FETC preview: Be revolutionary, make change happen now

Keynote speaker Eric Sheninger says the COVID-19 pandemic might provide the one opportunity to completely transform education for the better.
Eric Sheninger, FETC keynote speaker

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused enormous upheaval for school systems across the country, but education innovator and best-selling author Eric Sheninger believes that provides the perfect opportunity for schools to be transformative.

He says districts can finally rid themselves of a First Industrial Revolution mindset – the “that’s the way we’ve always done it mentality” – and take the lead in providing students with imaginative, world-class instruction and paths to success.

“Every teacher, every administrator has a chance to reinvent, reimagine, transform, restart,” says Sheninger, a former award-winning principal at New Milford High School who is now Associate Partner with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). “We can now focus on truly meeting the needs of our learners to more personalized pathways, focusing on voice, choice, path, pace, place. We now have the opportunity to truly embrace technology in a purposeful way to bridge the divide, to provide a more relevant, more purposeful, more meaningful learning experience to kids.”

Sheninger, who has shared with schools the vision of embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution – automation, robotics, artificial intelligence – empathizes with those that are struggling to make headway during the pandemic but says change must happen now.

“I think we are in a state that we could never have anticipated,” Sheninger says. “No one is doing a bad job. We weren’t prepared for this. We weren’t trained for this. Teachers and administrators have risen to the occasion, but they’re flying while they’re building the plane at the same time. We did have disruptive forces prior to COVID-19, but we weren’t really adapting or evolving.”

At the 2021 Future of Education Technology Conference® on Jan. 26-29, Sheninger will share both guidance and his framework for preparing schools for the future (including his Pillars of Digital Leadership) in his keynote speech, Preparation for the Unknown.

He says this critical moment, though especially difficult for teachers and administrators, can provide that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to instill long-lasting, revolutionary change.

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“We can’t move forward if we aren’t willing to let go,” he says. “We have been exposed to so many lessons. And we will continue to be exposed to lessons as the pandemic goes on. But we can ill afford not to grasp the opportunity inherent to those lessons.”

FETC session description:

Preparation for the Unknown

Jan. 28, 2021, 11 am to noon

We’ve long known that from the economic shifts created by the Fourth Industrial Revolution arose the need for a new type of learning, knowledge, and real-world preparedness for students entering life beyond school, and yet K-12 education has been slow to respond to this need, stymied by the heavy baggage of its own outmoded routines and practices. Our centuries-old approach to learning—delivering traditional, siloed content knowledge—isn’t what students need to be successful, and it can’t be what today’s K-12 leaders and teachers provide.

Eric Sheninger, best-selling author, former principal and Associate Partner with the International Center for Leadership in Education, will delve into the types of learning experiences that today’s students need, and the innovative approaches to leadership and instruction that will enable and facilitate these opportunities. In 2021, the silver lining resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic may very well be that we take the necessary risks that we’ve hesitated on for years. From purposeful blended pedagogies, to flexible learning environments, and personalized, student-driven learning, we will hopefully capitalize on a pivotal moment for reshaping our “classrooms” and the lives of students in our charge.

Sheninger admits there are a host of challenges for schools to overcome, and success will depend on how well they, and the nation as a whole, address these specific areas:

  1. Time. “How we use time, and how we free up time. We need to think about our school calendar. We need to think about getting rid of seat time. We need to think about how we maximize the time that teachers have.”
  2. The digital divide: “We still have a lot of work to do in the United States with bridging the digital equity divide. Even though schools have purchased so many devices, there are still millions of kids that do not have equitable access to technology, let alone access to high-quality wi-fi.”
  3. Professional learning: “We need to move away from the one-and-done dog and pony shows where we’re really focusing on job-embedded ongoing supports that are more aligned with the environments and expectations that teachers and administrators have to face right now.”

Sheninger says it is important that schools “take a critical lens to where they are and where they need to go and come to a consensus as to how effective initiatives, policies, procedures, technology have been to improving learning.”

School leaders who are struggling or have fallen behind in their goals or meeting student needs, should keep things as simple as possible, Sheninger says. He believes checking off these items can help kickstart a plan to forge positive change:

  1. Use your learning management system consistently. “Make sure there’s continuity K through 12. Build that vertical articulation so that you are supporting teachers at every grade level. Because if it’s fragmented, you’re not going to support all your teachers. I’m not just talking about putting content on there, but also having interactive activities utilizing the features of the LMS.”
  2. Choose your video platform. “Make sure that video platform has breakout room capability, because it is very difficult to engage and empower kids to focus on aspects of social-emotional learning if kids aren’t talking to one another.”
  3. Use some level of technology. “It is near impossible to get every kid to be involved in a lesson if we’re not. Pick one tool and use that one tool really well. Maybe it’s Mentimeter. Maybe it’s Flipgrid. But use that one tool aligned to really good instructional practices: check for understanding, closure, different types of practice.”

He says keeping an open mind is important too, and once changes are implemented, to not fall back on old habits.

“I visited over 1,000 classrooms in 2019 across the country and what I saw was mostly tradition,” Sheninger says. “And that was before COVID. It really is about lessons learned, and how we need to act on them now, while it’s fresh in our mind. If we wait too long, it’s human nature, we will revert to the past. What are those aspects that we can use to drive needed change in the future?”

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