Saturday, January 19, 2013

Visit to NMHS and Eric Sheninger

After spending the day with Eric Sheninger, we had a 90 minute ride home to discuss all that we had seen and heard.  During that conversation, I caught myself saying this about Eric and his school, “He is like a good professional wrestler, he has a gimmick and he sticks with it.” 
First and foremost, I must say this –I don’t enjoy the negative connotation associated with the term gimmick.  His leadership is based in a belief and his beliefs inform his leadership.  A large part of our discussion revolved around preparation for the real world.  One point we kept going back to was the fact the Education training and Education Leadership programs are not preparing teachers or principals for a modern world that includes technology.  Sadly, we echo that ill preparation in the classroom.  All too often, we build classrooms that pretend technology does not exist.  Our students deserve to be educated in a manner that reflects the real world.  Look at any meeting, we all walk in with our devices and use them for our own purposes (sometimes aligned with the goals of the meeting).
Simply stated, cell phones and wifi exist, why not use them to engage and empower our students?  This model is not built on any special training.  This model is not based in any pre-purchased, pre-packaged program.  The basis of this model is “get out of their way”.  If a teacher can find a significant logical reason to use technology to add to their instruction – do it.  If a teacher can be effective using old school pen and paper techniques – do it.  This model empowers the teachers to be the decision makers and agents of change in their rooms.  I found myself thinking that Eric gives his teachers enough lumber to either build an amazing platform for greatness or a guillotine for themselves!  Eric assured us that he gives teachers enough release time to research, experiment or even reflect!  His VP and AD often cover lunch duty to give educators release time.
Why does Eric cover his teacher’s lunch duty?  Why would a principal be willing to schedule himself a lunch duty? Well, in the words of Hulk Hogan – “let me tell you brother” he believes in what is he doing for his staff, his students and his school.  Much of our conversation circled back to the understandings of Motivation 3.0 as defined by Daniel Pink.  Eric encourages autonomy and mastery in his teachers.  It is clear that Eric does this and his teachers participate because they share the same goal: a better experience for their students (Pink would call this purpose).
Not only does he believe in his school, he has leveraged social media and other venues to spread the word about his beliefs and his school. New Milford HS has a brand, NMHS has an image and we all know what it and he stands for and knows their beliefs.  They have their gimmick and I don’t see them jumping the shark anytime soon!

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