Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Winds of Change: Student Style!

This morning I had a breakfast for all members of student government.  Over the course of the year I like to have at least three meetings like this to hear their ideas on the culture of New Milford High School and ways to improve it.  My main objective is to empower them to be catalysts of change and leave a lasting impact on the school.  In the past, the meetings consisted of the students eating and socializing, followed by a discussion of events that they would like to see happen, most of which were spirit-oriented.  Although the meetings have been productive in establishing activities such as a spirit week and annual Powder Puff football game, I yearned for something more meaningful.  I wanted the students to think outside of the box and develop their own ideas on how NMHS could better prepare them as 21st Century learners. 
I decided to take a different approach this time around. After addressing questions such as why were there no straws for the orange juice or butter for the bagels, I began to discuss all of the innovative programs and activities that had either been successfully implemented or in the process.  I spoke about our participation in the Dash Plus contest, re-writing the computer applications curriculum so that it was more web 2.0 based with every student using Google Docs, collaborating with students in Van Meter (Iowa) scheduled for 3/11/10, becoming a member of the Virtual High SchoolProject Prom Dress, and establishing a partnership with a school in Israel.  Additionally, I shared my personal experience at the Google Teacher Academy for Administrators and the fact that I started blogging.  I then challenged the students to open up and share any idea that came to mind, no matter how far-fetched it seemed.
The end result was nothing less than spectacular.  I left with such a feeling of pride and admiration for the students that I am blessed to work with each day.  There was a wide range of ideas such as:
- A spring spirit week to engage the students at the end of the year with a school-wide field day as the culminating event.
- Organization of a volleyball tournament to raise money for the senior class.
- Daily announcements sent out via Twitter.  Students explained that they would need to be able to use their phones in school before homeroom.  I explained that a Google Doc could be created with a link sent out each morning using the official school Twitter account (@NewMilfordHS). I then used this opportunity to challenge the students to think about ways in which cell phones could be effectively utilized in the classroom and report back at our next meeting.
- Acquisition and implementation of iPod touches for teaching and learning
- Student access to the school's wireless network.  Student's asked if they could bring in their own laptops and get access.  They clearly articulated valid reasons of how this would improve their educational experience.
 - Creation of a New Milford High School FaceBook page in order to advertise school events and accomplishments.  The students explained that each club/sport/activity could have their own separate group page for announcements.  The facilitator of the page (probably me) would receive updates from the students to be included.  Many students discussed this as the best option to notify alumni of events and all of the great things occurring at NMHS.
Change to improve the culture of a school must be a collaborative effort in which student input is crucial. There is nothing more inspirational as a Principal to see first hand students actively engaged in the process and knowing that they can in fact make a difference.   As educators we must always remember that it is our responsibility to provide the best educational experience possible for our students.  These experiences can be educational, social, or a combination of both.  I take comfort each and every day knowing that I have the chance to have a lasting, positive impact on my students by listening and acting upon their ideas.  Multiple opportunities presented themselves this morning and I plan to try to take advantage of as many as I can. The "winds of change" are blowing through the halls of NMHS and I couldn't be more excited!


  1. Your approach is a model that should be replicated in all schools on all levels. The ultimate goal is create a learning environment that will have students and teachers excited about education. Students have to be listened to and be a part of the process. You are a true educational leader!

  2. Eric,
    I absolutely agree about empowering your students and building leadership and character. Planning makes this happen! I visited a school today in Cornwall and the principal and staff are of the same mind. The students have a clear role in the selection of new faculty. I was impressed with the thorough process and the acting on the belief that teachers make a difference in the learning that occurs each and every day. They already have undertaken international travel so a new partnership could be smooth. Google Camborne Science and Community College (It is ages 11-18) for a look.

  3. Check out the book Students are Stakeholders, too --- great resource for empowering students. Check out my summary at

  4. Are you hiring? You did a great job allowing the students to be active members of the educational community. If we had more admins like you, students and teachers would be better off. Keep up the great work on the blog.

  5. prof: I will definitely check out those schools! Thanks!
    Nick: We need more admins to blog about innovative leadership so that we all can continue to grow and improve the cultures of our schools (a future post)

  6. This is excellent and exactly what I am trying to make happen in Palisades. I may have to tap you for some more ideas!
    Also, I teach at VHS, tell your kids to take the Web Design class!
    Congrats for the very powerful work you are doing.

  7. This blog post really inspired me. I wish this was happening in every school I serve. I am currently trying to get more schools on board with student-led IEPs. Just imagine how far this concept would go in a school like yours! Thanks for your hard work for kids and change!

  8. You are doing such a great job and you have so many great ideas. I feel like we really are in changing times in education. What we try now and perfect in our schools will serve as models for others now and in the future. I agree with you about others blogging. Sharing those initiatives is so important to our own continued practice, as well as others. I know I need to get better at that, myself, but this change in education, and the culture of our schools, has to be a shared effort by all of us learning from each other. Thank you for always sharing your great ideas and practices.
    Kim ~ techmunoz

  9. Wow! Now this sounds like a place of learning. What a great model you are setting by listening to and implementing the ideas of students. To being an educational leader setting up a world class system in collaboration with students!

    Kevin Simpson
    Twitter: @KDSL07