moment, schools and districts need influential leaders with a desire to make connections, and the right tools to do it. Below are Kleba’s top five books to support administrators with these key essentials.


“Your system at school really matters, but it’s less important than the people who are running it.”
  • Mike Kleba & Ryan O'Hara

Leading at school is different.

As many superintendents and principals have described to me, the most demanding part of the work is in communicating with others. And while a gaffe can cause all kinds of political problems (“I really wish I would have said that a different way”), the right words at the right time can make a student, parent, or teacher feel seen and valued. 

Unlike in a corporation, sports team, or military operation, leaders in a school work solely through collaboration with other people. You can’t just order people around, fire at will, or reward with bonuses. In education, you can’t work ON people. You must work THROUGH them.

In 25 years of teaching high school English, I’ve seen the tectonic power of a great administrator up close. If you’ll agree with me that education is the single most important gear in our society, then a great principal or ‘supe’ might be one of the most influential people on earth.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to work with many school leaders. The conversations have been broad and wide, but the thesis is always the same. Whatever the challenge or crisis presents, leaders who are humane, compassionate, and willing to collaborate wield the greatest, lasting influence on students.

Here are five books to support and strengthen these efforts:

1) Otherful: How to Change the World (and Your School) Through Other People by Mike Kleba and Ryan O’Hara

When I partnered with middle school Principal Dr. Ryan O’Hara a few years ago to write this leadership handbook, we had no idea how many school leaders would find resonance with our work. Since then, Otherful has found its way into the hands of admin and teachers at hundreds of schools and universities across the country. What resonates most? That we’re both still working in school. That and how easy it is to read and share our short (and hilarious) essays on how to get people to work harder, complain less, and enjoy the work more. We keep it real, but our goal is to inspire the heck out of you.

Pub. 2021

2) Humble Inquiry, Second Edition: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar Schein and Peter Schein

This father and son dynamo has written a number of books on the superpower of humility in the workplace. While the poor label of “soft skills” continues to linger in the critical field of organizational leadership, the Scheins break down not only the research-backed psychology of leading like a servant, they load you up with a raft of tools you can use right now. And it won’t just change your game at school; you’ll do better at home, too. Your leadership library isn’t complete without this book.

Pub. 2023

3) Legacy of Learning: Teaching for Lasting Impact by Meghan Lawson

Ohio-based Lawson wants you to know that working in education isn’t just a calling-- it’s also a field of great joy and happiness. A working administrator and teaching coach in her district, she’s not just loved by the teachers she leads; Lawson has built an impressive following on social media. Read her book and you’ll learn why. In Legacy of Learning, she shares her blueprint, encouraging leaders and teachers alike to be present, grateful, and generous at work. Through stories and suggestions, Lawson reminds you why working in education is the best, most important work anyone can do.

Pub. 2023

4) Gotta Stay Fresh by James Miles

You might know James Miles already. Before he became a professor, he was an actor who appeared on the PBS masterwork The Electric Company, on network TV with Michael J. Fox, and on the stage of NYC’s Lincoln Center. Also known as The Fresh Professor, Miles is a powerhouse advocate for arts education and has become a recognized voice across the nation. His framework, anchored in research about neuroscience, uses hiphop to reveal how powerful pedagogy can be when it is built around the interests and language of the students. You don’t have to love Biggie Smalls to love Gotta Stay Fresh, but you’ll likely be a hiphop fan after reading Miles’ fresh, accessible book.

Pub. 2012

5) Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

Couros is one of the original former-teacher/admin-now-massive-education-influencer superstars. His breakout book, Innovator’s Mindset, reveals his now famous recipe: be open, be daring, work your tail off, and be compassionate. I don’t know if it’s the years he served as an assistant principal or the fact that he’s Canadian, but tech-evangelist Couros knows how to encourage you to work harder without making you feel bad about it. This book will inspire you to innovate… today.

As you continue to support your students and staff throughout the school year, hopefully you’ll have the opportunity to work at least one of these texts into your book rotation.

Feel free to pass this list along to your community. Happy reading, and happy leading!

👏Huge shout-out to Mike Kleba for compiling this list and writing the blog! Be sure to get your copy of Otherful..., and connect with him on Twitter and/or LinkedIn.

Could Quizizz be a helpful way for administrators to better lead and connect with students and staff? You bet! Check out Quizizz for Schools and Districts.

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