Required Reading

Books for comms teams and supers to read together

By Heather Palacios Last Updated: April 23, 2024

Author Malorie Blackman writes, “Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while." As we thought about tools for forging stronger bonds between superintendents and communications professionals, offering a curated list of books to read only seemed fitting. After all, reading together is one of the best ways to unify your team and blaze new trails for organizational growth.

Our hope is that this collection will empower you to build a stronger culture, market your schools, and tell better stories. These books range in topics, but they share central themes: the power of being different and how small changes can lead to big results. They will unravel any preconceived notions you may have about marketing and challenge you to think differently about every facet of your district. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Beyond Measure

Beyond Measure Book Cover

From the publisher: “This book is aimed at everyone—from the CEO to janitor—who wants a better place to work. It looks at the accumulation of small, everyday thoughts and habits that generate and sustain culture: ways of speaking, listening, arguing, thinking, seeing. These aren’t multi-million dollar, multi-year programs; these are small steps that anyone can take at any time, the small steps that mark the beginning of big change.”

Why you should read it: A strong employee culture is at the heart of every thriving school district, and it isn’t something that can be cultivated by one person alone. We love this book because it enables everyone in your organization to embrace the power of small changes that lead to big results. It’ll teach you how to have hard conversations, overcome challenges, and strengthen social bonds. If you’re looking for a book to improve internal collaboration, this is it. 

This book pairs well with our podcast episode “Margaret Heffernan: The Big Impact of Small Changes.” 

"To collaborate effectively, you really need at least two things. One, you need other people who will come at the problem in a different way. And two, you all have to have the capacity to endure the ensuing argument, recognizing that it's how you get to a better place."

— Margaret Heffernan

Magic Words

Magic Words Book Cover

From the publisher: “New York Times bestselling author Jonah Berger’s cutting-edge research reveals how six types of words can increase your impact in every area of life: from persuading others and building stronger relationships, to boosting creativity and motivating teams. This book is designed for anyone who wants to increase their impact. ... Whether you’re trying to persuade a client, motivate a team, or get a whole organization to see things differently, this book will show you how to leverage the power of magic words.”

Why you should read it: No other book has challenged us to think so deeply about language as it pertains to marketing. Some words are more effective than others; they can influence behavior and even change minds. Everyone will find something to love about this book because it provides the skills necessary for becoming a better communicator inside and outside the workplace.

This book pairs well with our podcast episode “Jonah Berger: Increasing Our Influence.”

“It’s not just about telling a great story, because you can tell a great story that doesn’t lead to a take-home point. If we’re schools, if we’re leaders, if we’re employees, we don’t just care about great stories being told. We care about the take-home point of those stories.”

— Dr. Jonah Berger


Alchemy Book Cover

From the publisher: “Based on thirty years of field work inside the largest experiment in human behavior ever conceived—the forever-unfolding pageant of consumer capitalism—Alchemy... decodes human behavior, blending leading-edge scientific research, absurdly entertaining storytelling, deep psychological insight, and practical case studies from his storied career. Equally startling and profound, Sutherland’s journey through the strange world of decision-making is filled with astonishing lessons for all aspects of life and business.”

Why you should read it: Alchemy teaches you how to approach every aspect of marketing (and life) counterintuitively—to zag when common sense says you should zig. Few districts are approaching communications like this, which means applying this mindset is one of the best ways to make your schools stand out. This book will inspire you, make you laugh, challenge you, and possibly even frustrate you. That being said, you’ll walk away with fresh ideas on how to market your schools, and you’ll never see branding the same way again.

The Perfect Story

The Perfect Story Book Cover

From the publisher: “What makes a story perfect? How do you tell the perfect story for any occasion? We live in a story world. Stories are a memorable and engaging way to differentiate yourself, build connection and trust, create new thinking, bring meaning to data, and even influence decision-making. But how do you turn a good story into a great story that informs, influences, and inspires? Without relying on complicated models or one-size-fits-all prescriptions, this book makes storytelling accessible with practical and impactful steps for anyone to tell the perfect story for any occasion.”

Why you should read it: Whether you’re leading your district, managing communications, or just trying to get better at telling stories, this book is for you. Eber breaks down every aspect of storytelling, from building the right framework to forming ideas to improving community sentiment. This book will teach you to draw out the best stories from stakeholders all over your district. You’ll learn how to turn an unengaged audience into active listeners.

This book pairs well with our podcast episode “Karen Eber: How Storytelling Can Shape School Culture.”

The thing that is really powerful in storytelling is specificity. Sometimes telling the smallest story you can and then zooming out is powerful.”

— Karen Eber


The Perfect Story Book Cover

From the publisher: “Youngme Moon identifies the outliers, the mavericks, the iconoclasts—the players who have thoughtfully rejected orthodoxy in favor of an approach that is more adventurous. Some are even ‘hostile,’ almost daring you to buy what they are selling. Using her original research on companies such as IKEA and Google, Moon will inspire you to be counterintuitive and meaningfully different—to rethink your business strategy, to stop conforming and start deviating, to stop emulating and start innovating. Because to stand out you must become the exception, not the rule.”

Why you should read it: Different isn’t like other business books with bullet point takeaways. Instead, this book feels more like an open discussion and careful examination of a few pivotal brands that have broken the conventional mold and offered something special and unique to the world. Today, effective marketing isn’t about being loud or excessive. Marketing means thinking carefully about who you are and being different enough to make your audience listen. This book will get you thinking about how your district brand is different from others, what you can do to stand out, and how to garner your audience’s attention.

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