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Minimizing the ‘Noise’ From the World Outside Your Classroom

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Student Working With StudentBy Brian P. Gatens

Part of my responsibilities as a school administrator is to stay abreast of changes in the educational world outside my district. I make it a point to closely follow developments in education at all levels as our country looks for the best ways to educate our children. One development I’ve picked up on recently spurred this post: How to deal with the increasing pressure on the classroom teachers regarding performance. Teachers are looking for the best ways to minimize all the noise coming into their classrooms from local, state and federal education officials so they can focus on their No. 1 task — getting children educated. I have three main suggestions:

1. Stay Confident

It’s not uncommon for the best teachers to be concerned about their success in the face of strong — and sometimes quite negative — talk regarding teacher performance and tenure rights. The wholesale change to teacher evaluation, as we move from a system based solely on observation to one that takes in multiple measures including student test performance, has been a drastic shock to the culture of teaching. That being understood, I do like to remind our staff members that the capable, dedicated and caring teacher has nothing to fear from these developments. Who should be concerned? It’s the teachers who are unmovable in their professional development and unwilling to change.

2. Focus Inward

If there’s any one thing I’ve learned from navigating today’s complex and sometimes frustrating educational landscape, it’s that I won’t find relief from my worries by looking outside my school. Instead, I find that when I focus on the children and adults in my building — whether it’s through a phone call home to the family of a hard-working but unheralded student or a letter of recognition to a hardworking staff member — I’m able to put all the “noise” in its proper context. I encourage you to do the same.

Every school has “doom and gloom” staffers and if you find yourself being affected by them, try turning your attention to working with the students under your care. Very often a simple act of kindness will be a powerful reminder of why you chose teaching as your vocation.

3. Look, But Don’t Stare

While it’s important to pay attention to changes happening in your profession, I do encourage everyone not to spend too much time thinking or focusing too heavily on what’s going on beyond your school or even your classroom. It’s easy to get sucked into the different reports and studies coming from the different governmental agencies, private organizations and think tanks that specialize in educational topics. Keep your focus on what’s most important — the children in your classroom.

In a follow-up to this post, I’m going to write of the beliefs and philosophies that underscore my approach to education. I love the fact that I live in a nation, as bruising as it may seem from time to time, that elevates discussions on education to a national level.

An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.

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Student Working With Student  [DOWNLOAD]