Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pay Attention to Your Digital Footprint

Your digital footprint paints a portrait of who you are as an educator, leader, school, or district. Make sure it conveys your true values and work.” – Eric Sheninger

In the age where billions of people have taken both their personal and professional lives online you better be cognizant of your digital footprint.  With each Facebook post, email, Instagram photo, comment on a blog, YouTube video, Skype call, etc. you are leaving a trail that can be seen, searched, or tracked. Basically all of your activity on the Internet leads to the creation of a digital identity and footprint.  Check out the short video from Common Sense Media below that nicely sums up the facets of a digital footprint.

In some cases you might think that you have everything under control, right? Wrong! Your digital footprint is not only formed by what you post, but also what others put online about you. As Wikipedia explains there are two main classifications for digital footprints: passive and active. A passive digital footprint is created when data is collected without the owner knowing, whereas active digital footprints are created when a user for the purpose of sharing information about oneself by means of websites or social media deliberately releases data. Educators who have embraced a brandED mindset understand how important their digital footprint is to him/her.

It can seem daunting to not only keep tabs on the digital footprint that you are actively crafting, but also on what other people are creating at times unbeknownst to you. Here are some free tools that you can begin to use right away to track both your active and passive digital footprint.

Google Alerts

This free tool allows you to monitor the web for content that you specify. My advice is to set up alerts for your name as well as that of your school and/or district. When I was a principal I had an alert set up for New Milford High School so that anytime content was shared specific to my school on the web I could either read or react if necessary. Now I have alerts set up for different iterations of my name including Eric Sheninger, Mr. Sheninger, and Principal Sheninger. Each day I receive an email with news of what people write about me on the web from Google. Set up your Google Alert(s) today using these simple steps or refer to this simple video tutorial.


Mention is a solid alternative to Google Alerts and in my opinion is much better. It allows users to monitor any keywords related to you, your professional brand, your schools/districts, or anything else you want to monitor.  The alert settings are much more robust than that of Google Alerts.  Not only can you set it up to monitor the Web (news, blogs, videos, forums, images), but you can also have it monitor mentions on Facebook, Twitter, or an array of other social media services if you want. What is even better about Mention is the variety of ways you can access and be notified of new alerts (website, Google Chrome extension, desktop application, apps for iOS and Android). Check out the Mention site or this brief tutorial to get started.

Tweetdeck and Hootsuite

These applications not only enhance your Twitter experience, but they also allow you to create different columns or categories in your respective dashboard. Each column or category in a sense becomes a search based on the keywords you identify (i.e. Twitter username, your real name, hash tags, school/district name, etc.). 

The above tools will greatly assist you in tracking your digital footprint, especially in terms of what other people post about you. A brandED strategy not only employs these tools, but also some common sense tips to help you actively create a positive digital footprint. When posting content online always:

  • Keep it professional and focus on your work
  • Remember your role within the school and/or professional community
  • Think before you post
  • Be consistent
  • Don't be afraid to engage

For a few more bonus tips check out the image below.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Developing a BrandED Strategy

Here is a reality check for everyone that does not believe in the value of branding in education.  Your brand is what stakeholders and others say about you as well as your district/school.  Social media has changed the landscape and broadened the concept of branding to education whether you like it or not. Your digital footprint is not only crafted by what you create and post, but also what other people and organizations create and post about you.   Just do a simple Google search and see for yourself. You might very well be surprised what’s out there in regards to you and your school/district.  

Now more than ever educators, leaders, schools, and districts need to begin to think about a brand strategy. This is essential to not only control the narrative but to also be proactive in order to deal with negative content that can tarnish an image while influencing the perception of key stakeholders. It is important to differentiate between a brand in the business sense and one in education. A brand in business is meant to sell. On the other hand, a brand in education is meant to build support, admiration, and respect for the honorable work you do each day for kids.  

