Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Best Keynote Ever

I have been extremely blessed to be invited to speak and work with administrators all over the country.  There is nothing more exhilarating than sharing the work of my students and teachers as it has radically changed how I lead.  Especially during keynote presentations, I talk about the need for school leaders to take calculated risks to initiate meaningful change. However, I rarely demonstrate this in action.

Well, that all changed recently at the Leadership 3.0 Conference in Irvine, CA.  As I was going through my slide deck one final time, a crazy thought crept into my head.  As I looked at my slide on how the learner has changed, I felt that someone else could make a stronger point than I.  During this part of my presentation I typically relay stories of how learners are extremely creative with technology outside of school.  They construct their own knowledge, solve problems, and employ critical thinking skills through many of the games they play.  Thus, the perfect person to make my point was my own son, Nicholas. He is currently a second grade student at PS 3 in Staten Island, NY.

Image credit: Elizabeth Calhoon

I immediately texted my mother-in-law as I knew there was not much time to act.  Nicholas was about to get picked up at the bus stop and I needed to know at that very minute if he would agree to Facetime with hundreds of strangers and answer a few simple questions.  Once I received the go ahead from him, I tested out Facetime using his sister’s iPad mini as his iTouch was not working.  During this test I told him that I was going to ask him a few questions about Minecraft and that it would be a piece of cake.

Now I am never nervous when I speak, but this time I was a wreck.  In my mind Nick’s performance was going to be the highlight of my keynote.  About ten minutes into my presentation it was time to call him.  The first attempt failed and I had to actually call my wife on my cell phone to work out the small issue.  The second attempt worked and I could not be prouder of my son.  He told the audience that his favorite game was Minecraft and went on to explain all of the amazing things he has created on his own.  He spoke about creating his own McDonald’s that serves food, a racetrack for his pigs, new buildings, and a pool with a slide.  

His little words and cheerful demeanor conveyed a powerful message.  Learning should be fun, creative, collaborative, and self-directed.  Creativity is an essential skill that drives learning, especially that of our younger students. Schools must recognize this fact and work with students at all levels to implement outside experiences that authentically engage students in learning and construction of new knowledge.  Everyone in the audience saw firsthand the profound impact games such as Minecraft are having on my son's learning.  Thank you Nicholas Sheninger for being the best keynote speaker ever!

P.S. I plan on videoconferencing my son into future talks as long as his schedule permits it.


  1. What a great idea! My 11-year old daughter was recently asked to present to STEM teachers about her science fair projects, robots, and computer programming. She couldn't make it, so she created a video (actually, a standalone PowerPoint) that went over incredibly well with the audience to show them what elementary students are capable of. The presentation is in a public dropbox location if anyone would like to see it:
    Or read about some of her projects on her blog, or Twitter @kid_pi


  2. Thanks for sharing this Mike. I will definitely check out our daughter's work.

  3. I was just telling someone today that some of the most interesting people in the edu world have been involving their kids/collaborating with them... for instance Wes Fryer, Brad Flickinger, and Kevin Honeycutt just to quickly name a few.:) thanks for sharing your story... I think we are slowly able to think and act more on the fly thanks to being so connected and I think it's making things more interesting!

  4. Wow what an interesting story! I would be inspired by a key note lecturer if they used live children to get a point across!

    May I take this opportunity to share with you my 'creative' displays to see what an fellow teaching colleague over the pond thinks of my displays?! I would be intrigued to see what displays look like in your classrooms.


  5. Eric,
    What a great idea! What I loved about this just as much is that you modeled what it means to be a learning principal. You not only talked about it, you demonstrated it through your son's eyes. Although you may have been nervous, I have to imagine that your energy level was at an all time high. You should be a very proud dad for many reasons as well as your son should be of his dad. And that should just warm your heart to the "nth" degree. Brilliant my friend!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this Eric. Not only was it a learning experience for those attending the workshop it is a great idea for other leaders to use with their staff. Another reason I am glad I follow your blog. This is a great way to show the importance of student choice and how letting them become creative can be such a powerful learning experience. I agree with Jimmy, you should be very proud of your son, but I am also proud of you for being willing to take the risk andshare his learning and creativity with us.

  7. Thanks all! My son was actually irritated that the Internet connection in CA was not up to speed as he had so much more he wanted to say. I shared this post with his principal and he is now going to be involved in a game pilot that was for 4th grade and higher.