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Mindset & Motivation   |   Jan 17, 2012

Great books for teachers on mindset and positive thinking

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Great books for teachers on mindset and positive thinking

By Angela Watson

I’ve done a ton of research about mindset and wanted to share some books that have shaped my thinking about the importance of healthy mental habits.  I reference many of them in my own book, Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching. Though I don’t necessarily agree with and endorse every word in each of the books below, they have all had a positive impact on my progress, and I consider them all worthwhile reads.

I’ve linked to each book’s Amazon page here for two reasons: 1) Amazon usually offers an affordable price to readers all over the country and 2) I participate in the Amazon Associates’ plan and earn a small percentage from each book sale when people click through to Amazon from this website. I love to support small and local booksellers, so please feel free to purchase these titles directly from them (or use your local library.)

Education books on burnout, resilience, and mindset

Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar is a wonderful, inspiring read by an author whose work I really respect. Elena provides an actionable framework with concrete steps toward rediscovering yourself, your energy, and your passion for teaching.

Sanctuaries: Self-Care Secrets for Stressed-Out Teachers and The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom are both written by Dan Tricarico, a current high school teacher in San Diego with decades of teaching experience. He’s also known as “The Zen Teacher” and writes extensively on mindset, secular Buddhist principles such as non-attachment and non-judgment. I consider Dan a personal friend and have collaborate with him on our course Finally Free: The Teacher Toolkit for Overcoming Anxiety and Overwhelm.

Inspiring education books that help you find purpose

We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be by Cornelius Minor is an inspiring read. Although it focuses more on student learning than the other books reccomended here, I still wanted to include it as a recommendation for teachers who are feeling burned out. Cornelius’ passion and enthusiasm is contagious, and this a great book for returning to your vision and purpose for teaching. You can read or listen to an interview I did with him about this book here.

We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom by Dr. Bettina Love is one of the most profound education books I’ve ever read. This book does not address burnout, but I highly recommend it to teachers who have grown weary of dysfunctional and discriminatory systems. Dr. Love can help you reconnect to the purpose and power of teaching.

Classic education books on mindset

These books have been released more than 10 years ago, but have shaped my early thinking around mindset, and so I’ve chosen to include them here as references.

Breaking Free From Myths About Teaching and Learning is a powerful book by Allison Zmuda. The author shares some revolutionary ideas that individual teachers can use to transform the way they educate students despite dysfunctional school systems. Zmuda clearly understands the stressful situations that teachers face and makes a solid connection between the way we teach and the level of enjoyment we get from it.  This is a great book for teachers, administrators, and parents.

Why We Teach: Learning, Laughter, Love, and the Power to Transform Lives is an inspirational read by Linda Alston. It’s written from the perspective of one teacher and the way she creates joy and enthusiasm in her early childhood classroom. If you want to regain your lost positive sentiments about teaching, this book will help.

The Teachable Moment: Seizing the Instants When Children Learn is a collection of teacher’s stories compiled by Rebecca Branstetter. There’s a heavy dose of humor throughout the book, and I love that each contributor shares not just his or her successes, but the learning curve along the way–that’s what makes the book inspirational without being preachy or condescending. Some of the stories feature undeniable and sudden break-throughs, while others aren’t fully realized until after the fact. And that’s exactly how teachable moments work–unexpected, bordering on the miraculous, and waiting to be seized as a learning opportunity for both the student and teacher. These essays capture the beauty in that.

Why Great Teachers Quit: And How We Might Stop the Exodus is written by Katy Farber, a classroom teacher currently grappling with this subject on a daily basis. She interviewed dozens of teachers and includes their experiences as she explains the various issues faced in the classroom. This book does an excellent job summarizing the main challenges of the job and the type of solutions that are needed. It’s my hope, as well as Farber’s, that this book will make a difference in teacher retention and help great teachers maintain their efficacy and enthusiasm. You can also read a more in-depth review I posted on my blog.

The Passion-Driven Classroom: A Framework for Teaching and Learning is written by two of the most exuberant educators on the planet. Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold have a positivity and enthusiasm that is downright contagious. This book explains how to help students discover their passions, and how teachers can use student interests to drive authentic instruction. The tone is so encouraging and inspirational that it always left me feeling anxious to get into the classroom as soon as possible; I couldn’t read it at night because I’d stay awake thinking up all kinds of new things I could do the next day! Yeah, it’s THAT kind of book.

The Well-Balanced Teacher: How to Work Smarter and Stay Sane Inside the Classroom and Out is a book by Mike Anderson. I heard his presentation at an ASCD conference and really enjoyed his perspective. He explains the reasons why teachers need to feel positive connections with other people, both in school and outside of school, and why it’s important to strive for significance (knowing that we’re making a positive difference through our work), while giving tips to help teachers reach those goals. He also stresses the importance of positive engagement (when teachers enjoy their work, they have great energy and passion for their teaching) and balance (setting boundaries.)

Positive psychology and emotional resilience books

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David shows how anyone can thrive in an uncertain world by becoming more emotionally agile. In Susan’s research, she uncovered that no matter how intelligent or creative people are or what type of personality they have, it is how they navigate their inner world – their thoughts, feelings, and self-talk – that ultimately determines how successful they will become.

Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly doesn’t really fall in the category of self-development, and yet it’s by far one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read. I invited her on my podcast to talk about the importance of feeling and utilizing our emotions, even the ones that are uncomfortable or that we’ve been socialized not to express. If you are feeling a lot of repressed frustration or anger that you’re unsure of how to channel constructively, this book can help.

