Eric Sheninger: A Day With

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I have had the absolute pleasure of having seen some fine keynote speakers in my time. People who have shared brilliant messages, inspired me with powerful stories, challenged my thinking and practice and most of all driven me to make change for the better.

I personally believe that keynote and key speakers are what you make of them. You can take what they have on board or with a grain of salt. Their words can drive you and your practice or leave you feeling somewhat empty. It is here that I reference the work of Michael Fullan who says;

educators going to workshops and conferences, and taking courses—bears little relationship to classroom and school improvement. Similarly teachers toiling away as individuals do not add up to school or system success. What really counts is what happens ‘in between workshops’ or what I call learning is the work” – Fullan 2008.

This notion of the above hits home. How often have I myself attended a conference, workshop, Masterclass, briefing, etc.… heard a speaker deliver a great talk and or share some amazing tools and then after week… nothing. No action made, little reference made to what was attended and life goes on.

Now this is not to say that the speakers, and primarily the Keynotes I have seen, have been lackluster in their performances. They are and just about have always been inspiring and driving me to really think about not only what I do but why. The likes Yong Zhao, Steve Wheeler, Kevin Honeycutt, Alan November, Stephen Heppell, Gary Stager, Will Richardson… Look, the list goes on. All in their own right left me with something that resonated. Something that attempted to take on board.

Again, this is why I like Fullan’s quote above. In it’s simplest form this quote talks about what happens after the keynote or conference. The discussions that almost force educators to think about their practice and look deeper in to how their own practice can be altered and improved.

Today I heard Eric Sheninger give not one, but two (yes, I know, groupie) talks at the Bastow Institute for Educational Leadership in Melbourne. I have been an avid follower of Eric both online through Twitter (@E_Sheninger) and via his blog (ericsheninger.blogspot.com) and also have his book on order (http://goo.gl/hNnzqM) and whenever it decides to arrive, I am sure the read will be worth the wait.

As I have done in the past I will share a number of key takeaways that for me, really hit home. Things that I have no doubt will encourage me to push forward with the change that I am wanting to make in my setting. Change that I want to make because I am passionate about student learning and change that I know and believe will make a difference.

Now if there is one thing about ‘change’ that I have learnt it is that it takes time. And This really sucks as I have no patience! 😉

So without further ado, here we go.

  • “It’s the example the you set that moves a system forward.”

I have always, always, been a firm believer that the best leaders are the ones who lead by example, not behind a desk. If I am going to devote myself to a leader and walk across hot coals for them I want them to lead the way… Ok. Bad analogy, but hopefully you see what I am trying to say. I have said this previously and Eric also mentioned it himself today, “Do not expect your staff to do anything you would not do yourself”. If I am charged with embracing and leading change I will do it by building capacity in those around me so as to lead by that example I want to see in them. As former American Dwight Eisenhower once said “You do not lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault – not leadership.”

  • “Leadership is not about position, it is about action.”

I enjoyed hearing this today. The line between manager and leader, especially in education can be very easily blurred. And this can have, as I have seen, dire consequences for teachers and students. Teachers that are in the trenches and doing the hard yards can make change and be the innovators and creators that they wish to be. And this is truly amazing and as a leader I will never stand in front of a teacher, or student for that matter, who wants to take action in whatever form to improve learning.

  • “Great leaders remove the obstacles and challenges that help kids and teachers to be the change they want to see.”

This links in perfectly with the above quote. As a leader and change agent I cannot encourage the change I am wanting to see if there are obstacles in the way. Already, and being new to my college, I am seeing and have seen these challenges first hand and I have every reason to sympathize with my staff as to why change is not occurring perhaps at the rate it should be. I want my staff and students to be pushing the boundaries of what is possible, especially with regard to digital technology integration, but also not to loose sight of the bigger picture, student learning. Again however, this ‘boundary pushing’ cannot only occur if those obstacles and challenges are removed and I think and or feel that I have made some inroads here so far. Now in saying this…

  • “You cannot be happy with isolated pockets of excellence.”

I will say at this stage whilst on my ‘change journey’, I am happy with my isolated pockets of excellence. It is these little pockets that are driving other teachers around them to change their ways. Everything from instructional practice, assessment, encouraging student voice, personalized learning and so on… My end game here with all of this is to have no pockets of isolated excellence. It is to of course have everyone on the same page and at a level, as a minimum, that my setting is happy to have reached. A minimum that sees technology being used as an after thought to high quality teaching and learning.

  • “Technology is not and will never be a silver bullet for education.”

For me this is not a new saying, or at least the idea of it. I have said a similar thing for years but to have Eric reaffirm my thinking was reassuring. I have seen and spoken with countless schools who have brought in truck loads of technology and have placed an expectation on that technology to shift paradigms with that setting. News flash. Not going to happen. Will engagement increase amongst the students? Quite possibly. Will the poor attendance rates decrease? Maybe. Will student learning improve and met outcomes shoot through the ceiling? No. It all comes back to teaching and learning. The notion of having a culture within a school, and it should not even really be a notion, it should be ‘the way’, of having embedded High Quality teaching practices with Low Variability is what matters most. Not the technology. This should be, as Eric discussed, an afterthought. Using the technology to make what greater things teachers and students are already doing greater.

And lastly…

  • “Give up control and trust the kids in your school, because you want to create a school that kids want to come to.”

I have heard countless educators and teachers over the years have that age old discussion of “wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could build our own school. How amazing would it be!” What my question, or discussion is geared towards is, “wouldn’t it be wonderful if kids could build their own school. How amazing would it be!” Letting go of control is hard. Especially for teachers, and perhaps more so leaders in schools. School are judged on their results and to loose that control we have is to potentially loose that academic status that a school may have. Eric gave up control of New Milford to his students and look what happened. I can hear the cynics out there saying “oh yes, that is only one school and one example and they had a great leader and this that and the other…” I refer to below…

excuses

And again I find myself referring to this post by George Couros ‘If you are scared of change, ask yourself this question’, who says;

“So when you go through the process (of change), ask yourself this question: Is this best for kids? If you can answer unequivocally that the answer is “yes”, then the change process is necessary.  It might not be easy, it might take time, it might be messy, but it needs to happen.”

So there you have it. A ‘quick 1500 word’ reflection.

I would like to thank Eric for his time and it is great to have in the Country. Those heading to EduTech in Brisbane next week are in for a treat.

In moving forward I have several questions I’ll be emailing Eric about and hopefully he can assist the ‘shedding of some light’ on a few issues I am working through at the moment! Lastly, I have embedded Eric’s TED Talk below which is a great watch if you have not seen it. Thanks for reading!

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