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The foundation of a BrandED mindset is focusing on sharing valuable content related to the mission, vision, and values of your school/district or what you embrace as an educator.  It requires a focus on strategies and ideas that are being successfully implemented to positively impact student learning. Here are some specific reasons why a BrandED mindset matters:

  • Your brand will attract others to your work and that of your school. This can result in more qualified candidates applying for jobs, greater stakeholder support, or parents deciding to move to your district. It can also result in building a more vibrant learning network.
  • It promotes recognition of amazing work that takes place in schools each and every day.  With social media, anyone can now craft an accurate narrative of how our schools are preparing students for success.
  • A positive brand presence motivates and inspires your staff/co-workers as well as colleagues across the globe in terms of what is truly possible. Success is amplified in a way that others can then replicate it.  
  • Your brand tells stakeholders about your school DNA. From logos, mascots, tweets, and hashtags a positive brand presence helps you tell the real story
  • A positive BrandED presence clearly articulates to stakeholders what to expect from your district, school, or you as a professional.  This promise not only builds precious support but also invaluable relationships.
  • A clear BrandED strategy helps you stay focused on your mission, vision, and values related to your work to ensure the success of all students.
  • By reaching people at an emotional level, stronger relationships will be built with key stakeholders.  There is no better way to do this than consistently sharing ways that you are making a positive difference in the life of kids each day.

It is important to understand that a BrandED mindset is a natural part of being a digital leader. When you communicate consistently with social media and use it for public relations to tell your story, a brand presence will manifest itself. It will also form just by posting your own work, ideas, and thoughts on a variety of platforms. Whatever is the case keep these tips in mind to develop a mindset for a successful BrandED strategy:

  • Be consistent
  • Keep the message focused on work (school, district, your own) to provide value to stakeholders
  • Engage in two-way communication to build and strengthen relationships
  • Maintain a presence across a variety of platforms
  • Build around the logo, mascot, name, etc.
  • Review analytics and adapt when needed by embracing new tools
  • Focus on transparency through honesty and sharing accurate information
  • Monitor your brand presence using Google Alerts, Mention, and/or columns in Tweetdeck or Hootsuite

Developing a BrandED mindset and strategy in the digital age just makes plain sense. It begins and ends with the amazing work you and your staff are doing with students or to advance the profession of education. That's the hard part. The easy part consists of creating and then sharing content using a blend of traditional and new age (i.e. social media) tools. 

I am excited to have been able to expand on the topic of BrandED in my new book that I co-authored with Trish Rubin for Jossey-Bass.  Trish opened my eyes up to the concept of BrandED way back in 2009. Get your copy of BrandED today.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Change Revolution

"We must learn how to unlearn and relearn in order to create schools that work for kids." - Eric Sheninger

Change is a word that is spoken about in education circles more and more each day. Herein lies the problem.  Talk and opinions get us nowhere.  The fact of the matter is that education has to change dramatically, but how this is initiated should no longer be a contentious topic for discussion or debate. We need to stop talking and spend more energy acting.  It is relatively agreed upon that the structure and function of the majority of schools across the globe no longer meet the needs of students in the digital age. There is a quiet revolution that is gaining steam as more and more educators and students push back against the very policies and mandates that have been forced upon them. You need to decide if it is worth it to conform or to carve out your own path to provide your students with the education and learning experiences they deserve. 

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Meaningful change has and always will begin at the individual level. This is also where it is sustained to the point that it becomes an embedded component of school or district culture. It does not rely on someone being in a leadership position in a traditional sense but more so on a desire to want to change professional practice. This is the point where all educators and students must realize that they have the capacity to lead change. School leaders need to remove barriers to the change process, eradicate the fear of failure, provide autonomy, and empower teachers to drive change at the classroom level. 

These successes can then be promoted within the school and district to serve as a catalyst for cultural transformation. The same holds true for both teachers and administrators when it comes to students, who happen to be our number one stakeholder group. Schools should be designed to meet the needs of our students, but if they are not given a seat at the table and allowed to be a focal point of change efforts that ultimately impact them, a golden opportunity is missed. Never underestimate the power that you have to make your school, district, and the entire education system better. Be the change that you wish to see in education, and others will follow. After all, real change comes from colleagues modeling expectations to others, not from those with titles.

