Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Student's Perspective on Leadership

It is with great pride and excitement that I present a guest post on A Principal's Reflections by a New Milford High School student.  I approached senior Filip Piasevoli last week and asked if he would consider taking the theme of my blog and writing his own thoughts on leadership, technology, and student-centered learning.  Filip was recently featured in the April 2010 edition of Honor Student Magazine.  He is a member of the National Honor Society, French Honor Society, a three sport athlete, and President of the Senior class.  I am fortunate that he graciously accepted and wrote this powerful piece below. 

New Milford High School has presented me with more than enough opportunities to develop my leadership skills. From the humbling and eye-opening experience of the Holocaust Study Tour to the American Legion Boy State retreat to even something as simple as our school’s Peer Leadership program, NMHS goes above and beyond in developing the character, integrity, and leadership capabilities of students across the board. What stands out to me in particular is the way in which kids throughout the student body can take a stand on issues that they are passionate about, looking to bring about change. Two years ago, peer leaders set up a table at the Hackensack Street Festival and held a pasta night with a volunteer doctor from the Sudan as the guest speaker. Each activity was designed to spread awareness of the genocide in Darfur. Our efforts and fundraising was a way of domesticating a foreign problem and aiding the fight against it. A problem closer to home for us is the increasing number of kids smoking cigarettes. Our REBEL chapter, led by a student assistant counselor, functions through the actions of the student body and looks to greatly reduce the number of high school kids that smoke. My time here has truly defined my idea of leadership as the power to unite people with similar emotions and incite meaningful change.
However, leadership within the High School extends beyond those striving for a diploma. Looking back on my four years here, I realize that my stay at New Milford High School has been a milestone in the district. I’ve witnessed a small, suburban school literally upgrade into the epicenter of technology integration within a school setting. In my eyes, this would not have been possible without the pioneering mindset of our principal and an administration that was open to the changes after seeing meaningful integration. The actions within our school district have embodied the motto of one of our society’s most ideal role models, Peter Parker (Spiderman), “With great power comes great responsibility.” Our Principal, who was once responsible for blocking YouTube within the district, grew to embrace the World of 2.0 that often has a stigma within schools. However, the true leadership exudes when looking at the manner in which this revolution was introduced within the school. Mr. Sheninger often says to us students, “Here are the tools, tell me how you want to integrate them so that you benefit most from them in our school.” A leader can have his ideas, but change cannot be adopted through the actions of only one person. My message to other principals is that you can’t be afraid of change, nor can you force a change like ours onto the student body. Leave it to your students to find the uses that they see as most beneficial because that leads to passionate use and a more holistic learning experience.

The Peter Parker motto of power and responsibility falls on the teachers more so than anyone else in the school system. Each teacher has almost seven hours a week to mold our future interests and to teach us to think transcendently. Their tone and attitude towards their respective subjects can change the way each student in the class sees the topic. For example, math should be taught as a practical skill and not as forced memorization, and viewpoints in history should be presented from both sides of an argument, leaving the ultimate verdict on history’s most ambivalent topics to the growing mind of the student. True teaching extends beyond indoctrination and into the facilitation of educational discussion. This is where the true skill of teachers and their own leadership abilities are left to give us the most meaningful high school education possible.

Filip's piece contains many important lessons as well as practical advice for schools that want to empower and engage students.  Please share this with your colleagues.  Filip will be reading your comments so please let him know what you think of this piece and some of the points that he has made.   


  1. Filip-
    First, good luck as you soon leave NMHS, and head into your next endeavor(s). From your thoughts, it is evident you've received a top-flight education, and will proudly represent NMHS. As a history teacher and principal intern, I appreciate your insight, especially when noting that as leaders, we only have so much time to prepare our students for the future. I can assure you that your post will be one I save, share, and revisit as it is empowering. I truly enjoyed it. Again, best wishes as you head down your chosen path.

    Matthew Brown
    Lafayette, IN

  2. Filip,

    Outstanding ideas and points on leadership!

    I'm an educator in New Jersey and a big believer in "nudging". In other words, people don't need to be pushed into doing things, they need to be nudged slowly and consistently.

    How do we "nudge" teachers into cultivating the type of leadership skills you have in every one of their students? How do we "nudge" administrators into changing their idea of what learning should look like with the advent of Web 2.0 tools like YouTube and Facebook while also realizing that skills are transferrable; not medium-specific? How do we "nudge" our society into realizing that making these tools costs money up front but also leads to a prospering economy and innovative workforce down the road?

