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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. ...

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. ...

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." ...

Given all the debates in education policy today, one might assume that education research is a valuable tool in guiding outcomes and decisions. Unfortunately, this assumption is incomplete because although research is often valued and held up to justify decisions, the research does not necessarily inform the decision making process. There are any number of reasons for that, from the flow of information to the actors involved in the policy changes.

In a recent book Using Research-Based Evidence in Education, Kara Finnigan and Alan Daly –along with other contributors- take a closer look at how evidence research is acquired, defined, moved, interpreted and shaped at different levels in education: federal, state, district and school. In a recent American Youth Policy Forum webinar, they highlighted three major themes that emerged: ...

By Libby Nealis, Consultant on Classroom Behavioral Management, NEA HIN

Continuing its commitment to preventing and reducing bullying in our nations’ schools, the National Education Association (NEA) offers a number of resources for educators to promote awareness of bullying behaviors among students and prevent bullying behavior. For example, NEA’s GPS Network includes a Student Bullying group that offers a forum for educators to express concerns and share resources and best practices. This month they featured two webinars

NEA HIN also provides resources on cyberbullying and the prevention and intervention services that can address both the causes and the effect of bullying. This includes positive behavioral supports and social and emotional learning (SEL) programs. These kinds of school-wide programs can also have a tremendous effect on bullying. Much can be achieved simply by teaching students compassion ...

October is National Principals Month, an annual opportunity to recognize the importance of school leaders and their role in supporting student learning, as evidenced by years of empirical research. Maximum levels of student learning are reached in optimal school conditions, many of which are the purview of school leaders. Strong leadership is an essential component in creating great public schools.

In an era where public schools are frequently under attack, recognizing outstanding leadership and the value of public school leaders is important as a way to remind the American public and policy makers that investing in human capacity is essential for building strong successful schools. Research indicates that leadership is second only to classroom teachers in terms of in-school factors impacting student learning, strong leadership is important for guiding sustainable school turnaround efforts and leadership matters even more for schools and communities facing challenging circumstances ...

While the ‘digital divide’ is well documented, studies show mixed results when trying to document technology’s influence on learning for at-risk students. In part, this is because the digital learning ecosystem is so complex. The academic realities for at-risk children, many of whom live in poverty, are also well known. More than half of all students enrolled in public schools today meet this designation. They are more likely to start school less academically prepared than their peers, fall behind throughout the summer due to learning loss and less likely to have access to technology, including computers, at home. ...

By Jill Cook, Assistant Director, American School Counselor Association

Most parents think their children are exceptional. My oldest daughter, Kate, is doubly so.

Considered intellectually gifted, she also has ADHD, anxiety and bipolar disorder, a triple whammy that has impeded her ability to reach her full academic potential and has left her vulnerable to severe depression as well as intense periods of mania.

Throughout Kate’s school career, my husband and I have sought to be her biggest advocate and source of support. With each transition – grade to grade, elementary to middle to high school – we have communicated with her teachers, school counselors and other student support staff about the academic and emotional challenges she faces. ...

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