Discussing the Inevitable Future Trends of the AC-Stage of Education

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Eric Sheninger is the founder and CEO of Aspire Change EDU, a collaborative consultancy designed to provide personalized support to all educational systems. His work focuses on innovative and practical ways educators can transform teaching, learning, and leadership. Through his work with thousands of schools, Eric has emerged as an innovative leader, best-selling author, and sought-after speaker. His main focus is using research and evidence-based practices to empower learners and educators.

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. Welcome to another episode of voices for excellence. I am your host, Dr. Michael Conner, CEO and Founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group and proud host of Voices for Excellence and today’s guest… I haven’t seen him in a long time. I think in person was before Covid, but, when I was a superintendent during Covid, Mr. Eric Sheninger helped me out tremendously. And this is where, I got to play around. I like to say tinker around professional learning to incorporate technology and how we can move forward. And now, in the AC stage of education with revolutionizing, personalizing and differentiating, professional learning gave me that aspect or that dimension of how we can move it forward here around professional learning. But broadly, you are a national, I should say, international thought leader, partner, branded, top notch educator. Everybody leans on him. So it is with great honor to welcome Mr. Eric Sheninger, who is the CEO and Founder of Aspire Change Edu. Eric, I haven’t seen you in forever, brother. How are you doing?

Eric Sheninger

Dr. Conner, it has been a whirlwind, but, you know, it’s great to be here. And as we think when we saw each other many, many years ago at the Model Schools conference, a lot has changed in the 4 to 5 years. And, you know, I’m excited to really dive in and really talk about not just how do we navigate this change, but how do we thrive in it. And, and really prepare the next generation of thinkers, doers, inventors and creators that are relying on us as educators to create relevant, meaningful challenge environments that don’t prepare them for something but prepare them for anything?

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely, Eric, it’s so good to hear your voice and so good to see you. Like I said the last time, we had a really deep the conversation was during the midst of the pandemic, and we were still trying to figure out how to navigate through the novelties of the pandemic. But now, more importantly, we’re starting to identify strategies and approaches to navigate the novelty of the future. So good to have you. And I’ll tell you this, man, I’m gonna call you Mr. Nostradamus because I’ll take and the B.C. stage of education, Before COVID-19, you were talking about artificial intelligence and emerging technologies in the operating model, the standard operating model in education. Now all of a sudden, it’s like, wow. Eric said that about ten years ago.

Eric Sheninger

Yeah, I wish, I wish I had a crystal ball that helped me accurate, accurately predict financial markets and things like that, as well as I that went ahead because then, oh my goodness. But, you know, I mean we look at all these disruptive forces and you know it’s so interesting. We talk, we talk, and then they eventually do become part of our reality. And sometimes they happen a lot more quickly than we are ready for but that sort of happened with the invention of the chalkboard. We weren’t really ready for that. And it revolutionized how we instruct. And then we look at all these other phenomena. But yeah, it’s interesting to see, you know, no matter what changes, the thing we have to ask is, are we grounding our practice in what we know about effective teaching, learning and leadership and how do we become more comfortable with getting uncomfortable in order to do what we’re already doing better?

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. That whole aspect of learning to unlearn, to relearn, Eric. And we’ll get into that, more deeply in the actual podcast episode. But first question is always a fun question. Eric and I cannot wait, cannot wait to see what your response is, because you I, I can’t wait to see what I what I try to respond, Eric, you are well known of whether be domestically or internationally with your work. Eric a thought partner, a thought leader that many trust in the education ecosystem. And your practices are innovative in the context of moving beyond the traditional measures in education. But but, Mr. Sheninger, what song defines you and your work within the industry?

Eric Sheninger

Oh, that’s easy. I’m from Jersey, so what do you think it is. Don’t get it, don’t get it wrong. Don’t get… no, no. Come on. If it’s not Bruce, it’s Bon Jovi. Bon Jovi. Okay? Song for me is Livin On A Prayer. Who? we’re always trying to get there. Maybe not always halfway, but we never really make it to our destination. And I love that song just because it brings back so many memories. And I love my Jersey roots. But every time I listen to it, I just sing along. I’m inspired. And, I mean, that’s typically the song. When I’m asked, what is your walk walk up song? I use Bon Jovi, Livin On A Prayer, you know, and there’s a secondary song too, which is another favorite is, Don’t Stop Believing. You know, I think when we look at Journey and that song, you know, listen, things are going to, we’re going to get curveballs. We’ll get a swing and a miss. There’s going to be frustration. But we don’t want to stop believing because yes, we can do it. As educators, we can overcome adversity. But most importantly, our learners and our staff, regardless of your position, if you’re a teacher administrator, they need us to never stop believing that we can get better.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. I love that, Livin On A Prayer, Bon Jovi that is an all time classic Eric. Look when we talk about Don’t Stop Believing, right? And I like to say with these compounding, forces, you had, talked about these disruptive forces, but also compounding forces that leaders, administrators engage in constantly, specifically. Now, as we’re in this past COVID phase, this AC Stage of Education, we have to continue to, deepen our belief systems, we have to continue to deepen our value systems to ensure that this progress, and define, and progress every day, does not create this stymie with what’s in the works. So. Absolutely. Eric, Don’t Stop Believing, I tell you. And Livin On A Prayer. I live on a prayer every day, brother.