    These are the questions that I grapple with every, single day. I want more of "you" as the leaders of the classrooms of the state and country. "You" need not be teachers, but rather, students that are in control of their own destiny and forcing teachers and administrators to cling on to the ride for dear life.

    Let's work together and "nudge" some people.


  3. Filip,
    I enjoyed your post as well and am particularly interested in hearing more about your observation of shifts that occurred in the teaching/learning process during your years at NMHS. You describe a learning environment where teachers facilitate student learning, opinions are welcome and shared, and real world applications of content and skills are valued. Was that type of learning environment in place four years ago, and if not, can you articulate significant ways it changed over time from your perspective? I know every school's journey is different, but as many embark on moving from schools of the past to schools of the future, sharing a student's view of some of the critical decisions or steps along the way might help others.

    Best wishes as you carry what you have learned to the next phase of your life. I have a son who just finished his freshman year of college and one who is about to finish his first year of high school, and I will share your post with them this evening.

    Ann Etchison
    Charlottesville, VA

  4. Filip,

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. It looks like your high school career has been a productive one in many ways.

    Know that through your writing you are reaching out to and influencing the thoughts of people throughout the world. Some will agree with you, some won't. But you are part of the greater dialog.

    Nice to meet you,

    Shelly Blake-Plock

  5. "My message to other principals is that you can’t be afraid of change, nor can you force a change like ours onto the student body. Leave it to your students to find the uses that they see as most beneficial because that leads to passionate use and a more holistic learning experience."

    I love this! Your thoughtful reflections on your high school experience, school leadership, and technology integration have left me in aww. Thank you for your taking the time to share your experiences and insights with the blogosphere.

    Andi Kenuam

  6. Well done Filip. I hope you carry this mantle of leadership into whatever path you end up in. Don't be afraid to change the world!

  7. Filip,

    That quote from Spiderman is one I share often with other educators and students... and for me, nothing rings more truly when I think of my role as a teacher.

    Thank you for a very eloquent post and for sharing your reflections with us. Far too often, adults think they are the only ones who know what is best for students. It's great to hear a student perspective that reminds us all what education is really about! Best of luck to you in your future endeavors.

  8. Filip,

    I love the Spiderman quote! I think it is incredible to read your story. I kind of thought the school was always tekkie, but I can see what an incredible job your Principle and the staff have done to build your school into something amazing. I can only hope that more schools follow this lead to help support teaching that produces passionate learners like you!

  9. Very good writing Filip!

    You've acquired many important lessons from your school's teachers and surroundings. It's very evident that you understand your role as a leader and the importance of people at all levels to be a leader as well. It also appears that you understand the importance of learning versus indoctrination. Without the ability to have differences of opinion, intelligent debate can not occur.

    Best Regards, Keep Growing, Keep Learning and Keep Sharing!

    Gil Pizano

  10. Fil,

    Very well written. You have been a great student and athlete for four years, and you have had just as much impact on the school, as this school has had on you.

    -Coach D

  11. Filip,

    I appreciate you sharing your perspective on leadership and learning. You have obviously been empowered and your passion for leading will serve you well in your future. My question for you as you reflect on your schooling is, how do you think schools need to change to meet the needs of all students today? or do they need to change at all?

    Best of Luck in your future! Mr. Sheninger has inspired me to have students guest post on my blog as well. I look forward to your response.

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  13. Filip, you've made some excellent points on technology leadership in this article. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Fil,

    This is awesome. The following statement really touch me:

    "Each teacher has almost seven hours a week to mold our future interests and to teach us to think transcendently. Their tone and attitude towards their respective subjects can change the way each student in the class sees the topic."

    I think this is a very empowering statement for any teacher who wish to help a student recognize and reach their own leadership capabilities, and the power in knowing that the choices the student make will have a profound impact on defining and shaping their very own future.

    I am really proud of you and it was great having you as a student in my science class.

    Good luck and know I will always believe in you!

    Ms Smith

  15. Fil

    Your words are inspiring. I need a guest speaker in my freshman class next week, are you available? Best of luck in your future endeavors. BC is very lucky (and I don't mean Bergen Catholic). Enjoy the remainder of your senior year and I father did own a pair of shorts like those!

  16. Your insight into effective leadership is wonderful! As I read your posting, I was challenged to think MORE about the impact of my decisions. You are so correct, it is the "fear of change" that holds us all back. We want to have the control, but we are not in charge.

