From the Principal's Office: Our Work Defines Our Legacy

This post is my contribution to Leadership Day 2014.

Legacy is such a deep and meaningful word in my opinion. The term can best be described as how someone is remembered and the specific contributions he or she made while they were alive. When I think of legacy, important thought leaders, activists, musicians, and athletes come to mind such as Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, John Dewey, Princess Diana, Joe DiMaggio, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The work and contributions of these individuals speaks for itself and their impact will continue to be felt for generations. Then there are those people still alive today that are defining their legacy such as Derek Jeter and Madonna. One’s legacy is not only defined by his or her contributions to society, but also by the perception and opinions of others who might have been impacted by their work. Below is an interesting take on legacy from George Mason University:

For perspective, each of us, through our lives, has encountered a wide variety of people. We recall one or more teachers, a relative, a parent, a neighbor, a friend, a leader in the community, and others; we have countless encounters with others through our daily lives, as we share space and time together in stores, on our highways and walkways, in nature, at cultural or recreational events, in group discussions, and in virtually all walks of life. While most of these encounters are brief, some are long-term and some are intense. Some are more meaningful than others. Many of these encounters, whether brief or long-term, have resulted in memories. Further, some of these memories are more positive than others; however, each of the memories results in some impact upon us. Are the memories of these individuals – whether positive or less than positive – what the other person intended? And, for those who made a lasting impression, this view may be shared by you and others, and can represent their legacy.

Image credit:

In education I don't think anyone sets out to establish a legacy. Just like the examples above, it is our work and commitment to making a difference in the life of a child that is our main motivational force. If there was one profession where individual or group legacy is least prevalent it is education. Educators are not in the limelight or in a position for their work to get noticed on a grand scale. This is not to say that our work is not legacy worthy. In fact, I feel that every educator who is able to help a child learn and puts in countless hours to ensure the success of students with varying ability levels has left his or her legacy in that moment.

As many people know I stepped down as Principal at New Milford High School this past July and my last day will be on September 3. During my tenure I not only worked to improve every facet of the school, but I also became a connected educator in 2009. When my behavior early on shifted from primarily a communicator to learner everything changed for me as a leader. Initial lurking led to active engagement with people who I had never met. This was the turning point for me. My sole purpose for harnessing and leveraging social media was to engage in conversations with like-minded educators and leaders to improve professional practice. The more I learned in digital spaces the more I began to take risks to improve the culture at NMHS. My Personal Learning Network (PLN) became, and still is, my most valued professional resource. It was here and from thousands of amazing educators that I received the knowledge, resources, ideas, strategies, feedback, and support I needed to initiate sustainable change over the past five years. Never once did I think about whether or not I was creating a legacy. To be honest this thought never crossed my mind and I still have trouble wrapping my head around it.

Over the past few years my work has been aligned to digital leadership and has ultimately defined me as an educator, leader, and person. My objective has been to improve communications, upgrade public relations, establish a brand presence, grow professionally like never before, enhance student learning, redefine learning spaces and environments, and discover opportunities for my school with the assistance of digital tools. It wasn’t really until this past week that I truly realized how this work has impacted other educators with whom I am connected. The posts by Laura Fleming, Spike Cook, and Jared Wastler all brought me to the verge of tears. Each spoke directly or indirectly to my legacy as they saw it. There really is no greater praise one can receive than those from peers who are doing the great work themselves.

As much as I appreciate the positive feedback from my colleagues, I do not feel that I deserve it. My motivation and drive over the years has been my students and staff. I just wanted to create a school that not only achieved, but one that the community and we could be proud of. In the end I believe we have achieved that. We decided to go down the path less traveled years ago in search of a better way. This new direction embraced a shared vision where digital tools played a vital role in our transformation efforts. If there is a lasting legacy resulting from my time as principal in New Milford High School and beyond, it is only because of the work, determination, and commitment to create a school that works for kids and better myself professionally. One does not go out and intentionally create a legacy. Others who see value and impact in our work define it over time. Be the change you wish to see in education, focus on solutions as opposed to excuses, take action, and follow your gut. In the age of social media all connected educators and the actions they take will ultimately carve out their legacy.

cross-posted at A Principal's Reflections

Eric Sheninger will be the keynote speaker at the 2014 New York Tech Forum on Friday October 24, 2014. He is a NASSP Digital Principal Award winner (2012), PDK Emerging Leader Award recipient (2012), winner of Learning Forward's Excellence in Professional Practice Award (2012) and co-author of Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals and What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science. He presents and speaks nationally to assist other school leaders in effectively using technology. His blog, A Principal's Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2011 by Edublogs.