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Ancora Imparo: What We’re Reading This Summer

Anyone who’s been around our colleague Christian Dallavis knows he’s really fond of the expression “Ancora Imparo,” which means Still, I am learning. That’s definitely true for those of us who work together at the Partnership. This summer, to help us keep learning from each other and from you, we’re sharing some of what we’re discovering and thinking about, thanks to the authors and ideas we’re reading (or listening to). We hope you’ll join the conversation by sharing with us your thoughts, in the comments here or on Twitter, about our picks or your recommendations for further reading.

Jill Kafka, Executive Director

…is listening to The Knowledge Project Podcast, Episode 110: “Jim Collins: Relationships vs. Transactions.” 

In this podcast I’m listening to, master researcher and author Jim Collins shares a practical guide for leadership. In this episode, they cover the Stockdale Paradox, why we should trust by default, the difference between “risk afraid” and “ambiguity afraid”, approaching life through relationships and not transactions, and so much more.

Because…the title caught my eye, and I loved the first Knowledge Project podcast with Jim Collins called “Keeping the Flywheel in Motion.” In this latest podcast interview with Jim, I was intrigued by the  concept of relationships vs. transactions.  When I think about our work here at the Partnership and my journey as a leader, building strong relationships has been a key driver of our and my success. In the podcast Jim talks about his mentor Bill Azir, and what he taught him about relationships.

A taste:

You can have a successful life doing transactions, but the only way to have a great life is on the relationship side.,..I asked Bill, “So what makes for a great relationship?” And Bill said a great relationship is one where if you ask each person independently who benefits more from the relationship, they would each say, “Well, I do.”

Rich Clark, Founding Director, Partnership Schools Cleveland…

…is reading The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? —by Michael Sandel:

Because… a generous supporter of Partnership Schools Cleveland gave me this book on a recent trip. Meritocracy sounds like a great idea, but Sandel feels the idea of a true meritocracy is impossible. A recent Stanford study backs this idea of winning the birth lottery as a significant factor that cannot be ignored. What I like about this book is that it challenges both sides of our polarized world. I finished reading it a few weeks ago, but it is still haunting me!

During the pandemic I began to realize how important to my life are people that I hardly thought about in the “before times”—essential workers, people who picked my vegetables, loaded them on trucks, drove them to distribution centers and then those that stocked the bins and checked me out.  Without them I would starve, how essential is that! Our false sense of meriting our positions in life—wealth, health, education, on and on—leads to the deadly sin of hubris.  Reading this book humbled me. Indeed, time and chance had a much larger role in my life than I wanted to believe.

A taste:

A lively sense of the contingency of our lot conduces to a certain humility: ‘There, but for the grace of God, or the accident of fortune, go I.’  But a perfect meritocracy banishes all sense of gift or grace.  It diminishes our capacity to see ourselves as sharing a common fate.  It leaves little room for the solidarity that can arise when we reflect on the contingency of our talents and fortunes.  This is what makes merit a kind of tyranny, or unjust rule.

Maggie Johnson, Vice President of Academics 

is reading…Why Students Don’t Like School?  by Daniel T. Willingham

Because…cognitive scientists now know more than ever before about how our minds think and learnDaniel Willingham has translated these findings for those of us who aspire to unleash students’ passion, curiosity and critical thinking? but sometimes struggle to get there. Eminently practical, Willingham’s book helps teachers understand how to create the satisfying mental workouts that students crave and will leave them with a hunger for more. Some ideas Willingham explores that piqued my curiosity: Thinking well requires knowing facts. That our working memory, the place where we think, can easily be overloaded. And our natural curiosity is fragile.

A taste:

So how do you persuade the student to follow you? The first answer you might think of is that we follow people whom we respect and who inspire us. True enough. If you have students’ respect, they will try to pay attention both to please you and because they trust you; if you think something is worth knowing, they are ready to believe you. The problem is that students (and teachers) have only limited control over their own minds. Although we like to think that we decide what to pay attention to, our minds have their own wishes and desires when it comes to the focus of attention. […] So how can a teacher maximize the chances that students will follow her?

Beth Blaufuss, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives…

is reading…”The Catholic Women Who Write Your Favorite T.V. Shows” in America Magazine, by James T. Keane

Because…Catholic education should, among other things, form our students’ imaginations; everything from the Eucharist to the dignity of every human person requires people of faith to imagine more than what they can easily see. So I am riveted by stories of how Catholic upbringings form imaginations. Also, Hollywood so rarely represents the Catholicism I recognize—full of humor and nurture as well as guilt, and featuring a lot less time in confessionals than movies lead people to believe. Keane interviews some writers who reflect faith in their work, often in covert ways, but ways that also resonate with me.

The writers and producers he interviews have created a wide range of works—from the 2003-5 TV show Joan of Arcadia to the comedy series The Goldbergs—even The Handmaid’s Tale. He shares these women’s experiences of gender discrimination, but his article focuses primarily on how faith influences both their process and the content they create.

A taste: “‘I’m usually more drawn to comedy that comes from a general silliness or joy,’ wrote [Kristen] Lange, who is a graduate of the Jesuit-run College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. ‘I tend to write about characters getting in their own way rather than different characters being mean to each other…I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s at least partially due to all those years of Jesuits and nuns telling (sometimes yelling at) us to consider others before ourselves and to make something of our time on Earth.”

Got a suggestion for something else we should be reading? Tweet it at us @PartnershipPost!