Eric Sheninger

I think we all do to some extent.

Dr. Michael Conner

Man, that is great. And, Eric, all right, listen, I left out, a key aspect in the introduction. You are a national bestseller, best selling author. Right. And, Eric, I’m gonna tell you that I used to reference your books. I still reference your books. But when I was a superintendent, when I was a principal, I’ll tell you, learning transformed and digital leadership, digital leadership. This was, we’re talking about practices of digital leadership now, right? When we look at artificial intelligence, when we look at generative intelligence and lens, large language models. Eric, you were talking about this before the pandemic. I mean, everything I, I’m when I was like when I was an assistant principal, and that was a while ago. Eric. So your books, I’ve underscored those strategies and those concepts and many educators as well. But you forecast that this and who would ever have figured the evolution and the revolution of technology would take off in this AC stage of education? But within your latest publication, your latest book, Disruptive Thinking in our Classrooms prepare learners for our future. How how do we ensure that we’re preparing schools, district leaders, practitioners to be ready for this Delta 2030 stage?

Eric Sheninger

Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, you bring up digital leadership and technology shouldn’t be a huge aspect of what we do. But it there’s still this sense of resistance. And when we look at everything, I mean, I got my appliance guy coming over in a little bit to fix my refrigerator. That’s totally digital. I don’t even know where to begin. I mean, we can control things with our phones. So I think it’s looking at, you know, first and foremost, you know, how do we do it? We’re already doing better. And how do we leverage technology in a purposeful way. But to your point about, you know, disruptive thinking in our classrooms, I think we all know that none of us were prepared for the pandemic. I we can even go say that no one was prepared for the apple to eat the floppy disk, the CD, Netflix. you know, streaming services. But when we look right now, no one was prepared for the pandemic. And you could also say that people are now prepared to either seize on the opportunity or be cognizant of maybe some of the more, negative aspects of artificial intelligence. I mean, you could look at both sides of the story here, but are we prepared for these disruptive forces? And what we have realized is disruption is going to keep happening at such a incremental level. We need to get used to it. But has that translate to practice in our classrooms, in our schools, in our districts, you know, disruptive thinking is the ability of our learners to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems. When I coined that definition, it really is looking at okay, COVID-19 artificial intelligence that could be an authentic problem or an authentic opportunity. And the whole idea is, how do we translate that into the classroom where our learners are becoming skilled, but they’re becoming competent competencies, taking knowledge skills, but also behavior disposition, mindset. So it really gives us the opportunity to reflect on our practice, to think about, well, not what we do, but why do we do it that way? How might we do it better? And what tells us that we’re successful? Because the goal is the future? Proof learning for our kids to be prepared for any disruptive force that comes our way.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. Eric, great point. Because, one of the, I like to say, navigating factors that we have to take in consideration is and and I still think we’re, we’re still stuck in that linear perspective of developing skills as opposed to developing this holistic approach with, competencies. Right. And I think that one of the disjunctions that we see is we still see didactic pedagogical methods, but in reality we have to develop competencies, as we move forward in the future. Proofing. Right. I want you just to go a little deeper with that. When we talk about future proofing schools, future proofing, education reimagined in education in this context of preparing for the future, what does that look like, Eric? And now I’m not saying how we define it, but just really in this novel conceptual, abstract, answer. What does that look like?

