By debunking his own misperceptions about technology and social media, Sheninger has revolutionized the learning environment at New Milford High School. Just five years ago, Sheninger was an opponent of social media and mobile devices for students. In 2009, he stumbled onto Twitter as a way to enhance communication with stakeholders. However, his role quickly shifted from communicator to learner as he recognized how much he didn’t know - there was a whole new world of teaching and learning bypassing New Milford High School. “When I stepped through that doorway, I saw firsthand the possibilities that we could eventually see here at New Milford High School,” says Sheninger. “That’s when everything changed.” Sheninger didn’t just embrace technology and social media, he ran with it. In fact, his Twitter feed was recently recognized by TIME as one of the best 140 Twitter feeds of 2014.
Sheninger and a handful of teachers had a shared vision - to create a culture that embraced technology as a powerful learning tool. That culture took root and spread from educators to students to stakeholders. “Once we had the culture and support mechanisms in place, we established that shared vision with all stakeholder groups and then empowered those same groups to take ownership and figure out which tools best serve their needs,” says Sheninger. Now, New Milford High School has several technology initiatives, including a BYOD program, which is in its fourth year of existence.
Sheninger views technology as a tool to enhance learning, not drive instruction. In fact, New Milford High School’s Golden Rule is: Pedagogy first, technology second. He worked with educators and stakeholders to leverage the power of technology to create an environment that students not only felt a part of, but also felt motivated and empowered to learn in. To complement New Milford High School’s BYOD program, charging stations were added to all common areas. The school installed additional network access points in the courtyard to complement those already in existence so students can access the network with the same user name and password they've already used throughout the campus.
By empowering both students and teachers to take ownership of their learning experiences, New Milford High School has seen an increase in student engagement and enhanced learning outcomes. Though there are several initiatives at work, graduation rates are at an all-time high of 98 percent, attendance rates are up, AP test scores have increased over the past three years from historical lows, and the most recent round of standardized tests proved some of the highest results in English and language arts the school has ever seen. “The culture we created is a culture that students feel more a part of, or proud of, and they want to be here,” says Sheninger. “We not only teach them digital responsibility, but we empower them in an educational setting to use technology to enhance their learning, increase productivity and conduct better research.”
As a recently published author, Sheninger follows the pillars of digital leadership outlined in his book, “Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.” These pillars have not only improved New Milford High School’s test scores and student achievement, they’ve also helped solidify the school’s brand. “Our brand sends the message that New Milford is not only a school doing great work, but it’s unique,” says Sheninger. While Sheninger doesn’t believe that technology will ever be the silver bullet for education reform, it is clear that innovative applications of technology can make a world of difference in student achievement.