Educating for the 21st Century: Learn.org Speaks with Principal Eric Sheninger

Eric Sheninger is the principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey. He's been widely recognized for implementing innovative new technology programs and is an outspoken advocate for the pedagogical value of Web 2.0 tools. Learn.org recently caught up with him to learn more about his exciting work in education. Schools offering Principal Licensure degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Eric Sheninger

Learn.org: What is your educational and professional background?

Eric Sheninger: I began my career in education as a science teacher at Watchung Hills Regional High School, where I taught a variety of subjects (biology, chemistry, marine biology and ecology) and coached several sports (ice hockey, football and lacrosse).

I then transitioned into the field of educational administration as an Athletic Director/Supervisor of Physical Education and Health and Vice Principal in the New Milford School District. During my administrative career, I have served as District Affirmative Action Officer and am the current president of the New Milford Administrator's Association.

I earned a Bachelor of Science from Salisbury University, a Bachelor of Science from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and a Master of Education in Educational Administration from East Stroudsburg University. For more information about me, visit my website.

Learn.org How did you become interested in education administration, and what led you to transition from teaching to being a high school principal?

ES: As a teacher, I was in a unique position to make a positive impact on the life of a child each and every day. This translated into about 120 students a year in the classroom and another 100 or so that I coached in athletics. I absolutely loved this opportunity, but longed to be in a position where I could have a greater impact on as many students as possible.

Working in administration put me in a better position to improve teaching and learning at the school level as opposed to just the classroom level. Additionally, my father was an elementary principal for 28 years. He was the ultimate role model for me, and I am to this day amazed at the vast impact he had on his students, staff and community. His inspiration and my passion for helping as many students succeed as possible made educational administration a natural fit.

Learn.org You were recently named on the National School Board Association (NSBA) '20 to Watch' list for education technology leadership. Can you talk about the mobile iPod learning lab that earned you this recognition?

ES: The mobile iPod learning lab consists of a Bretford PowerSync Cart, 30 iPod nanos (each with a Belkin TuneTalk recording device), 15 iPod touches and a Bose speaker system. The cart is signed out by teachers from various discipline areas to create authentic podcasts and conduct research when computer labs are not available.

Teachers have even collaborated to create digital scavenger hunts for field trips to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. We have the teachers distribute an iPod nano to each student with the scavenger hunt preloaded for use on such trips. The lab as a whole has been a fantastic learning tool and we see its use continually evolving over time as teachers become more comfortable with the technology.

Learn.org The NSBA also lauded your work in incorporating social media into the curriculum at New Milford High School. Please tell us more about this project - what media are students being encouraged to use, and how is it promoting learning?

ES: I have begun to expose my teachers to a variety of social media tools and provided hands-on training in order for them to embrace their integration in the classroom. Certain teachers have begun to take risks and are learning how to utilize these tools on their own. The end result has been the creation of some really innovative, student-centered learning activities.

Some examples include Twitter, Facebook, Glogster, Voicethread, Wordle and Poll Everywhere. Combined with a sound pedagogical foundation, social media (or Web 2.0 tools, as we call them) fosters creativity and authentically engages all learners in an exploration of the content.

Learn.org You're also a 'Google Certified Teacher.' How does this affect your work as a principal?

ES: Being a Google Certified Teacher (GCT) has provided me with the knowledge and confidence to further pursue the integration of various Google applications to increase collaboration among teachers and students. We have begun to utilize Google Docs at the school level for student assignments and teachers are using the platform to create interdisciplinary projects synchronously and asynchronously.

Learn.org What is your education philosophy, and how did you become such a passionate advocate for the use of technology in education?

ES: I am passionate about establishing and fostering learning environments that are student-centered, collaborative and flexible, and prepare all learners to succeed in the 21st century. As an educational administrator I firmly believe that effective communication, listening, support, shared decision making and the integration of technology are essential elements necessary for the transformation of school cultures. Finally, I believe in the use of social media and Web 2.0 technology as tools to engage students, improve communications with stakeholders and help educators grow professionally.

Learn.org Many educators are hesitant to incorporate social media and new technology into their classrooms because they fear it will only provide another distraction. What would you tell a teacher with this concern?

ES: Many educators have concerns because they have negative connotations associated with social media. As a result these tools are either banned completely or their use is discouraged. I used to feel this way. What it comes down to is that teachers and administrators need to be educated on how to effectively utilize social media to improve school culture.

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