Eric Sheninger

Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think we can glean a lot of insight by looking at what we’ve traditionally done. desks and rows, content dissemination, asset consumption, you know, knowledge, knowledge, knowledge, content, content, content. Listen, we can access content through Google Search, Siri, Alexa. And now artificial intelligence content is there. But how do we challenge people, students, adults to think, to think at varying degrees of knowledge taxonomy. But also the key is how do we empower learners to apply their thinking in relevant and meaningful ways? You know, when we think about engagement, we hear so much about engagement. Kids are engaged, kids are engaged. I see a lot of compliance kids sitting there taking their notes, listening, but are they engaged in learning? So I think, you know, that higher level of cognition, that relevance application is key. Also, we talked about future proofing. We could say with pretty much, you know, certainty that a one size fits all approach might have worked for us or really did it, but it doesn’t work for students today. You know, we have to really look at how do we move to more personalize approaches where all learners get what they need when it where they need it to succeed, as opposed to all students doing the same thing at the same time, the same way. Looking at the role of data to group, regroup, provide targeted instruction, looking at high agency pathways, voice choice at pace, place, maximizing the precious time that we have with learners to support them not only based on need, but to push those learners that are already at standard and beyond. We also have to look at our spaces. You know, the the spaces and learning environment reflect the actual conditions where they will go into the workforce. You know, looking at everything from classroom design, use of outdoor spaces, effective virtual pedagogies. So those are three ways that new by any means. That’s the key. It’s not new, but consistency, continuity, but also being honest and vulnerable. It is impossible to change if we’re not honest and vulnerable I don’t know. I need help are two keys that are critical to move forward. Whether we call it a disruptive world, a key stage of innovation no matter what we call it, being cognizant and exhibiting the sense of self-efficacy to really help us get over that hump is pivotal.

Dr. Michael Conner

Well stated Eric. Well stated. Now as a national thought partner, right. And I want to just kind of shift that thing into a school improvement. And when we think about strategies for district and school program processes, we have to start thinking fundamentally different, right. And and now if we’re talking about future proofing schools, when we’re talking about the future of education, school improvement is going to look radically different. But you also engage in deep dialog regarding various problems of practice, other problems of practice in education. So what are the consistent and persistent issues that are common throughout the country, and what strategies would you recommend to curtail those problems of practice in a district or school regarding school improvement?

Eric Sheninger

Yeah, I think one is pretty generic, but the most entrenched is the mentality. That’s the way we’ve always done it or it’s working. And I hear that a lot in my work, and my job is to kind of ask the right questions to get people to rethink their practice. Also, I think that systems today are great at collecting data, but there’s a lot of opportunities for growth on how to not only leverage that data in PLCs, but also to use it regularly in the classroom. As I referenced before the data, the group regroup provide targeted, structured rotational models. Not new by any means. But how does data become a central role? But also how do we begin to integrate those models at the middle and high school levels? You know, another aspect is professional learning. Typically, especially in the northeast, the professional development calendar is like two days of start the year, a few holidays sprinkled in. It’s not ongoing. It’s not job embedded. they’re not looking at evidence. So I think there’s opportunities to really improve moving for professional development, something that’s done to educators, to professional learning so that people want to engage it, where there’s ongoing feedback, where there’s this sense of qualitative evidence to kind of show, here’s the professional learning here. That’s how it’s implemented, and here’s our changing practice. So I think those three areas just you know, the mindset mentality data and professional learning are three more, realistic areas to kind of begin the process.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. The antiquated structures of, traditional professional development and moving to that professional learning, which is ongoing and job embedded. I always say, Eric, that we have to reimagine the organizational culture or even school culture where we’re focused on creating a learning organized right or a learn or learning institution. I.e. practitioners, instructional leaders at the state based level have that ongoing cycle of continuous learning. And I think that, when we talk about disruptive forces, you know, the traditional PD calendar or the archaic, Carnegie units, right? Specific hours of instruction mandates that a student have mastered that specific course or even to the level of standard grades, right, A, B, C, D, what is an A? It might look fundamentally different for Eric, than Michael? And two different meanings of a, but is still this is large aggregate or quantitative aggregate of we both hit that standard. I still think we need to again, you know, you said it creating professional learning environments where now, professional learning is ongoing and job embedding differentiated, just like what we want our structural practices and methodologies to be, with our students.

Eric Sheninger

Yeah, it’s it’s you. Do we model those same expectations that we have for, you know, for our learners? You know, what does it look like from an adult perspective? But, you know, as I listen to you, you also kind of indirectly hit on some other practices. You know, you’re talking about moving to more competency based approaches, grading. You know, we have to look at practices that we were forced to do homework, you know, traditional grade, you know, giving zeros. And we have to really look at just because it was done to us. Does it mean that we should still be gravitating to the same practices? Now on that, say, homework, get rid of it. I’m saying let’s really evaluate is it an effective tool to motivate, students to learn? Well, we think about grades. Great point. Does a grade actually articulate what a student has learned. And I’m not saying get rid of letters and numbers. I’m saying let’s have more transparency and let’s really make it something that is transparent and meaningful. when we put some practices like, like zeros, I mean, zeros skews a learner’s grade, which makes it even more a direct, like they are not correlated to what that student can actually know and do. So I think there’s a lot of things, but I always try to encourage districts and building leaders to, you know, focus on one thing and do that one thing really, really well, you really when we think about change, it shouldn’t be a fad. It shouldn’t be, you know. Yeah, we’re going to dabble in this, but really focus on that one aspect that everyone can get on board with that’s not new. But really, maybe it’s, you know, just looking at how we challenge our learners to think, which is something they’re going to be able to do. But also how does our professional learning reflect that as well?

