From My Bookshelf: The Art and Science of Getting Better

Deliberate Practice … key to getting better

Three new books this month on getting better.  Each of these mini-reviews adds meaning to our theme of deliberate practice and communities of practice.

Communities of Practice work. 

A community of practice is a group of people who share an interest in getting better.  The concept, from Lave and Wenger, includes a shared:

  1. Domain: An focused area of interest
  2. Community: Ongoing learning discussions
  3. Practices: Knowledge, tools and processes

Basically, you pick a focus, create a community of learners, and keep practicing to get better.  Practice alone does not make perfect. Deliberate practice – a focus on working through obstacles – improves practice.

Companion blogs this month tell how deliberate practice improves:

  • Federal Way School Board focus
  • Seattle Schools Racial Equity Teams
  • MTSS School Improvement Teams in Seattle

Community of Practice Examples   

  • PLCs are the best examples for educators.  When a team of teachers works together to define outcomes, find good strategies and learn from evidence they improve student outcomes and become better teachers.  They improve their “practice.”  Hattie calls this cluster of skills, collective efficacy, and says the effect size is one of the best.
  • PLNs are Principal Improvement Networks.  Principals operating in a similar fashion.  Setting an improvement goal or Problem of Practice.  Applying good strategies; a theory of action.  Measuring process improvement as well as outcomes.  Learning from experience.  And doing this in a network of principal colleagues that offer suggestions as they share their work.
  • Network Improvement Committees have been popularized by Carnegie and Gates.  Here, a district or a cluster of districts, works on a common problem.  California CORE, for example, worked together on improving SEL.

Three new books – insights on improved practice

The Practice: Shipping Creative Work: by Seth Godin

Seth Godin has made a career out “shipping creative work.” His is a wonder at capturing the essence of key ideas and packaging them up in short, quick easy to read books (Linchpin, The Dip).  The Practice is a collection of 200+ ideas to keep you focused on improving your practice and shipping creative work.  Set a focus.  Figure out a minimum viable audience. Set deadlines.  Deliberately practice at getting better.  Learn from failures.  Measure process not just the outcome.  Ship on schedule … you learn more by pushing the envelope.

The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer by Steven Kottler

Steven Kotler is a journalist who follows world class athletes in extreme sports where, he says, they keep making the impossible possible.  The formula for these world class performers:

  • Pick a challenge that matters to you
  • Grow your expertise
  • Tap into creativity
  • Go for Flow … keep getting better

An entertaining read with an interesting mix of great stories and lots of brain science.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know  by Adam Grant

Progress requires change.  Change requires new ways of thinking. We do that best when we think like a scientist.  Unfortunately, he says, we typically trying preaching (offense); prosecuting (defense) or politics (persuasion).  He suggests:

  • Sharing your weak points and admitting the strong points of others actually increases credibility
  • We are most confident (and dangerous) when we know little; seek out what you don’t know
  • We will make mistakes … learn from them.
  • “The more reasons we put on the table, the easier it is for people to discard the shakiest one.”

Engage in back and forth conversation. Keep asking questions like, What else might work better?  Keep looking for a broader range of options that will work.

Communities of Practice

Here are a few of their ideas … in the communities of practice framework

Communities of Practice




DomainFind your focus and stay with itPick a challenge that matters to youSeek out answers to what we do not know
CommunityCreate a community Know your audienceGrow your expertiseConversation = give and take
PracticeProcess over output

Practice rigorously

Go for creativity and flowBe the scientist

Learn from mistakes

Getting Better

Communities of practice improve practice which eventually improves outcomes.  Find your focus (domain).  Gather a team (community).  Develop tools (practices) for learning.  Repeat over time.  You will DO better and BECOME better.


Other Resources:

The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization – Peter Senge

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen – Dan Heath

Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better – Anthony Bryk

Improvement in Action: Advancing Quality in America’s Schools – Anthony Bryk

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups – Daniel Coyle

Communities of Practice – by Scaled Agile

Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation – by Lave and Wenger





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Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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