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The whole premise of my book Uncommon Learning is it to provide relevancy, meaning, and authenticity in the teaching and learning process. It hinges upon our ability to provide an environment and activities that unleash our students’ passion for learning and allows them to create artifacts with the tools of their choice to demonstrate conceptual mastery. Additionally, it relies on a bold vision to grant students and educators the autonomy to take risks, learn from failure, and then adapt as needed. Meaningful change will happen only if we begin to give up control and establish a culture built on trust and respect. 

If we truly want to prepare the next generation of thinkers, doers, inventors, and change agents, we must give up control, trust students and educators, and work to develop a better system that will produce desired outcomes. Educators must acknowledge the real challenges that they are faced with each day and work to develop solutions to overcome them. Challenges should not be seen as insurmountable obstacles to change but rather opportunities to do things differently and better.  There also has to be a desire to embrace new thinking and strategies that not only address higher standards, but also prepare students for the real world as opposed to the school world. The end result will be the proliferation of uncommon learning strategies that in time will become common.

Will you be a part of the change revolution?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Challenge of Change is Not You

“The hardest challenge you will face is not changing yourself, but convincing or empowering your colleagues to embrace change.” – Eric Sheninger

If you are reading this blog, trying out new ideas, implementing innovative strategies, or attending meaningful professional learning opportunities then chances are you embrace change. Additionally, you are more than likely to be using social media for your Personal Learning Network (PLN) to push your thinking like never before. It is an exhilarating feeling to be exposed to an array of knowledge, resources, and ideas that can be used almost immediately to improve professional practice.  In all of the examples mentioned above, or others that I have failed to list, the desire to change is clearly evident to you. 

The fact of the matter is that change is desperately needed in the majority of our schools and districts. Employing the same old thinking will continue to result in the same old results. A major point of frustration that I had as a principal and what I see now in my work with educators all over the world is the unwillingness of others to embrace change.  Many of us have now been exposed to the work of innovative thought leaders and practitioners that has shown us what is truly possible in our schools.  What tends to be more or less demoralizing is when we travel back to our districts, schools, and classrooms and continue to see a narrow focus on the same initiatives, programs, and practices that are not in the best interests of our learners.  This reality is brought up in virtually every workshop or presentation I facilitate.  

Changing perception and behavior in your colleagues who either have their heads in the sand or possess the ultimate fixed mindset could possibly be the hardest task you ever take on.  Change is hard. It is even harder for people that are stubborn, unwilling to overcome fears that they might have, burnt out from excessive reform, or really have no passion for working with kids.  Regardless of the reason, the question becomes what are you willing to do about it?  Every student in every classroom and school deserves excellence.  A true testament to an exceptional leader, regardless of position, is his or her ability to convince, persuade, or inspire others to change, especially those who do not want to. It’s not now about trying to get buy-in, but moving others to see the value in the change through embracement.

The hardest, but most gratifying, work you might ever engage in is empowering your colleagues to change.  Consider trying the following strategies to assist your colleagues to begin the process of changing their professional practice.
  • Real change comes from colleagues modeling expectations for others. Lead by example even when initially it might be a lonely place.
  • Share current research and practices that support the change you are championing.
  • Encourage colleagues resistant to change to attend professional learning opportunities with you, especially administrators. Get him/her involved in quality professional development related to the change effort. Beg, barter, or plead to get your colleague to attend and learn with you. If that doesn’t work make sure you present what you learned at any recent learning experience either during a faculty meeting or one on one.
  • Tackle fears head-on to alleviate concerns.
  • Help others see the value of the change on their own.
  • Clearly articulate how the change will improve professional practice resulting in improved student learning and achievement outcomes.
  • Be patient. Treat your colleague like a student and remember how satisfying and rewarding it was when you helped that student succeed.
  • Get your students involved. There is no better way, in my opinion, to convince others to change when educators can see firsthand the impact it has on kids.
  • Work on building better relationships. Doing so could open the door to embracing change that otherwise might have been resisted.
Keep in mind that the context of each suggestion above can be adapted to your respective position.  Always remember that the hardest work involved with the change process involves moving the masses to scale the initiative for the betterment of all students.  It also requires the right mindset.  If you are willing to put in the time and work while acknowledging some of the aggravation and stress that naturally comes with dealing with difficult people, a potential positive outcome will be that much sweeter.  