Classic cognitive therapy and positive thinking books

These books are a worthwhile read for those who want to do a deeper dive into reframing irrational thoughts and choosing thoughts that are useful and accurate. 

A Guide to Rational Living is perhaps the late Albert Ellis’ most well-known book for the layperson. Some have criticized his tone as being a bit sarcastic and cold-hearted, but I actually enjoy this tendency–it strikes me as very real and no-nonsense, and badly needed for people (like me) who tend to feel sorry for themselves and make excuses for their bad mental habits. Ellis will snap you right out of whatever self-delusions you tend toward! This book is realistic, practical, and highly recommended.

How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything, Yes, Anything! is another great book by Albert Ellis. If you’re intrigued by the idea that all stress comes from the way you perceive your circumstances, this book will help you make changes. You might also want to read Ellis’ out of print book called “How to Conquer Your Frustrations”: it’s available for free download on his organization’s website.

Three Minute Therapy by Dr. Michael Edelstein will give you more information on separating practical and emotional problems. Edelstein calls these “primary and secondary disturbances.” This is a highly readable book that gives examples of how to talk yourself out of being upset and feeling other needless emotional disturbances. You can read the text of the book for free on Edelstein’s website to get an idea if it’s something you’d like to purchase. This was a life-changing read for me.

Good Mood: New Psychology of Overcoming Depression is another book that had a huge impact on me. Dr. Julian Simon suffered from depression for many years and writes with personal insight as well as professional knowledge. I recommend this book if you are looking for more information on changing the standard (or “benchmark”, as Simon calls it) that you judge your life by. Simon pioneered the idea of “mood ratio” and explains how to change the expectations you have for your life so that your experiences compare more favorably to reality. You can read the unformatted text of the book for free on the author’s website.

Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated is a classic book by David Burns. It’s been “prescribed” by countless doctors for people who struggle with depression. Burns teaches you how to counter your pessimistic thoughts in extremely detailed ways. There are all sorts of exercises to help you combat counter-productive thinking and view the world more realistically. If you are looking for a systematic method of changing specific areas of your mindset, this could be the book for you. I learned quite a bit from Burn’s suggestions.

Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind and Your Life is the first book I ever read on cognitive-behavioral therapy and really opened my eyes to the importance of this field of thought. Martin Seligman’s book explains step-by-step how to counter your irrational, pessimistic thoughts and explanatory style, and clarifies how to engage in “flexible optimism,” since a pessimistic outlook can be helpful at times. Seligman’s book includes a helpful quiz to help you analyze your personality and explanatory styles. I like that Seligman also touches on how to teach children to be optimistic; if you’re interested in this, check out his book The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Life-Long Resilience.

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment is another popular title by Martin Seligman. He explores a happiness formula which is based on your genetic set point, circumstances, and mindset (which is within your control.) There are several places in which Seligman’s atheistic perspective is evident and colors the way he perceives things such as life purpose; however, for me this did not detract from the usefulness of his overall message. The book also explains how to use your personal strengths to increase your happiness level, and includes self-quizzes and exercises to help. Excellent resource.

Classic self-development books

These books are considered classics in the genre and have inspired many authors and psychologists who have followed them. I read each of these titles when I first began studying mindset, and found them useful. 

How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job is a compilation of Dale’ Carnegies’ books “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” It has some solid tips for becoming more easy going and personable. If you’re not sure which of Carnegie’s many books to get, this is a good choice.

The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry From Worrying You by Robert L. Leahy is a must read for chronic worriers. Leahy understands the underlying reasons why people worry and will help you understand, too. He explains how you can talk yourself into a more realistic perspective and stop the habit of worry in the clearest, easiest to understand set of steps I’ve ever read. No matter what you worry about or why, this book will have the solution!

You Can Be Happy No Matter What: Five Principles for Keeping Life in Perspective might be one of my favorite books on this topic. The late Richard Carlson is the guy who wrote the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” series, so I was familiar with his style before coming across this title, but had no idea how much it would change my life. Carlson uses no psychological jargon, putting everything into simple terms that really resonate. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially to those who want to learn more about dealing with low and high moods and the principle of separate realities. There are dozens of other books by Carlson: you might also like You Can Feel Good Again: Common-Sense Strategies for Releasing Unhappiness and Changing Your Life.

Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated From Anxiety by Kelly Wilson and Troy Dufrene is a very practical book for people who tend to worst-case things. The book has lots of exercises to help you overcome patterns of anxiety and become more mindful.

Mind-body connection and trauma-informed books

These books specifically address trauma and the impacts of stress and trauma on the body.

Note: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk is often considered a foundational text on this topic. I’ve personally found many of the ideas to be helpful, including the core premise that while the mind can try to forget or work past trauma, but the body will remember and create stress responses when triggered. However, many people find the author and the examples given in the book to be problematic. Please take care of yourself if you attempt to read the stories in this book.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski is a good read for those who want to learn more about addressing the affects of stress on the body. The Nagoskis argue that we need to “complete the stress cycle” and downregulate our central nervous systems so we don’t stay in a heightened sense of stress. Emily Nagoski was an educator for many years, and as such, her examples in his book are highly relatable.

What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing was co-written by Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry. The book is currently free to read via Kindle Unlimited and provides powerful scientific and emotional insights into the behavioral patterns so many of us struggle to understand.

More updates are coming!

This page is designed to be a work-in-progress. I first created it in 2011, after my book “Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching” was released to help educators find further resources.

I’ve updated this page continually, and it now serves as the primary collection of references for works cited in the second edition of the book. 

I will add new books to this page as they are published and/or as I discover and read them! Learning about mindset is a lifelong process for sure.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
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