Eric Sheninger from Digital Inhibitor to Evangelist
Connect Learning Today catches up with digital principal and education leader Eric Sheninger for a short interview, and to discuss his latest, best selling book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, published by Corwin Press.
Eric Sheninger has been principal at New Milford, High School in New Milford New Jersey since 2007. He was the 2012 NASSB Digital Principal Award winner, the 2012 PDK Emerging Leader Award, a Google certified teacher, an Adobe Education Leader, 2013 Bammy Award winner for secondary school principal, NSBA 20 to watch for Technology Leadership (2010), and 2012 Learning Forward’s Excellence in Professional Practice Award.
Editor’s Note: Please check Eric Sheninger’s bio at the end of this interview, for links, and to learn more. His website is http://esheninger.blogspot.com/.
Connect Learning Today: Eric, thanks for taking the time out of your school leadership day to talk with us about what makes a modern-day digital education leader. Let’s, first, talk about how you do it at New Milford High School.
Eric Sheninger: My goal as an education leader is to create a relevant, meaningful, applicable teaching and learning culture for my students. Everything we do is about providing our students at New Milford High School with the tools, the skills and the knowledge to be successful in the digital age. So we continue to work on creating a teaching and learning culture that is reflective of the real world in which our students are expected to be successful.
Our challenge, as it was yesterday, is preparing students for jobs that have not even been created yet. So, what we’re looking to do, is create authentic learning environments that resonate with students, and provide them with these essential skill sets that the global job market demands. These are things such as creativity, collaboration, communications, digital literacy, digital citizenship, entrepreneurship and global awareness. So our biggest challenge is to continually innovate and push the envelope in our pursuit of creating a school system that works for our students rather than one that has always worked well for the system.
Connect Learning Today: Eric, congratulations on your latest book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. Let’s get right to it. This book was more of a journey than most people know. Talk about personal change, and how did this book happened.
Eric Sheninger: It’s very interesting how this book evolved, especially because I was the exact opposite type of principal, learning leader I am today. I was unconnected, I did not believe in social media in a school setting. I was the one, who developed policies to block it. I banned many sites that are open now, and also prohibited student-owned devices.
Then, in 2009—I accidentally got on Twitter. And Twitter really changed my perspective on what it was to really be a leader in the 21st century. So, as I began to communicate online my behavior shifted to lurker and learner, and what I quickly realized was how ignorant I was. I lacked the knowledge and education on how to effectively integrate an array of technology to enhance the teaching and learning culture at New Milford High School, as well as connect better and engage better with my stakeholders.
Since then, as I’ve grown professionally, and we’ve begun to integrate successfully a wide range of technology tools, we’ve begun many sustainable initiatives that have radically transformed the teaching and learning culture here. I found myself developing presentations, and sharing with a wider audience, not only the work we were doing at New Milford High School with education technology, but also how I was harnessing and leveraging technology as a leader to improve professional practice.
Connect Learning Today: So Eric, where does the book come in?
Eric Sheninger: About 2012, my current publisher, Corwin Press was in the audience at one of my presentations. They thought that what I was talking about was a good foundation for a book to help provide guidance to school leaders, who don’t know where to begin, or are fearful, or have misconceptions—or perceptions—as to the role technology in an education landscape that’s mandate driven and based on directives. At the time, I used the aged-old excuse that I didn’t have time to write a book. So, I said no. About 6 months later, I was at another conference, and Corwin Press was there again, where they, again, heard me speak about digital leadership. They asked me, again, to write a book, and this time I said yes.
That’s how the book evolved. I’d been living it, speaking about it, and practicing it for 5 years, and the foundation came from my work as a principal at New Milford High School. It was such a proud moment for me, because everything I discuss in this book—the foundation, the vision, the strategic plan, and the implementation has happened at New Milford High School with my teachers, my students, as well as beyond with all the educators I have connected with, who have played a role in my evolution from the person, who was the biggest inhibitor to change, in terms of digital leadership, to a person, today, who is an evangelist.
Connect Learning Today: What’s in your book for today’s education leaders?
Eric Sheninger: The book tracks more than my journey, and how I’ve changed; it shares how we, here, at New Milford High School have collaboratively moved forward. It can serve as inspiration to other school leaders, who don’t know where to begin. Every chapter opens with a vignette—a story of other digital leaders in various roles, illustrating how they have become catalysts for sustainable change in order to transform their schools or districts into vibrant learning communities that truly are preparing kids for success in today’s world. It’s a who’s who of educators—you’ll recognize, and know Ken, because you’ve spoken to them. The book provides a bird’s eye view from practitioners. If school leaders are showing their successes, it really becomes a scalable model for other leaders to begin the journey, to enhance what they’ve already done, or then anticipate what needs to be done.
Connect Learning Today: Eric, you’ve certainly changed as a leader, moving down the digital direction you follow, model, and lead, but is good leadership really that different today? What makes a good digital education leader?
Eric Sheninger: Leadership is no different today than it was yesterday. Effective leaders have those same defining characteristics. What I feel separates this concept of digital leadership is the dynamic combination of mindset, skills, and behaviors that are utilized to initiate sustainable change, or school cultures with the assistance of technology. In my book, I review the pillars, those foundational elements of what all leaders need to do to organize and cultivate successful schools. Those pillars are communications, public relations, branding, professional growth and development, student engagement and learning, learning spaces, environments, and opportunities. The beauty of all those pillars—they work in conjunction with each other—and as you go through the book, it really provides a step-by-step guide for leaders to take their leadership to the next level, and create schools of which students want to be a part and that make stakeholders proud.
The biggest asset for digital leaders is transparency. When we’re transparent about what we’re doing, we’re not second guessing ourselves anymore. Digital education leaders have so many tools and people to connect with; all can enable us to do what we do better.
Connect Learning Today: Thank you Eric.
About Eric Sheninger
Eric is @NMHS_Principal on Twitter. He is a Bammy Award winner (2013), NASSP Digital Principal Award winner (2012), PDK Emerging Leader Award recipient (2012), winner of Learning Forward’s Excellence in Professional Practice Award (20 12), Google Certified Teacher, Adobe Education Leader, ASCD 2011 Conference Scholar, author of “Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times“, co-author of “Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals” and “What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science“, writer on education for the Huffington Post, co-creator of the Edscape Conference, sits on the FEA Board of Directors, and was named to the NSBA “20 to Watch” list in 2010 for technology leadership. He now presents and speaks nationally to assist other school leaders embrace and effectively utilize technology. His blog, A Principal’s Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2013 and 2011 by Edublogs.