Monday, June 28, 2010

The Web 2.0 vs. Traditional Learner

This morning I came across this amusing, short video that highlighted one of many advantages that digital learners have over their traditional counterparts:

This video serves as a great catalyst, in my opinion, to begin listing all of many benefits students receive when immersed in learning environments that combine solid pedagogical techniques with web 2.0/digital resources.  Please consider sharing your thoughts on this topic in an effort to create a powerful list of advantages that can be shared in schools that have yet to embrace this philosophy.  We have the power to help initiate change where it is desperately needed!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What I Learned Because of School

Last month I unveiled the first ever guest post on my blog written by one of my students.  The success and impact of this tiny experiment motivated me to seek out other students whose stories and reflections could provide an inspiration to educators from all over the world.  It is my honor to introduce Diane Montecuollo, a senior at NMHS.  Diane not only accepted my invitation to write this post, but she wrote it during the most hectic time for any senior just days before graduation.

As my high school career winds down to only a few short days, I am forced to reflect upon my last 4 years at New Milford High School. Lately I have been asking myself questions such as what did high school really mean to me, what did it do for me, but most importantly, what did I learn? For me high school was a stepping stone, a four year experience filled with numerous opportunities and life lessons that have prepared me for college and beyond. And while most high schools are set up to give you the basic skills necessary for higher education or the workforce, I feel that New Milford High School presented me with so many unique opportunities and experiences that went above and beyond what other schools provide.
One of my most rewarding experiences was my involvement in the Peer Leadership Program. With this program I was able to comfort frightened incoming freshmen during orientation, raise money to assist victims of the genocide in Darfur, and attend inspirational seminars about leadership and ethical issues. Through this program, I was able to develop and utilize my leadership skills. As a future Business Management major at The College of New Jersey, I know that leadership is going to be a very important aspect of my life. I hope to eventually own my own company, and without leadership skills my dream would not be feasible. Leadership is an integral part of my personality and character, and I credit my leadership abilities to activities like Peer Leadership, Business Club, and Mock Trial, all of which were offered to me by NMHS.

A major life lesson that I took from New Milford High School is that you need to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. In the fall of 2009 I went on a field trip to Wall Street with my AP History class. The trip consisted of a tour of Wall Street, a visit to Alexander Hamilton’s grave at Trinity Church, a stop at The Federal Reserve, and then lunch at the historically significant Fraunces Tavern. Everything we did that day was thanks to Adam Leitman Bailey, a powerful Manhattan lawyer and New Milford High School Alumnus. However, Mr. Bailey’s generosity did not end with that field trip. When it was time to get on the bus and head back to New Milford, Mr. Bailey handed me a business card and said to keep in touch. During the trip, Adam had mentioned that he offered a high school internship every summer, and that he was planning on continuing to reward a student with the Raymond “Hap” Harrison Scholarship, so I knew that I would be wise to hold on to his card.

New Milford High School presented me with the opportunity to meet Adam Leitman Bailey, Mr. Bailey then presented me with the opportunity to add him as a contact, and I then took advantage of this opportunity by e-mailing him regarding the trip and summer internship. The next day I was called into Mr. Sheninger’s office, put on speaker phone with Mr. Bailey, and offered the internship. Not many people can say that they ever worked on Wall Street, let alone at only 17 years old. As if the internship was not enough, I was a co-winner of the Raymond “Hap” Harrison Scholarship this year. This experience showed me that you need to be able to recognize unbelievable opportunities and then act on them.

What other principals and educators should take from this is that you can’t just hand your students everything. You need to teach your students the importance of leadership and taking charge, and then let them figure out the rest on their own. If you give them the skills and opportunities to do great things, and then allow them to seize opportunities on their own, you are giving your students guidance while allowing them to take responsibility as well. Independence and responsibility are two necessary skills for college students, and by building these characteristics in your students, you are setting them up for future success.

Education must be about facilitating and guiding students in a way that empowers them to make decisions, provides support as needed, and encourages risk-taking.  A school culture that is established based on these principles as well as those mentioned by Diane assists in ensuring the success of all students.   I can't thank Diane enough for clearly articulating how NMHS made learning meaningful and provided her with opportunities to take charge of her education.  Her thoughts provide invaluable closure to a wonderful school year. Please share your thoughts as Diane will be reading the comments!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Priceless Moments

Early this morning I was greeted by a 12th grade student who wanted to give me a gift.  She asked that I not open it until she had left and I reluctantly obliged.  A few minutes later I unwrapped the gift to reveal a picture frame that was hand-decorated by the student.  In the frame was a photo taken of the both of us at the senior prom that occurred a little over a week ago.  This was an extremely thoughtful gesture on behalf of this particular student, but even more meaningful was the card attached and the words written in it:

Mr. Sheninger,

     Thank you for always being there to help make these past four years memorable.  You've done a great things for the school!  Thanks for being a great Principal!

