Profile: NJ High School Principal Ahead Of Curve On Technology — and Tweets

With 64,500 followers on Twitter, Eric Sheninger is the embodiment of using technology as a teaching tool

Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School and Tweeter extraordinaire (64,000 followers).
Name: Eric Sheninger

Resume: New Milford High School principal since 2007, former vice principal and athletic director. Biology teacher at Watchung Hills Regional High School, 2000-2004. Speaker, blogger, and author — including “Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.”

Why he matters: Sheninger has been an outspoken advocate for technology in teaching — as a tool rather than an end in itself. With a variety of awards to his name, he helped launch the annual Edscape Conference at New Milford High School as a professional development program focused on innovation for his teachers in 2010, and has seen it grow to more than 400 attendees from across the region — as well as Mexico and Canada. This year’s conference will be held October 18.

In the classroom: Under Sheninger’s leadership, New Milford is among the state’s pioneers in integrating technology into instruction, using Internet tools and social media in teaching everything from U.S. history to marine biology, his first love before becoming a teacher.

The Twitter thing: Sheninger — better known as @NMHS_Principal to his 64,500 followers on Twitter — expounds on and aggregates best practices for schools, both with and without technology. His rise to one of the most popular education hash tags started with an article about the different communication tools available to principals and took off from there.

A tweet from last week: “If standardized tests are the endgame of schools then we fail our students. . . ”

Philosophy: “Technology will never replace teachers and administrators. . .
We really focus on pedagogy first. Our golden rule is pedagogy first, technology second, where appropriate.“

Social media in school: Whether it’s video conferencing with best-selling authors or using Instagram to present lessons from the play “A Raisin in the Sun,” Sheninger’s teachers have integrated the connections created by social media into how students learn.

Why that matters: “We need to do our best to engage students. They are more engaged outside of school than inside of school. That is what social media has taught us, how to meet our learners where they’re at, while creating a culture that has them solve problems, think critically, be creative and collaborate more.”

Student followers: Sheninger said he doesn’t count his Twitter followers by category, but certainly hears from a few of his charges — online and off. “They are not shy,” he said. “Some students have even called us out for clarifications, and we’ve gotten into some very enlightening conversations about how schools are structured and function.”

Best part of the job: “Really the best part of my day is when I’m doing walk-throughs in the classroom and just observing what teachers and students are doing and all the great things they do, day in and day out.”

New teacher evaluation: Sheninger has seen both the strengths and weakness of the state’s new mandates for teacher evaluation. The attention to classroom visits has been a plus, the paperwork and other procedural tasks less so. “If there has been a positive, it allows us to be more visible in the classroom,” he said. “On the negative side, the increases in the paperwork, that does severely impact our abilities to be visible and to have meaningful conversations [with teachers] that are not formal.”

A proposition before policy: “I’d love to see those individuals that are crafting policy shadow school leaders and teachers throughout the day to see first-hand not only the work we’re doing, but the meaningful work we are doing that doesn’t get in the headlines dominated by PARCC and Common Core. Come see what we are doing in educating the whole child and how we are preparing them for jobs and careers that have not been created yet.”

“There is a disconnect, many of us feel, between what is really going on in schools and the policies being enacted to improve education.”

Age: 39

Family: Born and raised in Warren County. Sheninger and his wife, Melissa, a Staten Island high school guidance counselor, are parents of an 8-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.

Subsequent to this interview, Sheninger left New Milford High School to take a job at a think tank.