How did your educational trajectory and past professional experience shape your current work?
Coming from a family of educators I guess you could say that my path was chosen for me at an early age, even though it was not apparent to me at first. I began my career as a science teacher and then made the transition into educational leadership. When I took over as principal at New Milford High School in 2007, my leadership style was still rooted in a traditional fixed mindset. There was a great deal of pride in our school and work, but we really weren’t pushing the envelope in terms of innovation.
It wasn’t until 2009 that I was awakened to the fact that our school could be better and I could be better. This was when I stumbled upon Twitter and everything changed. I was exposed to a whole new world that I never knew existed. In this world I saw districts, schools, leaders, educators, and students doing amazing things with technology while getting impressive results. I was disheartened, as we weren’t doing any of those things at my school. This was the turning point for me. After embracing the inherent value of social media to support and enhance the work I was already doing, I never looked back.
From 2009 forward we began to initiate changes that radically transformed our school culture for the better. The ideas, strategies, knowledge, and feedback I received from countless educators across the world that I was now connected with through social media provided constant inspiration as to what was truly possible in education. We began to focus on solutions as opposed to excuses and executed plans of action to innovate every aspect of our work. I can go on and on, but my past, present, and future was forever shaped by that moment in time where I found more value in my work.
How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
I hope that my work will illustrate the need to create schools that work better for kids. Schools have traditionally been designed to work well for adults, but the conventional school design hasn't always served our learners. Students today need to be empowered to take ownership of their learning in relevant and meaningful ways to prepare them for a constantly evolving world. I also hope that my work will influence and inspire school leaders to embrace changes in their professional practice. The educational landscape is changing as a result of continuous advances in technology and a changing learner. As a result, leaders must recognize this shift, anticipate needed changes, and lead by example in order to meet the diverse needs of key stakeholders in the digital age.
The time is now for leaders to learn how to harness the power of digital tools and social media accessible today to improve communications, enhance public relations, establish a brand presence, increase student engagement, transform learning spaces, discover opportunity, and grow professionally like never before. It is about illustrating the natural links to the work school leaders already do to improve teaching, learning, and leadership and how the digital aspect can support and/or enhance that work.
What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
I truly believe that technology will continue to impact learning in the future. Specific trends include: personalized learning; large-scale initiatives such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and 1:1, makerspaces; digital badging/microcredentials as a move toward competency based learning; a redefinition of learning spaces; and the integration of academies and smaller learning communities (schools within a school) to provide more rigorous pathways that cater to the diverse interests of students. With all of these initiatives, especially ones with a technological focus, careful instructional design planning must take place to ensure that there is actually an impact on learning.
What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
I am currently finishing up my next book, which will be titled Uncommon Learning: Creating Schools that Work for Kids. The inspiration came from the work that we did at New Milford High School and my resulting TEDx talk on the topic. I am also continually working on improving and expanding our Digital Leadership & Learning practice area at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) to help districts, schools, leaders, and educators initiate sustainable change.
Who are the most interesting people you are following on Twitter (if you have a Twitter account)?
Now that is a loaded question. I am a huge fan of Twitter and social media in general as it has totally redefined my professional practice. In my opinion the power of social media lies in the people you connect with and how they shape your thinking. For me I would say that everyone I am connected with, whether it be on Twitter, Google+, or other tools, bring value in terms of learning.
Image: Courtesy Eric Sheninger