The field of education can at times be a thankless profession.  Like most educators, I did not venture into this field for a paycheck or glory, but instead to make a positive and lasting impact on students.  By doing so I would be putting them in a position to be successful in their future endeavors.  The greatest gift I could possibly receive from any student is knowing that the hard work by so many is paying off.
At New Milford High School the vision has been established where learning should be student-centered, engaging, and relevant.  Students are also empowered to become active participants in the decision-making process and take lead roles in changing the culture of the school on academic and social issues.  The end result is one of many priceless moments like the one listed above that I will remember forever.  This is why the profession of education is the noblest of all as the most significant reward does not involve money or material items, but rather the assurance that WE have the incredible opportunity each and every day to make a positive difference in the life of a child.  Moments like this should be savored by all educators because they provide a constant reminder of how invaluable our profession is.  I am truly appreciative of my entire staff and all of the other educators from all over the world working tirelessly to accomplish this lofty task bestowed upon us.  THANK YOU!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tips For Establishing Meaningful Partnerships

This past Tuesday I attended our Annual Senior Academic Awards dinner.  It was a great event where New Milford High School students received over $65,000 in local scholarships.  For three hours student after student came up to the podium to receive various scholarships that they had worked so hard for over the course of four years.  One particular presentation provided the motivation for this post.  It was at a point in the evening where the Raymond "Hap" Harrison scholarship was presented.  In short, this scholarship is endowed by Adam Leitman Bailey, an NMHS alumnus (Class of 1988), who was the school's second Distinguished Alumni Award winner in 2008.  The recipient of this annual scholarship receives $10,000 the first year of college, which is then renewable for the remaining years with a G.P.A. of 3.5 or higher. 
Obviously, this is a prestigious scholarship, but there is much more behind this.  Ever since Adam won the distinguished alumni award he and I have formed a partnership to benefit the students of NMHS in many ways besides financially.  We quickly realized that we share a determination and commitment to enhancing and improving educational experiences for NMHS students.  Through extensive communications and face to face meetings we have developed an ever-evolving vision that has led to some significant opportunities that include:

1. Field trips: History students have participated in walking tours of lower Manhattan the last two years where Adam has shared his extensive knowledge on the history of the financial district.  The trip always culminates with a working lunch for all of the students (his treat).
2. Summer internships at his prestigious firm.
3. Mock trials on the campus of NMHS.
4. Participation in our Career Day Program.
5. Facilitation of all Ray "Hap" Harrision scholarship winners into high profile internships at institutions such as Columbia University Medical Center.

This is just one example of a successful partnership that has greatly benefited my students.  Some other successful partnerships that have been established at NMHS include the following (it should be noted that there is no cost to the school, staff, or students):

Madison Institute: Professional Development
CBS News: Public relations/Press (5 news stories this year)
Stevens Institute of Technology: NSF GK-12 Program (S.T.E.M.)
* AverAcademy Showcase School (AverMedia): Technology (document cameras, digital pens) and
   professional development
Wine & Roses: Worked with our Business Practice Firm class and assisted them with their virtual
   floral business (Wizard of Vase Florists)
* My PLN!!!!!

There are no set guidelines for educators on how to establish successful, sustaining partnerships.  In my opinion schools must place more of an emphasis on this endeavor.  Administrators in particular must be willing to excerpt a great deal of time to seek out and foster these relationships that are mutually beneficial to all parties.  I have found that the successful establishment of the various partnerships is also dependent on the following:

- Flexibility and an open mind
- Effective communication
- Establishment and consensus on a shared vision
- Commitment and follow-through on both ends
- Sharing of student benefits with all stakeholders
- Patience
- Empower and support teachers in establishing their own partnerships
- Reach out to alumni and local businesses
- Leverage social media to connect with potential partners

The formation of partnerships is yet another way to provide meaningful learning experiences to students where the benefits can extend well beyond the instructional day.  I would love to hear about specific partnerships that you have established and the impact they have had or are having on your students.  Any additions to my list of tips would be greatly appreciated as well.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Exemplary Practices in 21st Century Learning

This past Saturday I happened to stumble upon a conversation on Twitter between Tom Whitby, George Couros, and Nancy Blair where they were discussing 21st Century Learning.  What fascinated me about this discussion was the fact that they came up with this idea to create a wiki where educators from all over the world could share examples of student innovation.  What better way to help educators initiate change than to provide working models of 21st Century learning environments and activities.  Currently the categories on this wiki include blogs, student leadership, technology integration, portfolios, learning through teaching, social networking, and authentic learning.
I encourage all teachers and administrators to add to this wiki that George Couros created.  The larger the library of exemplary practices, the more powerful this resource will be for everyone!  I have proudly added examples from New Milford High School. Now it's your turn! For more resources check out the following:

Partnership for 21st Century Skills
The 21st Century Learning Initiative
21st Century Schools

