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Donald Gately | @donald_gately

Donald Gately | @donald_gately

Donald Gately Ed.D. is the principal at Jericho Middle School on Long Island. J.M.S. is a high performing middle school that has a comprehensive school-wide program to develop social emotional literacy; the school was named a New York State/National School to Watch in 2009, 2012 and 2015. Don was a middle school principal in Plainview-Old Bethpage, the assistant principal at Memorial Junior High School in Valley Stream and a teacher of English Language Arts in the New York City public schools. He is the former p resident of the Nassau County Middle Level Principals Association and active in a number of organizations that leverage support for innovative middle school practice. Don is a middle level leader with a singular passion and commitment to the intellectual and social/emotional development of adolescent learners. He was a BAMMY Award nominee for Middle School Principal of the Year in 2014 and 2015. He was named New York State Principal of the Year in 2016.  Along with his wife Danielle (@dmgately) and an incredible PLN of committed Long Island educators Don cofounded EdCamp Long Island (@EdCampLI) in 2014.

Posted by on in Education Leadership

I recently prepared introductory remarks for our winter concert.  I used the same Microsoft Word document named “concert introductions” that I’ve used since I became a principal.  There are elements of these introductions that need to be repeated every year:  turn off your cell phone, don’t yell out your kids name, stay until the end of the concert, thanks to our dignitaries for attending.  So I cut and paste the previous year’s speech and then make revisions.   

Despite the “canned reminders” noted above, I always make different remarks as part of my introductions for a concert.  At this event I referenced a study done by the renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks about the effects on the brain that learning to play a musical instrument has.  Did you know that Duke Ellington’s brain looked completely different than Albert Einstein’s, but that Einstein’s brain probably looked mostly like yours and mine?  People who play a musical instrument have brains that are physically different than those who do not play.   My mentor taught me that any time you address a large gathering of people in your role as principal it is an opportunity to reinforce the vision and mission of the school.  This reference to Sacks’s research allowed me to remind the audience that everything we do at our school is about LEARNING.

Because there’s no podium in front of the stage, and it’s often dark, I make sure my remarks do not exceed a single page with large font.   When I pressed the button to print the speech, I made the mistake of not selecting the particular page that had my remarks for “Winter Concert 2017”.   Over 60 pages began streaming out of my printer.  That’s how many concert introductions I’ve done since I became principal.  I am in my 12th year as principal at my present school.  Add to that the five years I was principal at another school, that’s a lot of concerts.   

If you’re going to have a single job for a long time, the two jobs you would do well to consider are classroom teacher and middle school school principal.  Both of these are dynamic roles that are constantly challenging, you can never be bored.  The jobs of the principal or the teacher are wildly unpredictable.  It’s important to have a plan but don’t expect that you’ll be able to follow it. Because of the chaotic dynamism of these roles, there’s a tendency for some people to cling to consistency.   If it went okay last year, let’s just do it the same way again this year,  “Here comes Parent Teacher Conferences, Meet the Teacher Night, Graduation, or a Concert again, let’s trot out the same plan from last year.”   I call this attitude, “Good enough is good enough”.  I wrote about this in a previous post, and it’s not okay. 

Good enough is simply not good enough.  Despite how long we may have been doing our jobs, complacency will not help us to improve.   With the new year approaching, like many people, I have sought the one word that will represent my intention to grow.  I am committed to looking at every single thing I do with the purpose of improving and getting better.  To do this, I am going to focus on an important factor.   My one word resolution for the 2018 year is Feedback.  We cannot grow unless we hold up the mirror to our personal and professional practice.   

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

Here’s a recent conversation between my wife and me:

Danielle: “Don, it’s freezing outside, wear a coat.’ 

Me:   It’s not that cold. 

Danielle: It's windy? Do you know how strong the wind is? Don, the wind is blowing 50 miles an hour.

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

snow layer

Last year a student approached me and said that he had a concern. His concern was that none of his classmates seem to know about what is happening in the world, no one followed current events. He asked if we could start a club to talk about current events.

His request intersected with a misgiving I'd been having about the frequency with which I had direct contact with my students in a teaching and learning context.  I spend a good deal of time with our kids in the hallways and in the cafeterias but I do not often enough engage with them as a teacher.  As a principal, it’s important to me that kids see me as a learner and as a teacher.  With this in mind,  along with the district curriculum associate for social studies,  we started a student-led current events forum at our school.  

