Leadership From the Eyes of a Student

It is with great pride and excitement that I share this guest post by a New Milford High School student.  I approached senior Filip Piasevoli last week and asked if he would consider taking the theme of my blog and writing his own thoughts on leadership, technology, and student-centered learning.  Filip was recently featured in the April 2010 edition of Honor Student Magazine.  He is a member of the National Honor Society, French Honor Society, a three sport athlete, and President of the Senior class.  I am fortunate that he graciously accepted and wrote this powerful piece below.

New Milford High School has presented me with more than enough opportunities to develop my leadership skills. From the humbling and eye-opening experience of the Holocaust Study Tour to the American Legion Boy State retreat to even something as simple as our school’s Peer Leadership program, NMHS goes above and beyond in developing the character, integrity, and leadership capabilities of students across the board. What stands out to me in particular is the way in which kids throughout the student body can take a stand on issues that they are passionate about, looking to bring about change. Two years ago, peer leaders set up a table at the Hackensack Street Festival and held a pasta night with a volunteer doctor from the Sudan as the guest speaker. Each activity was designed to spread awareness of the genocide in Darfur. Our efforts and fundraising was a way of domesticating a foreign problem and aiding the fight against it. A problem closer to home for us is the increasing number of kids smoking cigarettes. Our REBEL chapter, led by a student assistant counselor, functions through the actions of the student body and looks to greatly reduce the number of high school kids that smoke. My time here has truly defined my idea of leadership as the power to unite people with similar emotions and incite meaningful change.

However, leadership within the High School extends beyond those striving for a diploma. Looking back on my four years here, I realize that my stay at New Milford High School has been a milestone in the district. I’ve witnessed a small, suburban school literally upgrade into the epicenter of technology integration within a school setting. In my eyes, this would not have been possible without the pioneering mindset of our principal and an administration that was open to the changes after seeing meaningful integration. The actions within our school district have embodied the motto of one of our society’s most ideal role models, Peter Parker (Spiderman), “With great power comes great responsibility.” Our Principal, who was once responsible for blocking YouTube within the district, grew to embrace the World of 2.0 that often has a stigma within schools. However, the true leadership exudes when looking at the manner in which this revolution was introduced within the school. Mr. Sheninger often says to us students, “Here are the tools, tell me how you want to integrate them so that you benefit most from them in our school.” A leader can have his ideas, but change cannot be adopted through the actions of only one person. My message to other principals is that you can’t be afraid of change, nor can you force a change like ours onto the student body. Leave it to your students to find the uses that they see as most beneficial because that leads to passionate use and a more holistic learning experience.

The Peter Parker motto of power and responsibility falls on the teachers more so than anyone else in the school system. Each teacher has almost seven hours a week to mold our future interests and to teach us to think transcendently. Their tone and attitude towards their respective subjects can change the way each student in the class sees the topic. For example, math should be taught as a practical skill and not as forced memorization, and viewpoints in history should be presented from both sides of an argument, leaving the ultimate verdict on history’s most ambivalent topics to the growing mind of the student. True teaching extends beyond indoctrination and into the facilitation of educational discussion. This is where the true skill of teachers and their own leadership abilities are left to give us the most meaningful high school education possible.

Filip’s piece contains many important lessons as well as practical advice for schools that want to empower and engage students.  Please share this with your colleagues.  Filip will be reading your comments so please let him know what you think of this piece and some of the points that he has made.

2 Comments

  1. This is a great piece, Eric; one of the things I love about the era in which we are all teaching and learning is that with the generational dynamic of technology, our students have so much they can teach us. If we honor that, and incorporate that into our lessons, the entire classroom community changes from a dualistic, teachers and student dynamic, into a shared community of learners united to advance upon the subject at hand.

    This section is terrific: “Mr. Sheninger often says to us students, “Here are the tools, tell me how you want to integrate them so that you benefit most from them in our school.” A leader can have his ideas, but change cannot be adopted through the actions of only one person. Leave it to your students to find the uses that they see as most beneficial because that leads to passionate use and a more holistic learning experience.”

    I think some schools make a mistake in thinking they must plan out and anticipate every element of how laptops will be used in a 1:1 environment; I have long advocated for 1:1 integration, and urged schools to go ahead and put the tools into students’ hands, and then welcome and invite the kids to identify and share ways they can use them to advance their learning and demonstrate their understanding.

    August 18, 2010
  2. Wonderful guest essay Filip. Clearly you have great insights about leadership and education and the school, with students like you, and leaders like Mr. Sheninger allow and support others to: “incite meaningful change”.

    I am most impressed with your message:

    “My message to other principals is that you can’t be afraid of change, nor can you force a change like ours onto the student body. Leave it to your students to find the uses that they see as most beneficial because that leads to passionate use and a more holistic learning experience.”

    This resonates with me on a district level as a superintendent who oversees administrators, faculty, staff, and students. You have made me stop and think and reflect – for that I thank you!

    Nice work – best wishes for a bright future and great school year. Mr. Sheninger – keep up the great work!

    ML

    August 18, 2010

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