The School-University Resource Network held its 25th Annual Leadership Conference June 20-21 at the William & Mary School of Education. This year’s theme was “Leadership in a Time of Change.”
“We’re facing fast, sometimes frantic, and occasionally furious change in education,” said Executive Director Amy Colley M.A.Ed. ’90, M.Ed. ’01, Ed.D. ’14, in her welcome to attendees. “Sometimes the problems we encounter seem tangled beyond repair. This week we’ll have a chance to tug on a few of these threads and see if we can loosen the knots together.”
Started in 1994, SURN is a partnership between the W&M School of Education and Virginia K-12 school divisions “to conduct relevant research and provide professional development in order to promote quality teaching and learning,” according to its website.
With multiple keynotes and concurrent presentations by local, national and international leaders in education and many opportunities for interactive learning, SURN aims to create a national quality conference offered at a regional level. The event was organized around the following strands: Leading the Learning (curriculum, instruction, assessment; supervision, evaluation; coaching); Leading a Culture of Wellness (mental health and well-being); Leading for Cultural Responsiveness; and Leading for School Safety (crisis management, discipline, safety).
This year’s event brought over 200 participants from more than 22 school divisions throughout the state. Michael Fullan, an internationally recognized expert in educational change leadership, gave the opening keynote address on meeting the challenges of post pandemic education. The first day closed with a second keynote by William & Mary Chancellor Professor of Law Vivian Hamilton, who explored the importance of reaching and teaching all students in a fraught political-legal climate. Carol Tomlinson, a nationally known scholar and author on differentiated instruction, opened the second day with an inspirational keynote on “teaching up” by expecting excellence from and providing support for every learner. Chris Reina closed the event with a session on transformative leadership.
In addition to these renowned experts in the field, presenters also included a solid showing from W&M School of Education faculty members sharing their expertise in a range of areas, including family engagement, crisis management, identity development, trauma and emotional regulation and trustworthy leadership. In addition, speakers included educational faculty from other institutions, members of the Virginia Department of Education and local leaders from surrounding school divisions.
“Our goal as a center is to connect the thinking, research and theory going on at the university level with the action, practice and thinking happening at the K-12 level. This conference is a way to develop and strengthen those relationships,” said Sarah Hylton B.A. ‘89, M.Ed. ’97, Ph.D. ’21, assistant director for professional learning at SURN. “We want leaders to walk away thinking of themselves as the lead learners in their school or division.”
The final breakout session encouraged discussion and collaboration among attendees.
“They are always happy to have the chance to share and to think creatively with their colleagues, so we designed the final concurrent session as an EdCamp where attendees could choose a conference strand, pose a question around that topic, and then engage in meaningful conversation with their colleagues,” said Hylton. “This models best practice because they’re leading their own learning.”
As one school leader wrote, the conference “brought thoughtful and inspirational moments and ideas.” Others acknowledged the value of learning together, observing that their “summer learning continued with the … SURN Leadership Conference,” where they were excited to be “learning amongst some great educators getting ready for the upcoming year.” All of these point to SURN’s larger goals for the conference: providing time and space for school and division leaders to connect with colleagues, reflect on and share the challenges and accomplishments of the previous year and harness the power of continued professional learning to prepare for the next school year.