A Blog for Teachers

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.

  • Working with ‘Big Parents’ — A Teacher’s Guide to Confrontational Situations

    Posted May 23, 2016

    Fortunately, they are rare. I’m talking about “big” parents — the ones who are loud, confrontational and bordering on combative. They can make a teacher’s work life challenging, to say the least. Big parents consistently push back on your expectations, challenge your grades or provide little or no support at home. But there are ways…

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  • How Teachers Can Help Students from Low-Income Households

    Posted May 19, 2016

    Students will come to your class with a variety of experiences, backgrounds and skills. One factor we don’t seem to talk about enough is a child’s economic background. And as our country keeps addressing these challenging economic times, the odds are pretty good that you’ll have students who come from an economically disadvantaged background. In working…

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  • Asking Students Five Key Questions Can Make Them Better Learners

    Posted May 16, 2016

    One of my favorite responsibilities is watching teachers work with students in the classroom. One of the things I watch closely is the questions teachers ask their students to help them understand their classwork better and see things more clearly. These are five of the best questions teachers should use with students: ‘How’s that working…

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  • The Right Way for Teachers to React When Children Experience Grief

    Posted May 12, 2016

    From time to time, a child will experience a loss in their life. It may be something many would consider minor, like a family pet or a distant relative, but sometimes it can be as serious as a sibling, close family relative, parent or grandparent. When this happens (and if you teach long enough it…

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  • Getting Kids Moving Helps Build Brain Power

    Posted May 9, 2016

    Children are born movers. They squirm, run, walk around and stay active anytime/anywhere. Yet when they get to school, it’s all about sitting still and keeping silent. Of course, we have to establish an expectation they stay still and silent because that helps everybody pay close attention. And we have to keep control in the…

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  • Teachers: How to Ride the Waves of Change

    Posted May 5, 2016

    Schools will never stop changing and evolving. Change is fine when you can manage it yourself and you enjoy the support of your school administration and colleagues. It grows more difficult when it lands upon you from up high and feels like an incredible drain on your limited time and resources. I’ve seen both kinds…

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  • How to Grow as a Professional Teacher No Matter How Busy You Are

    Posted May 2, 2016

    If you plan to live your professional life as a teacher — and if you want to enjoy your work — you’re going to have to keep growing in your practice and performance. Try this: Look around your faculty room during lunch and pick out your most enjoyable, positive colleagues. I’m betting they’re the ones…

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  • Helping a Child Unfold: What Every Teacher Needs to Do

    Posted April 25, 2016

    I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking I’ve heard it all when it comes to children and their growth. But I heard something recently that had not occurred to me before. A commentator mentioned she considers her primary responsibility to be to help a child “unfold.” I found that image striking, and soon started thinking more and…

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  • Screen Time: Giving Students a Break from Their Electronics

    Posted April 21, 2016

    With educational technology getting cheaper and easier to use, more and more schools are integrating computer-based learning into their daily instruction. We’re also seeing greater access to smartphones, tablets, and big-screen TVs in student homes. Educators and parents should be thinking about the impact of all this screen time on our schools. These are some…

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  • Navigating a Minefield: 6 Essentials for Working with High-Maintenance Families

    Posted April 18, 2016

    From time to time, you’ll have to manage complex at-home family dynamics for your students. Acrimonious divorces, dysfunctional spouses, meddling grandparents — if you teach long enough, you’ll see these and more (fortunately, they’re the exception rather than the rule). Regardless of the dynamic, rest assured there are time-tested, helpful strategies for helping the child…

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  • Exceptional Teachers Are Always Thinking About Next Year

    Posted April 14, 2016

    A new school year is a reset button that lets new practices, philosophies and approaches to learning come alive in classrooms. Several of my friends in private industry envy our summer breaks and our opportunities to reinvent ourselves with the start of a new school year. Of course it’s not that simple, but there are…

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  • Change the World, Save Your Sanity: 5 Quick Tips for Teachers

    Posted April 11, 2016

    My guess is you want to change the world for the better. I know this because I’ve almost never met a dedicated, hard-working teacher who wants things to remain as they are. Instead, they see problems and think of solutions. While this attitude has helped our schools progressively improve over the years, it takes its toll…

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  • Motivating Students: Maybe We Need to Rethink Everything

    Posted April 7, 2016

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, beats having motivated and engaged students. We try all sorts of strategies — rewards, threats, grades — to get our students to do what we want them to do. But nothing seems to work for everybody: Some students have plenty of motivation and give us what we want, while others do just…

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  • Finding the Best Approach to Classroom Technology

    Posted April 4, 2016

    Schools are pivoting toward greater and greater use of classroom technology. Whether we’re talking about low-cost laptops, websites to organize student work, online tutorials or the (eventual) introduction of virtual reality glasses, we can’t lose sight of the reality that machines cannot solve our classroom challenges. Instead, teachers need to keep relying on solid teaching…

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  • Don’t Abolish Homework: Just Make Sure It’s Worthwhile

    Posted March 31, 2016

    Homework has been having a rough go of it lately. On one side, schools, teachers and parents argue that it’s essential to extend the school day beyond the classroom so students can review information, finish projects and read ahead to gain a better understanding of upcoming class topics. On the other side, critics call homework…

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  • What I’ve Learned from the Great School Leaders I’ve Met

    Posted March 31, 2016

    I have incredible colleagues. Not just the ones I have the honor of working with in my district, but school leaders whose work I’m seeing in neighboring districts. I can’t help but admire their steady, consistent leadership, forward-thinking ideas and knack for managing complex situations. Here’s what makes them so great: They hack away at the…

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  • When Politics Comes Up in the Classroom: 5 Tips for Teachers

    Posted March 24, 2016

    “Politics is boring, until it’s not” — Anonymous The author of that quote seems to have anticipated the challenging, complex nature of today’s political environment. Truth is stranger than fiction in this election cycle, so you should not be surprised to find your students trying to make sense of all that is happening in the…

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  • Can You Ever Be Comfortable With a Student Failing Your Class?

    Posted March 17, 2016

    During my first year in the classroom, I had several students who didn’t complete multiple homework assignments, didn’t study for tests and rarely participated in class. I responded by meeting with them several times, contacting their parents, offering multiple opportunities to make up missed assignments — extending myself to them above and beyond the expectations…

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  • 5 Great Authors Every Teacher Should be Reading

    Posted March 14, 2016

    You have to keep learning. Sure, trying to keep up with the latest research and publications often feels like drinking from a firehose, but sometimes you need a refreshing take on educational topics and how best to work with children. These five authors will provide that refreshment: Rachel Simmons I make no secret of my…

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  • Star Students: Finding the Right Ways to Celebrate Genuine Achievements

    Posted March 10, 2016

    Don’t forget about your outstanding students. It’s easy to take them for granted because they do exactly what they’re supposed to do: work hard to excel. They deserve recognition for their hard work. The trick is to recognize them in ways that do not discourage less successful students. Like so many other things in life, it’s all…

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