CATEGORY: From the Principal’s Office

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

  • Let Kindness and Caring Make You the Teacher Students Never Forget

    Posted August 4, 2016

    As a teacher, you’ll have a new set of young brains and hearts to work with every year. Eventually they will move on to other grades and teachers, but their memories of you will stay with them. Those memories are your legacy — the day-to-day interactions, the big and small moments wrapped up in lessons,…

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  • Competition in the Classroom: How to Balance Fun and Fairness

    Posted July 28, 2016

    Admittedly, competition in principle is a good thing. Going head-to-head with someone else helps to spur action, foster more creativity and ultimately create the best final product. Just look at the quality of the things we use every day. All of them were created in a competitive atmosphere where a company tried to put the…

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  • Watch for Warning Signs that a Child has Taken a Wrong Turn

    Posted July 25, 2016

    We need to keep a close, caring eye on our students. Teaching is more than just the subject matter and the classroom environment: It’s about connecting with young people. Helping them through the somewhat rocky waters of growing up is a large part of our teaching responsibilities. While most students pass through our classrooms with…

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  • Damage Control: How Teachers Can Rebound from Classroom Mistakes

    Posted July 21, 2016

    You are going to make mistakes. Once you realize that, you’re bound to make fewer mistakes and to recover from them faster. Most of your teaching mistakes will be innocuous and easy to recover from: poorly considered lessons that aren’t engaging, grammatical or spelling errors on a test, and even mixed-up communications with students, parents…

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  • Classrooms Need Rituals and Routines — But Don’t Get Carried Away

    Posted July 18, 2016

    Sometimes we need to think and talk about the grand ideas and attitudes that drive our work as teachers, and then there are those other times when we need to think about things in a much smaller scale. Recognizing that seemingly little, subtle actions can ripple through our classrooms is essential as we work to…

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  • Mentors in Teaching Are Like Bench Coaches in Baseball

    Posted July 14, 2016

    The 1996 New York Yankees were a powerhouse baseball team. Dominating both at home and on the road, they are now considered, even two decades later, one of the best Yankee teams ever. While they had tremendous talent and excellent team chemistry, their success has been widely credited to manager Joe Torre and his coaching…

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  • Why Expert Teachers Rely on Great Guest Speakers

    Posted July 11, 2016

    Effective classrooms thrive on routine and regularity. Savvy teachers embrace the benefits of a set schedule, but they also know the risk of steadiness breeding boredom. That’s why bringing a fresh face into the classroom in the form of an interesting, engaging guest speaker is such a time-honored practice. Here’s why it’s worth the time…

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  • 4 Keys to Encouraging Students to Help the Neediest Among Us

    Posted July 7, 2016

    Rightfully so, we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can help children who are economically challenged. Schools are our best tools against poverty, which we know from the proven connection between education and the ability to attain higher-paying jobs and careers. Yet this is sometimes only part of the picture. Classrooms occasionally…

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  • A Food Truck Festival Has Tasty Lessons for Creating an Engaging Classroom

    Posted July 5, 2016

    Food trucks have become all the rage these days, thanks to the advantages of cooking in a small-but-mobile space and offering better food at cheaper prices. Awhile back, I stopped by a food truck festival in a neighboring town. As I was sitting there munching on my pulled-pork sandwich and parmesan-encrusted french fries, I couldn’t…

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  • To Succeed as a Teacher, You Need These 4 Essential Career Skills

    Posted June 30, 2016

    To succeed, you need to complement your teaching skills with a group of workplace skills that help people thrive in every kind of career. This point became clear recently when I met with the CEO of a midsized tech firm who hires teachers for part-time teaching positions. While he was generally pleased with the quality…

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  • Let the Children Play: Why Adding Fun to the Classroom Helps Kids Learn

    Posted June 27, 2016

    I have a colleague who recently returned to the elementary classroom after a 10-year break. As expected, much has changed — technology, communication expectations (text messaging barely existed when she left) and school safety drills. Yet she found the most striking changes are the heightened expectations of the Common Core Curriculum Standards and the more…

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  • Helping a Child Rebound After a Mistake

    Posted June 23, 2016

    Children, even the best of them, make a lot of mistakes. That’s the nature of childhood. As a teacher, it’s your responsibility to help them recover from their errors and grow from them. It’s too easy to allow a mistake to become the defining moment of a child’s academic and social experience. The trouble is…

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  • 5 Guidelines for Creating and Enforcing Effective Classroom Ground Rules

    Posted June 20, 2016

    One of the crucial points in Doug Lemov’s excellent book, “Teach Like a Champion,” is that teachers need to establish baseline classroom expectations — or, if you will, ground rules. If you plan to address more complex work in your class, then baseline expectations need to be hard-baked into your classroom culture and well-known to…

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  • Why Teachers Need to Write a Summer Letter to Their Incoming Students

    Posted June 16, 2016

    I can’t overstate the benefits of sending a summer letter to your incoming students. Taking time out of your summer break to tell students you’re already thinking about them has two great advantages: It lets you set expectations for the upcoming school year and sends a strong message of what the next 10 months of…

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  • Why Virtual and Augmented Reality Technologies Have Great Classroom Potential

    Posted June 13, 2016

    Virtual reality and augmented reality are two fascinating technologies that have incredible potential in the classroom. While the day-to-day use of these technologies in schools is still years away, more and more developers, companies and entrepreneurs are going to see the possibilities and eventually scale them into the classroom experience. It‘s not a matter of…

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  • Teachers: Here’s How to Have a Relaxing-but-Worthwhile Summer Break

    Posted June 9, 2016

    It’s here. It’s finally here. The long-awaited and hoped-for summer break has arrived, and aside from enjoying the elation of wrapping up another successful year, you have a chance to rest, recharge and get ready for the start of another school year. I’ve enjoyed over 20 “last days of school” and I’ve never felt anything…

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  • We Can Do a Lot Better With Summer Work Packets

    Posted June 6, 2016

    It’s high time for schools to rethink that old mainstay — the summer work packet. We all want to stave off learning loss during the summer and give students a jumpstart on the next school year, so we send them home with summer math assignments, books to read and other work to complete. There are…

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  • How to Keep Your Standards High Without Seeming Too Tough on Students

    Posted June 2, 2016

    There’s a fine line between being strident in our expectations of students and being branded as “too tough” on them. I’ve seen many teachers whose admirable desire to instill rigor and high expectations puts them on the wrong side of that line, creating an impression that they don’t like children or that they’re being mean…

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  • Wandering Students Need a Special Kind of Guidance to Keep them on Track

    Posted May 30, 2016

    “Not all who wander are lost” — J.R.R. Tolkien Childhood and adolescence are not idyllic times for all of our students. Some just seem to be wandering through the transition from child to teen to adult. Wandering students aren’t steady and consistent in the classroom. Instead, they push back on their academic growth, behave erratically and…

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  • The Power of Telling Students You’re Rooting for Them to Succeed

    Posted May 26, 2016

    It’s too easy to believe in the myth of the “lone genius.” While we love to celebrate the accomplishments of an Edison, Banneker or Jobs, we need to remember that these pioneers had people cheering them on. Successful people always manage to attract a network of supporters who help them get back up when they…

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