A New Era of Leadership

When I first came up with the idea of having a guest blogger series, I didn’t fully understand the impact it would have on me.  After all, I was simply the host, the vehicle through which various members of my PLN could share their story.  However, the connections I have made with educators that I have admired (sometimes from afar) for some time has been simultaneously exhilarating and humbling.  To think that my colleagues, my mentors, and my teachers would find time to contribute their thoughts on the changing landscape of educational leadership for me is more powerful than I thought it would be.  So, thank you to those who have participated, thank  you to those who will be soon, and thank you to those who have read and commented.

The series continues today with a guest blog from Eric Sheninger.  A one time science teacher, Eric is now the principal of New Milford High School, where he is, “responsible for preparing over 650 students in grades 9-12 with essential 21st Century skills that will enable them to be successful, productive members of society”.  A Google Educator, Eric is an active member of both The Educator’s PLN, and Classroom 2.0.  Some may recognize Eric from his time on The Principal’s Office and his related appearance on The Rachel Ray Show and while those are fun to watch, I can say that the real value Eric provides to my PLN is his blog, A Principal’s Reflection – where he focuses on the use of technology to assist instruction and increase student achievement.  Thank you, Eric for taking the time to share the following thoughts on the evolution of Educational Leadership:

A New Era of Leadership

By Eric Sheninger

As I sit back and reflect on the rapidly changing world of education I am inspired yet confused at the same time.  I don’t think I need to get into the fact that instructing students in a traditional lecture format no longer meets their learning needs or engages them in the process.  We now have at our disposal thousands of free, easy to use tools that can easy be integrated into the classroom that foster student-centered learning. The evolving digital landscape has now made it easier than ever to finally help all students succeed in ways that were never readily accessible even a few years ago.

I am inspired when I see my staff successfully create pedagogically sound lessons that integrate these innovative technologies to make learning meaningful and engaging for the students.  All you have to do is either look at the students’ faces or ask them about educational activities that have a technology component and you will see first hand their excitement. There is nothing more exciting as a Principal to see a school culture gradually becoming immersed in developing deeper understandings of content through collaboration and creation. This is what learning in the 21st Century is all about!

What confuses me as a leader is that I do not see a shift towards embracing or in some cases even acknowledging this new era on behalf of the majority of my constituents either locally or nationally. In my opinion, too many leaders are stuck in a traditional mindset of educational leadership that focuses solely on data, structure, and inflexibility in terms of giving up control. In some regards I can’t blame them as the fear of accountability resulting from national mandates such as NCLB and Race to the Top make them less reluctant to support and encourage instructional innovation.  Add that to all of the state mandates that make no sense in terms of student learning and you have all of the barriers to discourage leaders from pursuing change in the best interests of students.

So what does this all add up to?  In my mind transformational leaders in the 21st Century should focus on the following:

1. Sharing control and the decision making process

2. Collaboration

3. Supporting teachers and students. We need to be more like cheerleaders as opposed to dictators.  Remember, their success is a direct reflection on our leadership ability.

4. Breaking from traditionalistic views such as one size fits all and if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.

5. Flexibility

6. Empowerment: Students play a vital role in this renaissance.  They need to be placed in a position to share their ideas and then see some of them acted upon.  Teachers need to know that they can take risks and fail every now and again in order to develop innovative learning experiences.  Fear of failure any educational culture will always inhibit the change process.

7. Stop the excuses (i.e. I don’t have time to learn about social media)

8. Redesign professional development in a way that motivates staff members instead of bores them.

9. Modeling the use of effective technologies.

10. Establishing a PLN and sharing the merits of this form of professional growth with colleagues.

I have seen my leadership style evolve from that of situational to transformative over the course of the last year by following the principles listed above.  If we are to successfully educate our students to solve real-world problems, collaborate, and think critically then we as leaders must be willing to change as well.

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One Response to A New Era of Leadership

  1. Karen Szymusiak says:

    Eric
    I appreciated your post and it certainly helped me reflect on my own leadership. I would like to share my thoughts on a few of the focus points. I think sharing control and the decision making process is critical. The decisions will often take longer but they become a part of the fabric of the community. We just can’t do it alone any longer. Collaboration with our students, staff and community holds us accountable for doing the right things for kids. These are challenging times in education. I will go to bat for teachers who work tirelessly for children. Empowering students (and teachers) helps to create a common vision and a common purpose for what we do each day. Our best ideas come from a community where thinking out of the box is encouraged. Empowering students lets them know their voices are heard. They are very wise if we just listen. Establishing a PLN is the single most important resource we have today. I am hoping that more people discover the power of a PLN.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. It encouraged a moment of reflection which is what good leaders do.

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