The forum meets once a month and a dedicated group of kids faithfully attend to talk about topics in the news that grab their attention.  A core group of passionate and socially active students plan the meetings, publicize them, creates fliers, and identify articles and videos for the group to examine.  It is a terrific example of student voice in action.   

Recently Long Island experienced a heavy, snowy blizzard so we had a snow day. Everybody loves snow days!  After a huge breakfast of pancakes and bacon (a snow day tradition at our house) I decided we would have a digital version of the current events forum.

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

edcamp

Here’s a confession, I’ve been responsible for some pretty horrible professional development (PD).  When I think about the faculty meetings I ran when I was a new principal, I am embarrassed.  Often, my faculty meetings were the Don Gately Show.  I like to think it's a pretty good show (my wife’s not complaining).   I tried to sprinkle in the occasional joke or amusing anecdote, but my approach was deeply flawed.  Teachers had little choice in participating; they were required, by contract, to be there. If the topic was not meeting their needs, they had to wait until I was done to complain about me in the parking lot.  I surely was never the smartest person in the room; the smartest people in the room didn't get a chance to share their expertise because I didn't create a structure for them to do so.  

And, oh the PowerPoints, I ‘loved me some PowerPoints’.   I relied on this magical Microsoft tool like a crutch. As an assistant principal, I was an early adopter so I remember a time when I could dazzle my faculty with animations and wiggly text. The principal would sometimes ask me, “Don, can you do that PowerPoint thing for the faculty meeting?”  I’d beam with pride! But like the hack magician sawing the lady in half, it took a while for me to let go of that thrilling trick.  There are teachers out there with handouts I foisted upon them at faculty meetings, three slides to a page (so they could take notes?!), 107 slides in all.  If I am ever considered for appointment as education commissioner, some journalist will dig these handouts up and my career will come to a screeching halt.  

Fortunately, due to a combination of factors, I've gotten better at faculty meetings.  Through experience, research, learning from others, better principals and maybe just because I got sick of listening to MYSELF, my faculty meetings have become improved settings for learning, at least I hope so.

I’ve done some bad PD, but so have many of my colleagues, both in the administrative AND the teaching ranks!  It's staff development like this that has created the need for EdCamp.  Above I described a formula for “How NOT to contribute to teachers' learning.” EdCamp upends all of these approaches.

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies
stencil.twitter post 61

worldsrairWhat is your earliest memory?   I vaguely recollect riding on the monorail with my parents at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow, Queens.  The monorail was one of three attractions at the Fair from the Disney company (the other two were It's a Small World and the Carousel of Progress which are now in the Disney theme parks).   I've since been to Flushing Meadow Park many times because I have brought my own kids to visit the Queens Museum which houses the Panorama of the City of New York which is a scale model of the entire city, also a World’s Fair exhibit.  When I first went there I used a pair of binoculars you could borrow to locate my own house, 1530 Albany Avenue in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Last spring I had the opportunity to attend the world premiere of a film by a young and astounding filmmaker. Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion is a documentary about the history of the 1964 World’s Fair and especially the New York Pavilion.  The filmmaker is a teacher from our school, Matt Silva.  Matt teaches technology and also videography.  His students create professional quality videos that support numerous school initiatives.  Each year they produce a video to accompany our bully prevention kick off that is the centerpiece and a highlight of the day.  The subject of the documentary was the New York Pavilion, a structure originally built for the 1964 World's Fair.  The Pavilion remains in the park today and is slowly deteriorating.

Matt was inspired to create the documentary when he took students in his middle school technology class on a trip to visit the Highline in Manhattan.   The Highline is a unique civil engineering accomplishment.  It's designers repurposed the dilapidated Westside Highway into an elevated urban park that runs from 19th to  33rd Street on the west side of Manhattan. As a child I rode in a car on the Westside Highway with my family on our way to my grandfather's bungalow in Upstate New York.  Such was the state of the highway’s disrepair that my dad joked, “It'll be a miracle if we don't fall through this thing before we get there.”   I was scared!   

Matt planned the trip to the Highline so that his students would understand how urban planning works, how architects and engineers can re-purpose a structure to make it more useful for its present environment and context.    Matt understood how important it was for his students to see firsthand the results of an urban planning initiative.  He also invited Architect Frankie Campione, the principal engineer of CREATE Architecture Planning & Design, to come to school and discuss efforts to preserve the Pavilion.  Field trips and guest speakers are among the most powerful and memorable learning experiences for middle school kids.  They allow students to grasp the relevance of concepts they learn in the classroom and they cement connections between the curriculum and the world in which we live.

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