Senior Fellow and Thought Leader, International Center for Leadership in Education
“The idea here is, how do we look at what we do every single day and do it better?” asks Eric Sheninger, a senior fellow and thought leader with the International Center for Leadership in Education, a group that shares innovative practices with educators. “Technology can actually help us become more effective and more efficient.”
Before his current role, Sheninger was a principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey. Under his leadership, the school became a standout for using tech. But he didn’t always embrace it. In 2009, he saw cell phones as a distraction, not a learning tool. But two things changed his mind: a student told him his policies were like a jail, and he learned about Twitter.
These days, Sheninger visits thousands of schools a year. He’s always looking to see if technology is being used in ways that represents fundamental improvements. Here he discusses how educators can maximize learning through technology.
How did you bring edtech into the classroom?
We really aligned it with what we were already doing. We started to work smarter, not harder. We started to do what we already did but better. We really made it about the learning culture and really focused on how we can have our teachers take instruction and learning to the next level.
We had kids taking virtual courses from Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. We changed the way we assessed and went to more project based. After we really focused on improving the learning culture, there was a lot of autonomy given to our teachers to select the best pathway to utilize technology in their classrooms.
What are the keys to your seven pillars of digital leadership: communication, public relations, branding, student engagement/learning, professional growth/development, revisioning learning spaces, and environments and opportunity?
The first three pillars are nonnegotiable. It’s about learning. Learning in the classroom, learning in our spaces and the idea of how digital can do it better. The next four are about sharing the work. How do we effectively communicate? You won’t find an effective leader who’s not an effective communicator. The pillars of communication are about meeting stakeholders where they’re at and engaging them in two-way communication to build relationships.
Why is it essential to have edtech in classrooms?
Society is changing, the world is changing, the world of work is changing; but the guiding question is, are our schools changing?
Kids know how to use tech for the most part, but they don’t know how to use it to support high-level learning. I think that’s the key for schools: How to teach kids how to use technology to support their thinking, to reflect, and to improve assessments. As we think about change, it’s really about preparing our learners, not for something but for anything.
What kind of technology would you recommend bringing into the classroom for young kids such as kindergarteners?
You could have a station where kids work on letters, numbers, spelling, and simple mathematics. Kindergartners could use iPads to share their work or curate their work on an app called Seesaw.
Can there be too much technology?
The key is balance. We need kids to be able to exhibit face to face communication, utilize body language, have discourse, and have dialogue. They need to be able to work in groups. How does the technology allow kids to think and apply technology in better ways? Does it represent a fundamental improvement over what we’ve done traditionally? If not, we should not force the issue.