Five great books for international educators that are not about education

Education systems are changing, and educators have a vital role to play. There is a great need for leaders in education to be collaborative, relatable, and focus not only on students’ learning but also their wellbeing. To do this, educators must continue to understand and engage with existing trends in education as well as the wider issues facing the world.  

Whether it’s the global pandemic, sustainability, or mental health – a deeper understanding of the world around us and the issues we face globally can help us inform, support, and better educate ourselves and students in the classroom and beyond.

Ben Schmidt is Cambridge’s Global Director of International Network.  He is responsible for developing our relationships with Cambridge schools worldwide, and ensuring they are listened to and have the support they need.

In this blog, Ben shares a list of five great books for educators that are not about education but will help with international education.

“These books inspire my work in international education, so I thought perhaps you might find one or two that you want to read, too.”

1.    Erin Meyer (2014). The Culture Map: decoding how people think, lead, and get things done across cultures

What is it about?

It provides eight different maps that help you de-code how people think, lead, and get things done across different cultures. For example, whether people prefer negative feedback to be direct or indirect, whether they make decisions based on consensus or a top-down approach, or whether their notion of time is linear or flexible.

Why would you want to read it as an international educator?

If your school or classroom is even a little bit international – and whose isn’t these days? – then you will engage in communication and coordination across cultural differences. This map shows you how to avoid miscommunication, prevent misunderstandings, and adapt your style to be effective across cultures.

My observation

This is a particularly eye-opening book if you are WEIRD (i.e., Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic).

2.    Johann Hari (2018). Lost Connections: why you’re depressed and how to find hope

What is it about?

A new way of thinking about depression. Hari argues that depression is not the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain but an understandable response to adversity. Specifically, depression is a form of grief for the connections that we have lost, yet still need.

Why would you want to read it as an international educator?

Depression and anxiety (along with substance abuse and other addictions) are the mental health pandemic of our times. If they have not reached your school or classroom yet, they are likely to soon. “For a long time, we have been told there are only two ways of thinking about depression. Either it’s a moral failing – a sign of weakness – or it’s a brain disease. […] But everything I had learned suggests that there’s a third option – to regard depression as largely a reaction to the way we are living”. (Johann Hari)

My observation

This book links the epidemic of depression to the state of society in a similar way as author Bruce Alexander (2008) The Globalization of Addiction: a study in the poverty of spirit does for substance abuse. “What is addiction, really? It is a sign, a signal, a symptom of distress. It is a language that tells us about a plight that must be understood”. (Alice Miller- Polish Swiss psychologist noted for her books on parental child abuse).

3.     Judson Brewer (2017). The Craving Mind: from cigarettes to smartphones to love – why we get hooked & how we can break bad habits

What is it about?

Addiction is continued use despite adverse consequences. It emerges when the mechanisms of reward-based learning, based on the dopamine cycle, are hijacked. Brewer argues that craving is becoming prevalent in widespread addictions to technology (YouTube, TikTok), to ourselves (narcissism), to distraction (lack of self-control), to thinking (ruminative obsession), and to love (romantic attachment). The good news is that the habit loop that links cue to routine to reward (the trigger that reminds your brain to do something) can be undone through specific mindfulness practices.

Why would you want to read it as an international educator?

The ability to understand and change one’s habitual patterns is the number one superpower for students and teachers alike. In a world where external triggers of stress and anxiety increase at the same exponential rate as technologies, systems, and substances that are designed to suck us into negative but self-addictive patterns of thinking, relating, and acting, we desperately need the power to regain control of ourselves.

My observation

The foreword is written by Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose life work was to familiarise large numbers of people with Buddhist concepts and practices without the trappings of religion. This book makes explicit how the science of neuropsychology correlates to the inner experiences articulated as the Buddhist path.

4.    Matthew Walker (2017). Why We Sleep: the new science of sleep and dreams

What is it about?

Sleep improves learning by refreshing our ability to make new memories, moving learning into long-term storage, and making mastery of skills, especially complex motor skills, more fluid mastery. Rapid eye movement, or REM sleep, also enhances creativity.

Adolescent sleep patterns are crucial for the maturation of the brain. Teenagers’ circadian (day/night) rhythm shifts forward by 2-3 hours, which means that a bedtime of 10pm to an adult feels like 7pm to a teenager, and if they start school at 8am it feels like 5am to an adult.

Why would you want to read it as an international educator?

Getting enough sleep at the right time makes a massive difference to the quality of learning, especially in young people. Adolescents need deep sleep to grow up and become mature adults. An early school start deprives adolescents of overall sleep (including much needed deep sleep and REM sleep), with a negative impact on learning, mental health, and development.

My observation

Sleep, daydreaming, and similar modes of non-attentive but awake states are important for learning. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang (2016): Emotions, Learning, and the Brain reports research on how making time and developing skills for constructive internal reflection is beneficial for emotional well-being and deeper learning, such as turning facts and knowledge into understanding and wisdom

5.     Jonathan Haidt (2012). The Righteous Mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion

What is it about?

We build our moral responses on ingrained foundations inherited from our evolutionary past. They are therefore more similar to intuitions than rational judgments. Divisions in politics and religion often relate to differences in emphasis. For example, are we more concerned with CARING for the vulnerable, or LOYALTY so we can form and maintain coalitions? Do we care more about protecting cooperation in the interest of FAIRNESS than keeping our world pure – literally and metaphorically – and maintaining SANCTITY? Is it more important to respect AUTHORITY so we benefit from stable relationships in social hierarchies or does LIBERTY trump all so we can constrain individuals who would dominate, bully, and constrain others?

Why would you want to read it as an international educator?

As the subtitle says, ‘good people are divided by politics and religion’, and these divisions run through our communities, schools, and classrooms. In a dangerously polarised world, a deeper understanding of our moral intuitions and how they can (but don’t have to) harden into ideological divides can help us defuse tensions and create better harmonies between people.

My observation

This book is a great companion to Erin Meyer’s Culture Map. Between these two, you have a multi-dimensional map of human values and behaviours as influenced by their cultures, and one that you can actually use in your daily life.

Further reading

Learn more about supporting students’ health and wellbeing and the work we do in this area at Cambridge International

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ben Schmidt
By Ben Schmidt

After serving as Regional Director for Southeast Asia & Pacific for ten years, Ben Schmidt assumed the role of Global Director International Network within Cambridge International Education in 2022. He leads the regional and central teams who drive business development and support schools in the adoption of Cambridge qualifications and resources worldwide. Ben is a trained lawyer with a master’s degree in education and a doctorate in philosophy. Prior to joining Cambridge he worked in various management and consultancy roles in education, both in the UK and internationally. His first job was as a lecturer at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

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