During his keynote, Digital leadership: changing paradigms for changing times, the senior fellow from the International Center for Leadership in Education in the US shared his personal story of how as a high school principal, he was a “leader with a blindfold on”. That was, until he discovered the power of Twitter.
Sheninger says his school, New Milford High School in New Jersey, was just like every other school in the local area.
“We had no money, our school was old, but that didn’t stop us from thinking about what was possible,” he says.
He says like most schools, New Milford was very good at making excuses about not moving forward.
As the school’s leader, he realised that leadership was about action, not about the title he held.
“Great leaders remove the excuses and remove the obstacles and let others innovate,” Sheninger says.
Once Sheninger made these realisations, “things changed and thank goodness things changed”.
“Twitter changed my life because of the people I connected with,” Sheninger says.
He used the social media platform to form a personalised learning network of like-minded educators and started to share ideas.
This allowed him to make the teaching practice at his school more about the kids and less about the adults. His teachers began to listen to students, gave up some of their control, trusted the kids and empowered them to take ownership of their own learning.
“Kids need relevancy but we can’t shield them from the world they need to be productive in when they leave school,” he shares.
“We focused on the basics: teaching, learning and leadership.
“[We had] no more desks in rows, we wanted our kids to be in a parallel environment they were in when they were out of school.”
One thing Sheninger is very insistent on though, is that pedagogy always comes first, and technology is secondary.
“Technology should never drive instruction,” he says.
Sheninger commented that he’s not necessarily a smart guy, he’s just very resourceful.
“Great leaders hire people who are smarter than them, and they’re not afraid to admit it,” he says.
“I’m not smart, I’m resourceful. I use the tools available to connect with the people smarter than me.”
During his address at EduTECH 2015, Sheninger stressed the importance of schools sharing their stories and successes, like his with New Milford High School, with the wider community.
“Great brands hype themselves,” Sheninger says.
“In education we are much too humble, we don’t brag about the successes of our schools…"