Professional Development: Tips for Effective Book Studies

Author: Dana Penick
May 11, 2016


Book studies are a very popular means of professional development and usually include a formal set of review questions or topics for discussion.

Soup300dpiSometimes the thought of doing a formal book study with your staff can seem like an extra task, but you still want to reap the benefits of the discussion, learning, and collaboration that can take place during the study.

Why not approach a book study through less formal practices?

Here are a few ideas for informal practices, remembering the end in mind for the book study: sharing the key content of the literature with your staff to help build understanding, spark discussion, and explore new content.

1. Roaming Notes. Once a book is selected, a framework of open discussion, such as the table below, is made available for readers. As they read or finish reading the book, staff members can add notes that resonated with them regarding their classrooms or the work taking place in the school. Since it is informal, it can be done in any style—jotting notes and thoughts, adding favorite quotes, making connections, adding comments, posing questions, or whatever the reader prefers. The end in mind is to capture and share. The notes “roam” as participants add and post for others to read and reflect. This can be done in an electronic format or with paper notes that are shared with other team members. The beauty of this informal strategy is that even if others may not read the book, they will still learn about the essence of the book because they will read the thoughts from their colleagues. A sample of roaming notes is shared below:

Roaming Notes From Soup by Jon Gordon

Julie Mark Mindy
*Soup = Culture. The culture is a direct reflection of the leader (pg. 27). Culture affects motivation, and motivation affects productivity and performance. It all starts with culture, and the most important thing a leader can do is to create a culture of greatness.


* “You create a culture of greatness by coaching, training, and developing your team to be their best” (pg. 31).


*Engagement in the right habits, learning the right values, and developing a strong work ethic… (pg. 37 Inside-Out Model) .


*”…because the soup doesn’t lie…because if you don’t believe, your people don’t believe (pg. 43). —Have to walk the walk, inside out.


*Pervasive positive attitudes and emotions at work can fuel the morale and performance of your organization. You have a daily choice to be negatively contagious or positively contagious. You can be a germ and attack your organization’s immune system, or you can act as a dose of vitamin C and strengthen it.


*Essential to continually cultivate optimism and create a collective mindset that expects great things to happen.

First things first: “Nourish” is my one word for 2016. I loved the many references to nourishment throughout this fictional piece and continue to revisit the book as I reflect on my efforts to provide sustenance through the Daily Private Victory and continued personal growth, as well as through efforts to sustain meaningful personal and professional relationships.


“Who stirs the pot matters…. Because you are the number-one ingredient in anything you make…the energy you put into it impacts your creation” (p. 19).

In reading this, I thought often of my own Circle of Influence and the weather I bring to my circle. When I bring my own sunshine, my own sparkle… I see my circle grow.


“The love and energy we invest into our life and work determines the quality of it” (p. 21).

Positive leaders share their belief, optimism, vision, purpose, and plan with their organization, and in the process, they inspire and empower their teams to believe, act, and execute. Positive beliefs lead to powerful plans and actions, and this leads to significant results.

Great reminders for developing a great culture and inspiring results!


Pg. 65: Trust generates commitment, commitment fosters teamwork, and teamwork delivers results.


Pg. 138: Passion transforms workplaces, powers champions, and fuels winning teams. (Our work is fueled by passion and purpose daily.)


Pg. 140: “Nancy knew that people are most energized when they are using their strengths and gifts for a purpose beyond themselves.”


Pg. 153: The world is a mosaic of people and opportunities, and when you make relationships your priority, the possibilities are endless. Great relationships lead to great outcomes. Develop as many great relationships as possible. Make time for them. Nurture them. Engage them. Not just at work but at home. In your community. On airplanes. On the ball field. Everywhere. You never know when your next idea, opportunity, or life-changing moment will come from or which relationship will be behind it.soup3

2. Book in an Hour. Limited time can be an obstacle when conducting a book study. I loved using the “book in an hour” technique with my staff, as well as with the students in my literature class. I’ve explained this technique below: Take the chosen book and divide the book by pages or chapters according to the number of staff/readers. Each reader will read and summarize only the pages they are responsible for sharing. They may cite questions or make predictions about the parts, prior to or following the section they read.Allow the group 15–20 minutes of reading time. You can play soft music to build an atmosphere of deep thinking. Assemble the group in a circle, according to the section they were assigned. Going around the circle, ask each reader to share his or her summary. As each person in the circle shares, the content of the entire book is discussed.

  • Side note: If by chance you are on a budget, you can actually disassemble the book for this activity, only requiring one copy. When the activity is completed, sequence the pages, hole- punch, and reassemble using loose-ring rings. (NOTE: Of course, adhere to all copyright laws when using this technique.)

3. Book-Themed Activities. A third idea for informal book studies is the concept of book-themed activities. For example, with the book Soup, each individual wrote his or her favorite quotes on napkins during a teacher team lunch and shared them with each other. The napkins were collected and assembled in a way that could be shared with the rest of the staff.

Join the conversation on Facebook and share other tools or methods you have used to make book studies an effective professional-development tool for your school.


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