Small Changes, Huge Results by by Eric Sheninger

Small Changes, Huge Results

Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

Last week my school was fortunate to have the NJ School Boards Association (NJSBA) visit to produce a live event called Learn@Lunch: Technology as an Engagement Tool.  You can view the archive of the event here.  A little over two years ago something like this would have never happened at New Milford High School.  Yes, I was the Principal at that time, but my perspective and philosophy as to what constituted a 21st Century learning environment was vastly different than what it is today.  Back then I felt that being a tech savvy administrator just consisted of purchasing the tools for my staff and letting them use them as they felt fit.  I was also adamant that social media had no place in an educational setting, but most of you who read this blog know about my radical change of mind in regards to this.  To put it bluntly, no educational organizations in NJ would have even thought of approaching me to talk about the innovative use of technology at my school.
We have seen many shifts in terms of instruction, communication, and learning at NMHS resulting in a transformative culture that is more in line to meet the needs of our students.  So what changed?  There wasn't really one big "ah ha" moment or school epiphany, but rather small changes on the surface that have resulted in some significant changes.  The first small change was my philosophical enlightenment as to the educational value to web 2.0 technology, including social media.  It was at this time that I saw the error in my ways and began to leverage the power of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) to effectively integrate an array of tools that I had never knew existed.  This small change evolved into my present philosophy on how schools can, and should, use social media.  This short list includes:
  • Effectively communicating with stakeholders
  • Establishing a consistent public relations platform
  • Developing a brand presence that promises value
  • Authentically engaging students in the learning process
  • Providing cost-effective professional development that is meaningful
  • Discovering opportunity for my school (i.e. our tablet pilot program discussed at Learn@Lunch)
The second small change was educating my staff on the value of web 2.0 technology in the classroom and beyond.  Instead of mandating that every teacher integrate technology, I instead chose to empower my staff to create a stimulating learning environment.  Little things such as support, encouragement, flexibility, and modeling have gone a long way to provide my staff with the confidence to take risks with technology and create meaningful learning activities that foster creativity, problem solving, and participation by all students.  This is now a collaborative effort and more and more teachers are beginning to embrace a vision that pairs sound pedagogical techniques with technology.   Refer to the archive mentioned above to see some of the amazing things my teachers are now doing.

The third small change was realizing that students had to be instrumental in any effort to transform the culture of our school.  We had to give up a certain amount of control in order to successfully implement a bring-your-own-device program where students are granted access to the school's wireless network during the day using their computing devices.  We also had to trust they would use their mobile learning devices (i.e. cell phones) responsibly as a tool for learning in certain classes using free programs such as Poll Everywhere.

The fourth and final small change was becoming a more transparent administrator and sharing the innovative practices taking place within the walls of my school.  With Twitter I have been able to give my stakeholders a glimpse into my role as an educational leader.  Facebookhas been an incredible tool to share realtime information, student achievements, and staff innovations.  Both of these tools combined have given my stakeholders and the greater educational community a bird's eye view into my school and the great things happening here. 

These small changes, combined with many others, are beginning to have a huge impact on the teaching, learning, and community culture of my school.  Even though I have highlighted examples specific to technology, there have also been changes focused on curriculum and programming.  Politicians and self-proclaimed reformers routinely throw around the word change and think that a one-size-fits-all approach is what's needed to increase student achievement and innovation.  Each school is an autonomous body with distinct dynamics that make it unique.  It's the small changes over time that will eventually leave a lasting impact.  Schools and educators need to be empowered to make these changes as they see fit.  In my eyes, this is the type of reform that is needed.

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