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. Eric, you hit on, pedagogy and androgogy. Right. But the homework, I think, John Hattie and his famous work would, challenge the effect size or challenge what homework is where we know the effect size is very minimal in accordance to his meta analysis. So, Eric, the discussion with AI and education, it has intensified, you know, and I’m sure you have a lot of education stakeholders, a lot of, a lot of individuals within the industry really asking deep, thought provoking questions about AI. Rightfully so. Right. Because it’s in alignment with the new demands of the AC stage of education. Now, there are variety of different perspectives I heard across the country internationally, guidelines with regards to ethics, protocols and standards being, developed to support AI in districts. An example that probably you and I know about is the New York City Department of Education. I believe they adopted a policy or was, wobbly guidelines within the past, 60 days. But where should leaders and teachers begin with AI integrate. And when there’s so much discussion around this topic.

Eric Sheninger

I think it’s to really gravitate towards we can we always focus on the negatives, and I think that they give us insight onto some of the changes that we need to practice. students can go get their answers. They need it. Well, if that’s the case, let’s really look at the type of questioning and tasks that our learners are engaged in. But I really think the conversation focuses on primarily, how can I save us time? How can it save us time so that we can really focus more on supporting students and teachers during the, in the academic day? And I think it’s really being able to provide that clarity on here’s how these various tools, whether it’s, ChatGPT, Gemini, magic School, whatever it is, you know, how can this explicitly help you do what you’re already doing better? And I think those guidelines have to be also looking at how we cite information. You know, I think we have to keep a keen eye on digital citizenship and responsibility. And if something’s pulled from AI, which is fine, you know, are we setting it appropriately? are we also developing, you know, guidelines for students to help guide them on how to use AI effectively to support their learning? So I think with anything new, people want clarity, people want guidance. the just block and ban. Well, we all know how that works out with phones. I mean that’s just going to have the adverse of that. But I think people need to really learn how they can leverage things like AI to support core aspects of their work.

Dr. Michael Conner

Right. Whereas response. Eric, when I when I think of your response, right, I go back to this historical study, from Benjamin Barlow in 1984, the two Sigma problem. And within his study, he identified that if students or if we want to, elevate students to standard deviations. Right. That’s moving below basic student to, on grade level. Right. We have to get to this level of 1 to 1 max. And this was 1984. Now, when we think about 2024, the two sigma problem that Benjamin Blum had identified should not be an issue. If we’re using AI as a tool, should we consider that two sigma opportunity where now we actually can get to that 1 to 1 level, where now we’re bridging and I like to say, or, or creating that equilibrium between humans and machines practitioner in AI. So really should be no use on now every student getting a personalized learning experience where now teachers are getting that time back to really effectively implement small group instruction or various modes of, various modes of instruction within the actual model in itself. What do you think about that, Eric?

Eric Sheninger

Well, you hit the nail on the head. I’m so glad you connected the personalization, because I recently wrote a blog post on the merits of AI to personalize, especially from just analyzing student data and then providing suggestions to the teacher on the strategies that is unequivocally saves the teacher time. You know, looking at the different preferences of learners and then coming up asking AI to generate, you know, examples of strategies that could be used, whether in whole group or in, tier two intervention, which could be a rotational model, or tier three, which students are working on a choice activity, choice board must do may do playlists, teachers pulling individual or 1 or 2 students and providing intensive support. But you know, I really like how you connected the personalization because then it again, that’s the hard work. Differentiating before tech was hard work for us that were in school was no. Ten. Personalization also is not putting all kids on a tool adaptive tool. I mean, no talking, no discourse and then not ever looking at the data. So I think that’s great ways because again, time time, time time. That’s number one thing I hear the teachers and administrators grapple with personally. And yet I can help save that time, but also to effectively personalize the experience for students.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. I always say this, Eric, time is the variable. Learning is the constant. So now I want to go back to when I was a superintendent during Covid, Eric, and you helped me reimagine professional learning, which was which was a goal. Then two fold, from a two fold approach. One, we had to do the explicit create synchronous learning sessions, right, so that we can be able to create a common language of instruction, during the time of covet. But two implicitly, I think this was the right time for experimentation, where we were exploring opportunities to use technology to personalize learning for the adult practitioner and site based instructional leaders. But we know that now, now that we’re past the pandemic, that learning can be personalized and differentiated or practitioners and for, and for leaders, when we underscore and underpin AI technology. So, Eric, in the AC stage of education, we have to achieve this level of individualization. We were just talking about that before, that level of personalization for pedagogy and andragogy. Now, if you care, if you can part and parcel of those two phenomenons, right. Student learning, adult learning, how where do we start to personalize it? And what does it look like from an actionable, actionable steps to reach that vision of individualized, personalized pedagogy and andragogy?

