Monday, March 28, 2011

Reflecting on ASCD

As I sit here in the San Francisco airport after my flight was cancelled (I got on a later flight though) I cannot help but reflect on my first ASCD Annual Conference.  What an incredible experience!  The excitement began back in the late summer when I was notified that my proposal to present was accepted. The title of my session was Exploring Best Practices in Social Networking.  I absolutely love to share what we are doing at New Milford High School through the lens that social media provides.  Things got even better when I learned that I would be participating in the 2011 ASCD Conference Scholars Program.  As part of this program I was able to share my insight on change in education, which was published on the ASCD Inservice blog as well as ASCD Express.  The program also allowed our cohort to connect virtually on two occasions and discuss leadership through a series of blog posts.
The lead-up to the conference created a great deal of anxiety as I couldn't wait to connect and learn from some of the best educators in the world.  Once the conference began I hit the floor running.  I attended multiple sessions on the classroom walk-through process as I am not only part of a PLC investigating this back at my school, but have also been conducting walks throughout the school year.  The sessions reinforced what my administrative team and I have been doing thus far and provided me with many strategies to further engage my staff in reflective discussions focusing on the data collected.  Other sessions I attended investigated the need for integrating technology to better prepare our students to compete globally and ways to improve schools.

Probably one of the most important aspects of the 2011 ASCD Conference were the engaging conversations that I had with colleagues from all over the world.  Whether it was sharing innovations taking place at NMHS such as The Academies@ New Milford HS, having a quick conversation with Robert Marzano, or learning about successful strategies being used to radically transform other schools, I came away with more knowledge to improve my school.  The conversations that I had with my fellow ASCD Conference Scholars were inspiring and thought-provoking.  I leave the 2011 ASCD Conference  with an expanded network of passionate educators to learn from, new ideas on how to improve my school, and reinforcement that NMHS is moving in the right direction.

How was your ASCD Conference experience?  What were your takeaways?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Shining Moments

Recently one of my math teachers experienced a personal tragedy, which resulted in her missing over a week and a half of school.  A day or two later after this tragedy, first year math teacher Jeff Fiscina approached me about being relieved from his lunch duty.  He explained to me that he wished to use this time to develop video lessons for the Geometry and Algebra 2 classes of the teacher that, at the time, was out indefinitely.  In his verbal proposal he stated that he would seek out fellow math teacher April Millian as she is our resident expert on using the AverMedia document camera to record the solving of mathematical problems (April uploads these to her Google Site for her class to use outside of school).  I was so blown away by Jeff's initiative that I immediately approved his request.  
For the next week Jeff spent time during his duty period and after school developing these video lessons that were 7-8 minutes in length.  Each lesson completely covered the topic that would normally have been presented that day.  He then personally made sure that the videos he created were viewed in class. Check out this one example:
(You can view 6 of the videos HERE).  

As a Principal I was so proud of Jeff and his commitment to his fellow colleague as well as NMHS students that he did not even have in class.  Then I received this email from one of the students that was a recipient of the videos:

Dear Mr. Sheninger,

Please forward this email to Mr. Fiscina to let him know that I appreciate his math videos, and I appreciate how helpful he has been.  He has been very nice, and giving to all of Mrs. H's classes. 

Thank You! :)

Teachers like Jeff and moments like these truly define our profession.  Education is so much more than just standardized tests, lesson plans, and teacher evaluation methods.  It is about the embedded lessons that we might not realize at the time are being taught, inspiring others, and making the time to help all students succeed.  Thank you for this shining moment Jeff! You are an inspiration to New Milford High School and beyond!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Teaching in the 21st Century

I came across a great video this morning that really does a nice job illustrating how teaching should be evolving to meet the needs of 21st Century Learners.  Watching the video reinforced for me the direction that we are taking New Milford High School.

The question now becomes are the pedagogical shifts described above taking hold in classrooms?  If not, which I assume is the overwhelming answer, what has to be done?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Our Quest for More R&R

Many of you probably viewed the title of this post and immediately thought of rest and relaxation.  I will be the first one to admit that we all need more of this, but the focus of my post is increasing rigor and relevancy in schools.  While attending the 2011 NASSP Conference in San Francisco, CA I listened to a keynote by Dr. Bill Daggett.  His message centered on the need for increasing rigor and relevancy in schools.  In an article for SEEN Magazine Dr. Daggett provides some nice working definitions for these two terms:

Rigor - Academic rigor refers to learning in which students demonstrate a thorough in-depth mastery of challenging tasks to develop cognitive skills through reflective thought, analysis, problem solving, evaluation or creativity. It’s the quality of thinking, not the quantity, that defines academic rigor, and rigorous learning can occur at any school grade and in any subject.
 Relevance- Relevance refers to learning in which students apply core knowledge, concepts, or skills, to solve real-world problems. Relevant learning is interdisciplinary and contextual. It is created, for example, through authentic problems or tasks, simulations, service learning, connecting concepts to current issues and teaching others.

