Taking time to reflect is a common trait of those with a growth mindset. Neal Sonnenberg is one such person in his quest to educate others. As a technology integration specialist in the Medfield Public Schools, Neal strives to support students and teachers alike in their own journeys of engagement. While his initial career was outside of education, he always knew someday he would become a teacher. “My mother was an English teacher and I always admired the relationships she forged with her students,” said Neal. “I spent many years as a camp counselor, which made me realize how much I enjoyed working with kids.” After working in private industry for many years, he accepted his first position teaching high school math. “It just took me a while to figure out how to get there.”
Opportunities for Engagement
Neal’s experiences in education have been more of a journey than an end point. He feels very lucky to have ended up in Medfield, where technology and innovation are encouraged by the administration. He is always interested in new ways to engage students and is ultimately motivated by his students. “They deserve to have lessons that are interesting and engaging, and I try to encourage teachers to use technology as a way to enhance student learning,” he said. In addition to teaching a student-centered help desk class for Medfield High School, Sonnenberg provides both formal and informal professional development to teachers. Sonnenberg remembers his own evolution and growth, striving to ‘meet teachers where they are’. “As a former teacher I know that teachers are being pulled in many directions, so I always try to make sure that the technology tools I recommend are easy to use and fit into the curriculum,” said Sonnenberg. He also believes in modeling use of various tools to achieve outcomes and providing opportunities for hands-on learning. “It’s good for both the teachers and the students to figure out how a technology tool works”, states Sonnenberg.
His “Lunch and Learn” series provides teachers with a space and time to collaborate and share innovative practices in the classroom. “Sometimes I will lead the trainings, but often I encourage teachers to lead the PD as this provides another expert in the building that other teachers can lean on,” stated Sonnenberg. The collegial aspect of his training models, coupled with support from his student help desk team, is a winning combination in keeping things fresh for Medfield.
Reaching Out to Others
Neal’s quest does not stop at his own school, with this Featured Educator employing boundless energy in reaching out to others. He can often be found assisting with tech initiatives at the elementary schools in Medfield. An active participant in both MassCUE and the TEC job-alike group, Neal reaps the benefits of networking with other like-minded educators to help improve experiences for his own district. “I have connected with session presenters at MassCUE who have a passion for technology and know how to engage their audience. I always learn something new!”, said Sonnenberg.
He is also one of the key architect’s of Medfield’s Annual Digital Learning Day (DLD). “DLD started six years ago as an in-house PD opportunity for Medfield Staff to learn and share how teachers were integrating technology in the classroom,” said Neal. “What started as just a few of our ‘best’ teachers sharing their expertise has morphed into what our teachers describe as the best PD of the year.” By the third year of running the conference, keeping the topics fresh became the priority. This identified the need for Medfield to include presenters from other districts. “Having these outside presenters has been tantamount to the success of our conference as it provides a chance for us to collaborate with colleagues from other districts, as well as learn and share best practices with them,” said Neal. Last year, Medfield Digital Learning Day (DLD) had grown to include presentations from twenty different districts with over 550 attendees from 50 districts from MA, NH, RI and NY. “I think people really enjoy the conference because it no longer focuses entirely on technology, but also on important topics that affect all educators such as Social Emotional Learning, Stress relief techniques for teachers, Creating an Inclusive Classroom and even a hands-on cooking class to make nutritional snacks!” said Sonnenberg. To get a better sense of what the conference is like you can reference last year’s schedule. This year’s conference is on Thursday, April 4th and anyone interested can apply to present.
Innovation Beyond the Classroom
Sonnenberg’s acumen for technology combined with analytics has also brought improved efficiency to Medfield Schools. His goal is to help save teachers time by minimizing much of the bureaucratic work that comes with the job. He developed solutions to streamline administrative functions in his district by creating digital student sign-ins at the schools, digital workflows for conference requests, course approval and reimbursement and student placement. He also digitized the form collection process at the start of the school year. In doing so, Neal has worked with students, teachers, parents, nurses, guidance, librarians, reading specialists, principals and administrators. Such improvements have eliminated manual work and saved the district time and money.
In spite of all of his contributions, Sonnenberg remains humble and believes in continuous growth. “I recognize that I do not know everything and always look to learn from others,” he said. His positive outlook and desire to improve learning is an inspiration. Congratulations to Neal on a job well done!
Neal Sonnenberg is a technology integration specialist (9-12) for Medfield Public Schools and a Google for Education Certified Trainer. He is the proud father of 3 boys, aged 11, 9 and 4 months. Follow him on Twitter @nealman17Print this post