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The Public School Insights Blog

Aaron Bredenkamp currently serves as the dean of students at Westside High School in Omaha, NE, a position he's held for two years. Prior to this role, he worked for five years in a variety of capacities (including mathematics teacher, curriculum developer, technology director and building representative for the local teachers union) at Westside Career Center, an alternative setting. He began his teaching career in Chicago with Teach for America, and he is currently a doctoral candidate with an emphasis on school finance at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Mr. Bredenkamp was recently honored as a 2014 PDK Emerging Leader. In 2012, he was named a U.S Department of Education classroom fellow.

He recently took time to offer his insights on issues he cares deeply about, including approaches to school discipline, the importance of providing support to teachers and staff, and the valuable role of personalized learning as a tool for student engagement.

Public School Insights (PSI): First, let’s start with a little of your background. How long have you been dean of students at Westside High School, and where were you before that?

Bredenkamp: This is my second year as the dean of students. Prior to that I taught at Westside’s alternative setting for 5 years. I began my career teaching in alternative education in Chicago, IL, as a part of Teach for America, before returning home to use the skills I learned in TFA to contribute to the community where I was raised.

Public School Insights (PSI): You have a strong commitment to engaging all students. Would you discuss the role of personalized learning in this effort?

Bredenkamp: My commitment to personalized learning began as a teacher in the alternative setting. I quickly learned that students who were previously unsuccessful, and who often had behavioral issues, did not have their educational needs met in the standard academic environment. After I adjusted my own instruction in order to meet their learning needs, behavioral incidents decreased and academic success increased. Quickly these students developed a love of learning. ...

Common Core implementation brings more rigorous standards, new assessments, increased online technical demands and significant shifts in curriculum and instruction. Why, then, should we also ask educators and schools to prioritize social-emotional learning skills?

Preparing students for 21st century success means ensuring they are “College-, Career-, and Contribution-Ready,” as outlined in Social-emotional skills can boost Common Core Implementation, a piece by Maurice Elias in the November 2014 issue of PDK’s Kappan magazine. After all, we want our students to be productive citizens, contributing members in their workplace and family units, and prepared to embrace the diverse global community upon graduation. ...

Vicki Phillips, Director of Education, College Ready at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, discusses the importance of college- and career-ready standards and their thoughtful implementation.

Download as MP3 ...

By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D., Executive Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA) 

Like most immigrants, my family came to America with very little except the hope for a better life and the determination to achieve it. My parents sacrificed tremendously to ensure their children wouldn’t need to make the same sacrifices. Because my father couldn’t speak English, he couldn’t take an upper management job like he had in China, so he had to take blue-collar jobs. My mother, who couldn’t speak English either, couldn’t work at all. My parents’ income never exceeded the poverty level during the 40 years they lived in America. ...

Earlier this week, I was fortunate to have an invitation to the White House to attend the President Obama’s announcement of the Future Ready Schools Initiative as part of the administration’s ConnectED program. One hundred school superintendents were also in the audience as part of the first-ever Superintendents’ Summit at the White House, which served as the kickoff to the initiative. During the ceremony the superintendents signed a pledge – on their tablets – that proclaimed their commitment to ensuring their districts were Future Ready with broadband connections to the classroom, digital content for their students, devices to support the curriculum materials and professional development for their teachers so they are supported in using technology effectively for teaching and learning activities.

What this part of the administration’s ConnectED initiative recognizes is that leadership counts when change is happening. I couldn’t agree more, and it’s my hope that all the efforts being put forth by the education leaders in the room and across the country, whether a pledge is signed or not, are successful in bringing innovation supported with appropriate technology to every school and every classroom. The elephant in the room is that these sorts of photo op ceremonies and initiatives around bringing technology into public schooling have been taking place for more than twenty years ...

In October, we at the Learning First Alliance (LFA) hosted #CCSSteach, a Twitter Town Hall on “Teaching in a Common Core World,” which provided a forum for teachers, administrators and education leaders impacted by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to share their stories about using Common Core in the classroom and how students are adapting to new CCSS-aligned curriculum.

During that discussion it became clear that technology is playing a large role in Common Core implementation. While at the national level, some equate technology and the Common Core only in the sense that progress against these standards is to be measured online, those in field see something bigger. In many communities, technology is playing a major role in how students interact with the standards in the classroom (and at home) and in how educators connect, learn, collaborate and plan on behalf of their students.

To gain insight as to what technology is working best when it comes to implementation and to learn where additional supports are needed, on November 19 we teamed up with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to host #CCSStech, a Twitter Town Hall on “Ed Tech in a Common Core World."

A few key themes emerged from this conversation. Overall, participants (including teachers, technology directors and representatives of national organizations, among others) indicated that: ...

By Annelise Cohon, NEA Health Information Network

Since 2010, the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom have been ensuring more learning-ready students thanks to an innovative school breakfast model.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” However, how many of us forget to make breakfast a priority and walk out the door without eating anything? I’ll admit I’m guilty of not following my own advice and occasionally missing breakfast. However, for many adults and children missing breakfast can negatively impact their entire day. It has also been well-documented that for students, missing breakfast consistently over time can lead to poorer health outcomes and learning issues. Students who miss breakfast perform lower on standardized tests, are not able to concentrate as well, and are more likely to make frequent trips to the school nurse, missing valuable class time. ...

By Tom Ledcke, Special Education Teacher, Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Washington

The challenge of inclusion for students with disabilities has been an ongoing conversation in education. For students in my high school, inclusion has primarily meant physical inclusion only -- students with disabilities attended general education classes with typical peers. However, during lunch and after school they were usually alone and isolated from the usual social experiences that their typical peers enjoyed. My students practiced social fluency skills like eye contact and small talk in the classroom, but they never had the chance to put these skills into action by making true friendships. Participating in team sports or landing a part in the school play was only a dream. While I don't think it was ever out of malice or hatred, ignorance towards the students with intellectual disabilities ensured my students were left out of things and never integrated into the fabric of our school community -- and like any other student who feels isolated or alone, my students could feel that they were "outsiders." ...

In this episode, National PTA President Otha Thornton shares efforts undertaken at the local, state and national levels to ensure parents have an understanding of the Common Core— what it is, how it came about and how it will help children graduate college and career ready.

Download as MP3 ...

By Frederick Brown, Deputy Executive Director, Learning Forward

It’s a dilemma many of us in the field of professional learning face. Our colleagues in schools and districts often frame their challenges in the following ways:

  • Our students’ literacy scores are below district and state averages.
  • We need to implement Common Core or our state’s new student standards.
  • Our student discipline is out of control.
  • My principal is about to be removed because the district feels she is ineffective.

As educators grapple with these types of issues, often they don’t see them as professional learning challenges. Instead, they are categorized in other ways that often lead schools and districts down paths that can be costly as well as ineffective. For example, consider the issue of low student test scores in a particular content area. Often, the curriculum and instruction department is tasked with finding a new set of instructional materials that offer more promise in helping students achieve at higher levels. This solution is based on the assumption that the test score problem comes from ineffective materials ...

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