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Free Resources to Support Your Makerspace

The embracement of the maker movement is being seen in K-12 schools and districts across the world. As a result, makerspaces are being instituted to allow students to tinker, invent, create, and make to learn.  A makerspace can best be defined as a physical place where students can create real-world products/projects using real-world tools in a shared work space. With natural connections and applications to STEAM areas as well as a focus on self-directed, inquiry-based, and hands on learning, it is difficult not to appreciate and admire the positive impact that makerspaces can have on all students. In times when many schools and districts have cut programs such as wood/metal shop and agriculture, makerspaces provide a 21st Century alternative to meet the learning needs of our most at-risk students.  

There is no need to reinvent the wheel here, as there are many resources available. For a curated list of online resources related to makerspaces check out this Pinterest board. To learn more in depth about the concepts associated with making be sure to purchase the book World’s of Making by Laura Fleming and check out her website. It has everything you need to get started, including suggested items to outfit the space. She also has generated a step-by-step flow chart that will assist you in your makerspace planning. 

Initially, planning will cost some money and that is unavoidable. However, once you have established your makerspace and outfitted it with key items and tools there are many free resources available for you to take advantage of.  Below I will briefly describe some of the key makerspace items to purchase and then free resources that will help you and your students maximize the expense.  The items include Raspberry Pi, littleBits, MaKey MaKey, Arduino, and MinecraftEdu. Descriptions have been pulled from the respective website of each product.

Raspberry Pi

This is a low cost, credit card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. It is a capable little device that enables people of all ages to explore computing, and to learn how to program in languages like Scratch and Python.  Teach, learn, and make with Raspberry Pi’s free learning resources.


This is a platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks that empower you to invent anything from your own remote controlled car to a smart home device. The Bits snap together with magnets - no soldering, no wiring, no programming needed. These magnets are great for prototyping and learning. littleBits provides an array of free lessons (beginner, intermediate, advanced) for different grades and subject areas. 

MaKey MaKey

I love MaKey MaKey and so will your students!  It is an invention kit for the 21st century that allows you to turn everyday objects into touchpads and combine them with the Internet.  The simple Invention Kit is perfect for Beginners and Experts doing art, engineering, and everything in between. Each kit comes with a MaKey MaKey, Alligator Clips, USB Cable. Be sure to check out these free lesson plans 


This is an open-source prototyping platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. An arduino is commonly referred to as a microcontroller that can be used for building digital devices and interactive objects that can sense and control the physical world.  This has been the brain of thousands of projects, from everyday objects to complex scientific instruments. HERE is a fantastic tutorial that will assist you and your students create maker projects using arduino.  For even more information visit Arduino Classroom


To put it bluntly, Minecraft is overtaking the world and the game is beloved by students of all ages.  I commonly refer to it as “Legos on steroids.” It is a sandbox independent video game where players dig (mine) and build (craft) different kinds of 3D blocks within a large world of varying terrains and habitats to explore. In schools it is being used to teach all kinds of skills and subjects from math to foreign languages to social justice to fair trade.  Getting a MinecraftEdu license and making it available on computers in the makerspace is a fantastic addition to the area.  The MinecraftEdu Wiki has tons of resources ranging from lesson examples, worksheets/handouts, alignment to curricula and standards, and many other nuggets of awesomeness.

I hope you enjoy these free resources and ideas as your makerspace evolves or if you are beginning the process of creating one. If you have any other free resources please provide them in the comments section below.