Eric Sheninger

Yeah, well, I think that it really starts going back to one of the key opportunities for growth, which is professional learning. You know, when we design learning experiences, is it just a drive by one and done, you know, siloed, tasks or are we implementing AI agency voice choice, practice place? Are we beginning to model what that looks like? Because it’s got to give educators, you know, a little bit of grace because it’s hard to ask them to go and do these, implement these strategies if they’re not immersed in them. Why, why, why we always hear about the why. But here’s what educators tell me, Eric. We want to know how do we do it and what does it look like. And I say, here’s how others have done it. Here’s what it looks like. Your goal to create your personalized experience is to not do it exactly like them. Because you have different context, you have a different lens, you have different learners. How do you take the strategy and make it work? I am not a fan of the term best practice. If there was a best practice, we’d all be implementing it with a high degree of fidelity and getting amazing results. I am a huge proponent of effective practices, and effective practices are determined by the teacher and the leader who are implementing that in a way that’s going to help them to achieve their collective goals. So I think this requires a lot more flexibility. requires us to really look at how we structure professional learning. But also when we talk about all this, what does it look like? How do we improve feedback? Is feedback timely article actionable? And that’s what teachers tell me all the time that they want from their leaders. They like Eric. We want to know how we’re doing. We want suggestions on how we can take this to the next level, but we also want validation. We want validation that, yes, we’re on the right track. We’re doing it well. So professional learning, feedback, evidence, libraries I think are also instrumental. So people can go in and look at different grade levels, different standards, you know, a different content areas and really see here our, pathways that you can use the foundation to kind of tweak.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely, Eric, at creating those structures. Right. Creating those structures and having those structures where now there’s intentional feedback. I think leaders have to be able to prioritize, providing that timely feedback and also practical, bite size, right, that teachers can be able to use that in practice. a tool Gwen always talks about. I can remember in a book, I think it was takes 10,000 hours, for them to master a specific practice, I believe. I’m not saying that, correctly, I think I am in that area with regards to that. But, Eric, last question, my friend. Right. And I’m going to try to do this. I’m going to try to do this, we’ll try to limit you to three words, three words. Now people, they they get very innovative. You talked about in your last, statement that we have to move away from replication and pay attention to context. So same rules apply, Eric. Replication we want to stay away from. But take it in context. What three words do you want today’s video audience to leave with regarding the future of education to achieve ALL.

Eric Sheninger

Yeah, I’m going to give you three words and then I’m going to condense it into one. Actions change things. Act. Actions change things. Opinions, words, nope. Act, everybody. Act in the betterment of your learners, your staff systems. So actions change things or just act bam!

Dr. Michael Conner

There you go, actions change things. So Eric, that’s a first. Two seasons of VFE, three words converted into one.

Eric Sheninger

And just so everybody knows, I did not know this question was coming. Dr. Conner did send me the questions, but I might have just maybe just scanned over them briefly, and I don’t remember seeing that one, so I was not prepared for that. Just so you all know. So don’t think that this was scripted.

Dr. Michael Conner

I mean, Eric, it is so good to see you. A lot of my, audience, listeners, viewers of VFE, they get in touch with actual participants and guests on the show. I try to use this as an asynchronous professional learning tool so that they can be able to go back to direct instruction, but in an asynchronous manner. So, if they wanted to reach out to you, how would they be able to contact you?

Eric Sheninger

Well, I’m everywhere, every social media tool type in Eric Sheninger, you’ll find me. www.EricSheninger.com is kind of my hub, but, yeah, you type in my name, you’ll be hard pressed not to find a way to contact me.

Dr. Michael Conner

Eric Sheninger, it is so good to see you, my friend. Thank you for coming on Voices For Excellence. It is truly, truly an honor to have you here.

Eric Sheninger

My pleasure, and thank you for the riveting discussion and really helping listeners get outside their comfort zones and kind of push their own mental boundaries so that they could become the best iteration of themselves to support those who they serve.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely, Eric. Thank you again, my friend. And to my audience, onward and upward, everybody. Have a great evening.