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Tony Sinanis is a school administrator “tweeting” his way to the top.

Sinanis is a student in the Graduate School of Education’s Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership — a three-year program that allows students with full-time jobs as educational leaders to attend GSE classes one weekend per month. Also the principal at Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, NY, Sinanis was named New York State’s Elementary Principal of the Year in late March for his exemplary leadership practices — which include extensive use of Twitter pages to connect school staff and students to the wider New York community.

Of the 18 classrooms of students from kindergarten through fifth grade at Cantiague, 14 have their own Twitter accounts from which teachers tweet updates and photos of the students’ activities. From his personal Twitter account @TonySinanis, Sinanis tweets about Cantiague students many times each day. 

At 8:16 a.m. on Wednesday, he tweeted a photo of three 3rd-graders on an iPad, deciding what their class should blog about that day. Six hours and seven tweets later, he posted another photo — this time of him lying on the ground as he forms a “human clock” with second-grade students.

“I don’t take myself too seriously,” Sinanis said. “I take my work seriously and I live for my kids and our staff, but I don’t take myself too seriously.”

During his six years as principal at Cantiague, Sinanis has promoted the “bucket filling” philosophy — a character development idea that stems from several picture books encouraging positive thinking and considerate actions among children.

“It spreads from this idea that we all carry around an imaginary bucket, which when you do good things, gets filled, and when you don’t do good things, it gets dipped into,” Sinanis said. “We look at it as a philosophy, a sort of way of life.”

Since the philosophy was first implemented at Cantiague six years ago, troublesome behavior referrals have diminished significantly. Sinanis continues to encourage students to be “bucket fillers” through creative means. One year he held a song-writing contest in which each class came up with lyrics explaining what it means to be a bucket filler — to the tune of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’”

“I love my kids — everything I do here is for our kids,” Sinanis said. “Even if it’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do or the most comfortable thing to do, we try to keep everything child-centered here.”

Sinanis has made other significant changes at Cantiague, implementing consistent reading and writing workshop models across the grade levels and introducing different types of assessments to evaluate school progress instead of only using state tests.

“I just try to push for good instruction,” Sinanis said. “Never worrying about test scores and not worrying about performance, but worrying about student engagement.”

Sinanis said he has been able to implement new ways of thinking at Cantiague due to his experience with Penn’s Mid-Career Doctoral Program. Specifically, he said that it has shaped his perspective on special education, race issues and diversity in education.

"We have a lot of discussions in class, so these conversations have really helped to broaden my point of view," he said.

Sinanis is a member of the program’s 11th cohort, which consists of 25 students — all educational leaders from schools across the country.

“The cohort piece has definitely been a key to making this all manageable and doable — seeming like we’re going to finish this together,” Sinanis said. “It definitely plays a role in the learning that we do, the conversations that we have and in my growth as an educator as well.”

Sharon Ravitch, a senior lecturer at GSE, has taught Sinanis and the other members of his cohort for nearly two years, leading courses in qualitative research methods. She is also on Sinanis’ dissertation committee, advising him as he researches Twitter’s impact in the professional development of principals.

“One of the many things that’s so impressive about Tony is that he truly situates himself as a learner,” Ravitch said. “One might say, ‘He’s a doctoral student, of course he’s a learner.’ But he’s also a really seasoned and experienced professional.”

Sinanis applied to the Mid-Career Doctoral Program with eagerness to learn.

“I was plateauing a bit in my own learning and growth ... I wanted to be pushed and to stretch my thinking,” Sinanis said. “So for me it was about my own growth and pushing myself out of my comfort zone — which [the program] has done tenfold.”

Ravitch explained that practitioner research is a pillar of the Mid-Career Doctoral Program. Students are expected not only to critically engage with existing research, but also to produce original research in the context of their own work — something that she said Sinanis does well. She felt he truly deserves the award for Principal of the Year.

“It’s wonderful when you see someone who is such a wonderful, transformative leader be honored,” Ravitch said. “The whole Mid-Career community is thrilled for him ... It’s just such a spirit of happiness for other people’s accomplishments, and I think that’s really exciting.”

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