Eric is an author, innovator, and speaker. He is a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on Digital Leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education and before that he was Principal at New Milford High School in NJ. Eric formed the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a framework for all educators to initiate sustainable change to transform school cultures.
Eric is making change happen. The book he co-authored with Tom Murray, Learning Transformed, really opened my eyes about changing culture with the 8 keys. I”ve read most of Eric’s books and attended many of his keynotes. I have looked forward to talking to Eric and was so honored when he said yes to our conversation. Below are a few excerpts from the podcast along with resources and links:
Share about you, your family, and your background
I was born and raised in New Jersey, lived in New York for 13 years, and was a principal New Milford High School in New Jersey where we did some pretty amazing things. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by a dedicated staff and student body who was willing to embrace different and better to improve results. I played a small role to get everyone to see the part that they could play. I might have got the ball rolling in 2009, but the majority of my teachers didn’t change because they had to, they changed because they wanted to.When everyone in our community understood how we were changing, why were getting results along with the process and tools we used, it just became a celebratory culture of excellence. Through that we had visitors from all over the world, and then I got asked to scale the work.
Right after moving to Houston
Now I am working with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) so my family and I moved from New York to Houston, Texas. We are now residing in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (CFISD), an amazing school district. My son, Nicholas, is in middle school and my daughter, Bella, is in 5th grade where they are doing some incredible things transforming their learning.
Houston had a rough go being hit by Hurricane Harvey. It was a challenge, but we saw the best of people. We saw empathy, selflessness, and people rising up. I saw people organizing relief efforts using social media and on local Facebook pages. We were using push-to-talk applications sharing where demolition crews needed to go and where help was needed the most. I’ve used social media for my professional practice, but I saw it as a means for humanity to rise. My home was threatened but not damaged so social media gave me the avenue to give back and help people in need. If it wasn’t for social media, we wouldn’t know where the help was or who needed help. We’ve rebounded and rebuilt. Thank goodness for the human spirit and technology to support each other when we needed it most. In fact, the experience helped my children look beyond their privilege.
[I’m including this article by Eric, Humanity’s Gift, written during the relief efforts about his and his family experience. Powerful!]
“Life can’t always be about what we do for ourselves. It has to be equally about what we do for others.” Eric Sheninger
Change Begins by Believing in Ourselves
In our book, Learning Transformed, we say that “you” are the solution. The only way we can transform teaching and leadership if we all believe in our own abilities to initiate and sustain change. When we think about motivation and mindset, change begins with us. We cannot expect others to change if we are not willing to change ourselves. When we change ourselves and take calculated risks, we can inspire others. Success breeds success. Whether it is about increasing achievement or about our children owning their learning or hosting other schools to see how we were doing in the face of significant challenges. It all comes back to belief and the collaborative spirit.
A Sense of Urgency
There is a sense of urgency to transform learning. I know everyone is talking about the why, but the how is so much more important. There was a sense of urgency for me to expose a vast body of research that supports all the talk about the why. I’m in schools every week talking to teachers, walking in classrooms, and asking kids why you are learning what you are learning. What I’ve noticed is that the talk is not being backed up by scalable action. We have isolated pockets of excellence. We have districts and schools doing amazing things but we need to scale the work.
We need to prepare kids for a world that we have no idea what it will look like. We need to provide kids with human specific competencies not just skills that allow them to compete in an ever-changing world. We need to provide the research to back up what we need to do along with evidence that holds ourselves accountable to showcase a path toward efficacy.
How are we reaching our desired goals? How is it grounded in research and supported by evidence? Evidence should drive the conversations. When we talk about all this great stuff, we are able to show artifacts that support how we are changing teaching and leadership. We can keep talking, but we need to double our efforts in how we act to change things. There are a lot of great ideas but we have to account for the challenges schools have and how we act on them. This is why Tom Murray and I wrote Learning Transformed supported by evidence driven by research.
Leadership Lays the Foundation
I don’t have power now or a title. I’m not in a school, but I can talk about Laura Fleming who is a teacher at Milford HS who created a makerspace in the library. She did it. I just gave her the support and resources she needed to do the job. She had time conflicts trying to work with teachers so she created her own micro-credential platform to acknowledge each teacher’s professional learning. The most important changes that are implemented don’t come from people with titles in power, it comes from our teachers and our kids. If leaders want to have success with any specific mandate, they have to be able to articulate how they are doing that successfully. That’s how you persuade, inspire, and motivate those with the power and title to support the change.
When we talk about shifting mindset and practice, we need to focus more on the “what ifs” instead of the “yeah, buts.” If we focus on the “what ifs”, that how we get to a culture of YES. That’s how we get to really create a relevant, immersive, learning culture that primes kids for success.
What is Really New?
How can I craft a message that is relevant to the audience? Let’s talk about good, old fashioned research like Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget and current research from Linda Darling-Hammond, John Hattie to build a vast research base that supports change. Project-based learning, student ownership of learning, and collaborative learning is connected to research, and learning approaches are not new. Technology is not new — it is a tool that supports and enhances.
Here’s a great quote from William Horton, “If we don’t get instructional design right, all technology is going to do is speed up the rate of failure.”
We need to inspire people about their own sense of urgency. We show Gallup data in Learning Transformed that the longer kids are in school, the less engaged they are. This data shows us that if kids are not engaged, then how do we expect them to learn. We connected the research to schools that focused on the what ifs, implemented change, and found success.
Make sure you listen to the podcast to the end…
The discussions got deep around disrupting school — you have to listen to Eric’s discussions around compliancy and parental pressure. Then Eric talked about his daughter, Bella, and the principal at Wells Elementary School. Eric even interviewed the principal on Periscope.
Bella loves school because they got rid of homework, bring their own device K-5 to leverage technology, flexible learning spaces, and portfolio-based assessment. The best part is that my daughter is happy and the journey to get to the destination is more enjoyable. All the teachers are sharing on social media with evidence to back up the research.
Everything comes down to relationships. Without trust, there is no relationship. Without relationships, no real learning occurs. Show kids you care! Get kids to trust you!
Don’t prepare your kids for something. Prepare them for anything! All kids have greatness inside them. It’s the job of educators to find and unleash that greatness.
Eric is a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on Digital Leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). Prior to this he was the award-winning Principal at New Milford High School. Under his leadership his school became a globally recognized model for innovative practices. Eric oversaw the successful implementation of several sustainable change initiatives that radically transformed the learning culture at his school while increasing achievement.
His work focuses on leading and learning in the digital age as a model for moving schools and districts forward. This has led to the formation of the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a framework for all educators to initiate sustainable change to transform school cultures. As a result Eric has emerged as an innovative leader, best selling author, and sought after speaker. His main focus is purposeful integration of technology to facilitate student learning, improve communications with stakeholders, enhance public relations, create a positive brand presence, discover opportunity, transform learning spaces, and help educators grow professionally.Eric has received numerous awards and acknowledgements for his work. He is a CDE Top 30 award recipient, Bammy Award winner, NASSP Digital Principal Award winner, PDK Emerging Leader Award recipient, winner of Learning Forward’s Excellence in Professional Practice Award, Google Certified Innovator, Adobe Education Leader, and ASCD 2011 Conference Scholar. He has authored and co-authored the following:
Learning Transformed: 8 Keys for Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today
Uncommon Learning: Creating Schools That Work for Kids
Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals
BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning
Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times
What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science