Another fantastic resource in addition to the definitions above is the Rigor/Relevance Framework by the International Center for Leadership in Education.  This tool helps educators and schools adjust curriculum, instruction, and assessment to create high standards and increase student achievement.  The research has found that successful high schools provide learning opportunities that are relevant, contain rigorous coursework, and establish meaningful relationships with teachers (See Improving High Schools Through Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships). 

I believe that we are moving the the right direction at NMHS in terms of increasing rigor and relevancy in the quest to improve student achievement.  With the assistance and support of Central Office, we have worked together to make the following changes: 
  • Replaced the antiquated Departmental structure including “Chairs” with an Interdepartmental system that includes “Interdepartmental Liaisons”.  Teachers now meet as part of three overreaching groups that include Humanities, S.T.E.M., and Special Programs (special education, arts, and technology).
  • Overhauled our District mission statement to reflect a new shared vision and philosophy that not only reflects, but puts into practice, many of the core concepts outlined in Dr. Daggett’s definitions above.
  • Created The Academies@New Milford High School.
  • Expanded our Virtual High School Offerings.
  • Added 3 new A.P. courses (European History, Language and Composition, Physics B) and making all such courses available to any student wishing to take them.
  • Total overhaul of our Program of Studies, which included the re-branding, refinement, and creation of innovative courses more relevant to the interests of a student in the 21st Century.
  • Implemented Professional Learning Communities (PLC's) as our means of professional development entirely focused on improving student achievement.
  • Systematic use of research-based Classroom Walkthroughs by the HS Administrative Team.  This week we presented data the the staff on student engagement that we have been acquiring over the past three months.  This was accompanied by a discussion of numerous strategies that our teachers could utilize to increase engagement in an authentic fashion.
I feel that a solid foundation has been set at NMHS to increase rigor, relevancy, and student achievement.  How do you think we are doing based on the changes and initiatives listed above?  Do you have any ideas and/or strategies that have worked in your institutions to increase rigor and relevancy? 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Good Stuff

One of the best parts of the month for me is compiling the monthly Principal's Report.  When I became the Principal at New Milford High School in 2007 I felt that it was extremely important to communicate with various stakeholders (parents, BOE members, Central Office, staff, etc.) all of the great things going on at the school.  Not only has this been a great source of information for the community, but it also helps keep me in the loop as it is impossible to be everywhere at once.  Social media now makes it even easier to get all of this exciting information out to my stakeholders via our Twitter account and Facebook page.  The following are some highlights from February:
  • My Media Specialist (Linda Keesing) and History Teacher (Joe Manzo) collaborated recently to integrate Web 2.0 technology into a U.S. History 1 class’s study of the Bill of Rights. They developed a project in which students created VoiceThreads to demonstrate their knowledge. VoiceThreads are comments constructed around an image. Students, working in pairs, selected a recent event in the United States that had some direct application to the Bill of Rights. The teachers’ goal was for students to show the relevance of the Bill of Rights to their chosen event by citing a Supreme Court case and giving their own opinions about the matter. Students conducted research, wrote scripts, practiced reading their scripts, and then recorded them. For this project, students used MacBooks to record their audio comments. Students also were able to record additional comments on their classmates’ VoiceThreads. This web tool is highly interactive. Additionally, not only does it engage students, but also it gives students the opportunity to practice their writing and speaking skills. To learn more about VoiceThread visit
  • Using the "New and Improved" Mac Lab in room 106, my graphics teacher (Walt Pevny) has been collaborating with the Social Studies Department by helping them create Facebook pages for historical figures. Mr. Pevny's students became the teachers, guiding Mr. Wilson, Ms. Perna and Ms. Milan's students as they collected their information and stored it in a Google Document. "This was a great experience for both parties," said Mr. Pevny. Not only did the social studies students benefit from a different style of learning, Mr. Pevny's students learned what it was like to be the teacher. "Students retain more than 90% of what they learn when they teach it to others," states Mr. Pevny. This was a great activity. Imagine 40 to 50 students working in a computer lab built for 30 and constant learning taking place over multiple disciplines. Next do this over the network from computer lab to computer lab. Ms. Perna developed the Facebook template that was used while Mr. Pevny imported it into Adobe InDesign for class use.
How do you learn about and/or communicate the "good stuff" in your districts?