Friday, June 4, 2010

Promotion of Learning Beyond School

The other night I was invited to attend the New Milford Girl Scouts Awards Ceremony as a "dignitary".  As I sat there and listened to the accomplishments of each Troop I was amazed by the service and authentic learning experiences these girls were being exposed to.  Their intrinsic motivation to give back to the community and others was inspiring.  I quickly realized that the only true dignitaries in the room were the girls being recognized for their incredible accomplishments.  The following is an excerpt from the program detailing the Silver Award winning project of Troop 58 (the majority of the girls in this Troop are NMHS students):

Textbooks can tell you facts, but it takes people to make history come alive. After meeting with members of the New Milford Historical Society, the girls of Troop 58 began to realize how important it is to hear about our past from the people who actually experienced it. New Milford is an awesome place to live, and the girls decided that they wanted a permanent record of what life was like in our town. Thus our New Milford Oral History Project began. During the process, the girls researched the town history and learned about the American Memories Oral History Project run by the Smithsonian. They generated interview questions, met with members of the New Milford Senior Citizen Center, transcribed the interviews and also created four videos that captured the memories of New Milford residents. These were then donated to the New Milford Historical Society for inclusion in their archives. Not only did the girls learn fascinating tidbits about the “Brown Bomber, a bus service in Hackensack, The Ames Brothers, boat traffic on the Hackensack River and rhubarb farms, but they also had the satisfaction of being part of preserving New Milford’s history for future generations!
All I can say is WOW!  As an administrator I place an emphasis on my teachers utilizing authentic instructional techniques and train them on the associated pedagogical aspects.  This project, combined with a service component, resulted in a powerful learning experience.  When it was my turn to speak, I spoke about the significance of this type of learning experience outside of school and emphasized how authentic it was.  In particular, I discussed the attributes of effective authentic learning experiences evident in the project.  These included:

1. Relevant and meaningful to the learner
2. Real-world connection
3. Collaborative
4. Identified audience
5. Open-ended
6. Defined roles

Not to be forgotten in all of this was the effective integration of technology on behalf of the students under the guidance of the troop leaders.  They used iPods with recording devices for the interviews and iMovie on Mac Books to create the videos.  Does it get any better than this?  A love for learning and commitment to community service are two values that will lead students down a path of success.  Examples like this motivate me to become a better administrator and make me so proud to be the Principal of New Milford High School.  As I always say, my students ROCK!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Recognizing the Valedictorian in All

Yesterday I attended the Bergen County Valedictorian breakfast where New Milford High School's top student was honored.  It was a great event and I am so proud of the accomplishments that are clearly apparent amongst all of the top students in my area.  The valedictorians and salutatorians for that matter are recognized for their achievement of academic greatness at events like this and commencement ceremonies across the country.  Quite frankly I am in awe of their commitment to learning.

While I was at the breakfast I began to think about all of the other students at my school and their respective achievements.  Shouldn't they all be recognized and treated like valedictorians?  I am not taking anything away from the incredible accomplishments of students that finish overall in their class, but the overwhelming desire to inspire all students to mature into life-long learners calls out to me. 

There is consistent talk around education circles about the relevance of grades as a reinforcer or indicator of academic excellence.  I'll be the first one to admit that this is the only criteria used to determine our top 10 students each year, all of whom are recognized at our yearly senior awards dinner.  Recognizing the valedictorian in all students requires a shift from traditional awards ceremonies and acknowledgment acts.  So what does this vision entail?  Here are my thoughts on other ways to acknowledge great achievements of students to make all of them feel worthy and appreciated for their dedication to learning:

1. Developing a philosophy that supports a school culture where every student is made to feel special. 
2. Utilizing more positive reinforcement.  This is probably the easiest strategy to employ.  It is not that hard or much to ask of educators to tell students consistently that they are doing a great job. 
3. Developing alternative recognition programs that acknowledge all students as they exhibit growth, determination, engagement, effort, and a focus towards learning.  After all, aren't these significant attributes that lead to a love for learning?  Learning and achievement are always tied together.  There must be a stronger emphasis on behalf of schools to acknowledge those students that are learning, but not necessarily achieving at the highest levels (as determined by grading systems). 
4. Involvement, not just success, in non-curricular initiatives such as community service, athletics, the arts, and other extra-curricular activities. 
5. Inviting the Administration, Central Office, BOE members, parents, as well as other teachers and students to be a part of these new recognition programs.  By doing so the students will feel that their work and commitment in and out of school has value.
6. New systems, in conjunction with current grading schemes, that provide all students with meaningful feedback and instill a sense of accomplishment and self-worth.

I understand that the list above is no magic bullet by any means.  However, I feel that the field of education must design innovative ways to acknowledge all students in ways that make them feel as important as valedictorians.  The process begins with a commitment to help all students see that their respective successes are just as important as their peers.  This is not an easy task bestowed upon us, and I look forward to hearing about your ideas.