    I'm reading John Maxwell's book "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect" and am able to say that you have CONNECTED.

    Thanks for your insight, and your challenge to us all!


  17. thank you Filip.

    your words that resonated with me most:
    the manner in which this revolution was introduced ....Leave it to your students to find the uses that they see as most beneficial because that leads to passionate use and a more holistic learning experience.

    bravo to you and your fellow students, to your staff and your admin.

    you've found it.. passion and personalization are key to authentic learning.

  18. Here's an interesting question for Filip and for the rest of us: How can we encourage more people to take the steps that leadership depends on?

    I mean, it all sounds so easy, doesn't it: By demonstrating a willingness to take a few personal and professional risks, we can make real changes in our little corners of the universe.

    But if it was easy, more people would be doing it, right?

    So what key behaviors and traits are necessary for leaders---and how can we develop those traits in more people?

    Or better yet, is leadership something that can be learned, or is it an innate trait that some of us have and others don't?

    You've got me thinking, Filip...and thinking is never a bad thing!

    Rock on,
    Bill Ferriter

  19. Filip,

    I'm very impressed with your comments. Many of us have been inspired by Mr. Sheninger's ideas and innovative thinking. To see your views of these same things shows that they are being put to good use at NMHS!! Your writing is eloquent, you and your parents should be very proud of this blog.
    Good luck in all your endeavors at BC and beyond. I know we'll be hearing about great things you will be doing!!
    With True Sincerity,
    Susan Kaprielian

  20. Filip,

    You have given me yet another piece of evidence that our country will be left in great hands. Your generation is one of great aspirations and so many of you and your classmates across the country have your eye on the ball. I am also heartened by the fact that you thank the people responsible. You and your classmates are lucky to have great leaders and teachers at NMHS!

    Best of luck to you in your future endeavors!

    Dave Meister

  21. Filip,

    This is a terrific piece, both as a reflection of you & your gifts, and as a window into how a school community can be on the side of fostering such gifts.

    Yesterday a student said to me, "We are not just the leaders of tomorrow. We are the leaders of NOW." Way to make it true!

  22. Filip,

    This was a wonderfully written piece. As a teacher and class adviser, I love your thoughts on leadership. The Peter Parker Motto is one to live by whether it's from a Comic Book or not. Well done on everything you have accomplished and you will go on to do many great things with this view of education and learning.

  23. Filip,

    You rock. Will be interested to follow your progress.

  24. Filip,

    What insight you have for a young adult about to embark upon the world. I am a MS principal and I so appreciate your statement about teachers--that they have the most power with which they need to be responsible. I also appreciate your point about the need to get feeback from students - how they see themselves using the technology to enhance their learing. Good luck with all that you do - and thank you for the insights you have given to veteran educators.

  25. Filip-

    I appreciate how well you articulate the importance of leadership in education. I am impressed by your vision of a greater purpose to education beyond learning facts and regurgitating those ideas for teachers. I am certain that your teachers, school district, and administrators are proud of you and others like you.

    Carry on the torch that has been ignited in your heart through the learning revolution at NMHS. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

  26. Filip,

    Congratulations on a very well written piece and an even better education! You will definitely mold our society through your leadership skills!

    I am so excited I found this piece! I work directly with a variety of principals and technologists and can't wait to share your thoughts. As soon as I am done posting this comment, I am also forwarding your post on to the three colleges I have attended to share with future educators and educational leaders.

    Thank you for taking the time to honor a great principal and advocate for educational change! Good luck after graduation!

    Krista Scott

  27. I often smile when I hear your national anthem being sung. The line,"land of the free, the home of the brave," seems ironic when placed against the background of America's actions in the world. I have travelled in America, many times, and love the people I have met. It amazes me that such wonderful people manage to elect the very worst of them to office to lead. You have allowed business to become all powerful and as a result as becoming isolated, internationally. Filip is, wonderful, proof that change is possible. Thank you for this, I loved it.

  28. Bonjour Filip (Philippe ^_^<) ,

    You are right to stand up for your peers. Teachers should communicate with their students, encourage active learning and self regulation as they are key factors of achieving motivation.

    Bravo pour ce post !
    Bon courage dans tes projets !


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  31. i like it. Your thoughtful reflections on your high school experience, school leadership, and technology integration have left me in aww. Thank you for your taking the time to share your experiences.