Grappling with AI

School leaders must increasingly grapple with ChatGPT and other AI platforms. In a roundtable discussion, three school leaders share how they are educating themselves, their students, and their staff about AI language-processing tools and their uses. These leaders include Kristen St. Germain, the principal of Wheeler High School/Wheeler Middle School in North Stonington, CT, and the 2023 Connecticut Principal of the Year; Christopher Page, EdD, the principal of Highlands Ranch High School in Highlands Ranch, CO, and the 2023 Colorado Principal of the Year; and Timothy Wagner, EdD, the principal of Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, and the 2023 Pennsylvania Principal of the Year.


‘Critical ignoring’ is an essential skill

Critical thinking is a skill today’s schools emphasize to prepare students to cope in the digital age. But Sam Wineburg, the Margaret Jacks Professor of Education, Emeritus, at Stanford University, argues that “critical ignoring”—”the ability to quickly decide whether an item that comes across our feed is worthy of attention and, if not, to ignore it, move on, and locate a better source”—is even more important. “We have allowed today’s students to speed along the information superhighway without so much as a driver’s permit,” Wineburg says. “As educators, we must do everything we can to cultivate students’ critical thinking. But in an age where we turn to a screen to learn about the world, the first step of critical thinking is to determine if something is worthy of thinking critically about.”


Limiting cell phone use

As one way to deal with a rise in discipline problems post-COVID, Rogers Park Middle School in Danbury, CT, adopted a policy that prohibits cell phone use in classrooms and only allows students to use phones between classes to check their schedule and during lunch. Principal Kristy Zaleta, who notes that the decision was only made after extensive deliberation, says the new policy has yielded a series of positive outcomes. She offers some tips to other school leaders considering new cell phone policies:

• Seek stakeholder input.
• Use data-driven analysis for a tailored approach.
• Engage in collaborative decision-making
• Clearly communicate. 
• Ensure consistent implementation.
• Monitor and adapt.


Seven steps for a positive school culture

School leaders have the power to shape their school culture into an environment where everyone grows and thrives. At, Colleyville Middle School in Colleyville, TX, Principal David Arencibia has worked hard to develop a culture that “radiates enthusiasm, nurtures a growth mindset, and stands as a testament to the strength of a united school community.” Based on his leadership team’s success, he outlines seven steps school leaders can follow to establish a positive culture:

1. Define core values.
2. Lead by example.
3. Align hiring practices.
4. Create spaces of high engagement.
5. Build a powerful school community team.
6. Celebrate and reinforce positive behaviors.
7. Celebrate success, no matter how big or small.