Big Ideas in Small Windows

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Dr. Michael Gaskell, the 14-year veteran principal of East Brunswick’s 1,300 student (grades 6-7) Hammarskjold Middle School, is more than happy to share his thoughts, views, and ideas for tackling challenges, implementing solutions, and increasing student learning, and he keeps finding new ways to spread the word.  


Gaskell earned his Doctorate in educational leadership in 2014 from Northcentral University, a process that awakened a passion for writing that has only intensified since. “It helped me realize that writing has to be very well structured to be something that is worthy of publication,” Gaskell said. “So a couple of years ago, I started writing articles about ideas I had in the field, and many were published by NJPSA’s Educational Viewpoints, NASSP, E-SchoolNews, MiddleWeb, and ASCD, among others. I’ve published about 20 articles in the last two years. They are just ideas that I’ve come up with that I like to share that can then be replicated by other educators if they are interested.” 


As he continued to publish, his style started to become recognized, and his approach sought after for its advisable solutions to familiar issues that many schools face. “When I see something that works well here, I write about it and then submit it,” he said. “Some people really love it and embrace it. People want ideas, but they want to be able to use them tomorrow. They just need something original that they hadn’t really thought of, or an original way to approach it.” 


Soon, these helpful articles that appeared in so many outlets opened the eyes of a book publisher, who reached out to Gaskell and offered him a book deal. “So, I started working on that a year and a half ago. I submitted the manuscript right around the new year, and Microstrategy Magic – Confronting Classroom Challenges While Saving Time and Energy just came out this October,” he said. 


The concept of the book continues his focus on finding and implementing solutions to the problems that anyone can face in schools and are based on many of the numerous scenarios he has encountered at Hammarskjold. “When you’re faced with this situation, I call them big ideas in small windows, the idea is, we don’t have a lot of time, so there are a lot of things that can get in the way and cost us the real focus, which is helping students to reach their success. So, if we can get these other things out of the way, and be efficient and also be attentive, then we can focus on the real goal.”


He finds the writing process therapeutic. “I take about an hour four or five nights a week and just write, and I find it a very peaceful experience, because I’m always writing about how I can help the next kid or the next community out.” he said. “And that’s what’s been really neat about the writing experience. Now that it’s starting to get traction, I can get these ideas out and share them with people who can use them to some success.” 


One of the things Gaskell has started to do to promote the book is shoot and post short videos called “Mike’s Micro Minute,” highlighting one of his “big ideas” on YouTube and TikTok. “I spend one minute on one quick idea,” he explained. “I also go on Facebook and talk about it. My ideas are all positive. It’s all solutions and ways to get things going with kids to help them.”


Gaskell’s next book, through publisher Eye on Education, could be very timely, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting school closures, remote learning, and hybrid periods of 2020. “That one is about helping kids address their trauma in school, and really more specifically for practitioners, the people in the trenches who see them every day and don’t have the special training but just need some ideas, smart ideas that you can apply quickly and effectively,” he said. “I do think that kids are going to come back with some more trauma and some of that will be under-socialization. Some of that will be getting back to a routine, and I think there will be an adjustment period. As kids come back from this, I think you may find some opportunity for post-traumatic growth. They can learn a benefit from an experience like this if it is properly handled and properly treated.”


In addition to running his school, writing books and articles, and posting videos, Gaskell is proud of his work as a mentor in FEA’s Leaders to Leaders Program. “I enjoy using my experience to help guide residents,” he said.  “One of my favorite things each month is the Leaders to Leaders peer group meeting, which we now do on Zoom, but we used to always take turns and go to every resident’s school, where they would give us a tour and we would do an activity. Residents and mentors work together side by side with each other, and I learn from them, too.”


He concedes that sometimes residents are nervous, and some start the process just wanting to get their permanent certificate and move on. But once they start doing the work and sharing with the team, nearly every single resident is surprised by how much they get out of the process. “They always tell us that,” Gaskell said. “They say, ‘you know, it’s tough to go 30 minutes to this school for a meeting when there are things going on at my building, but once I got here and see what is going on, it is well worth it.” 


For these, and all of his accomplishments, Dr. Michael Gaskell was honored in 2019 with the East Brunswick Education Association Partner in Excellence Award.  “That was a really neat thing because the mayor was there, Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin was there, and EBEA President Jack Levitt was there to present me with the award,” he said. “The whole point of it is you are giving back to the community. The whole recognition is ‘here is somebody who is constantly thinking about the community-at-large, and it is a very distinguished honor.’”