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2020-21 Elementary Principals Convention

February 4-5, 2021 | Virtual Convention

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If you need help registering please email Jena Sebald at [email protected] or call the AWSA office at 608-241-0300. 
All keynote and concurrent sessions from this year's convention remain online until March 8, 2021 for registrants! Registration is still open for those who would like access. Find session descriptions below.


Discipline Done Different 

Andy Jacks, Principal and Speaker 

Ready to pull your hair out over the latest discipline issue, but feel stuck because you don’t know what to do next? The trick is motivating kids to actually want to behave by focusing on resiliency, relationships, and even embracing a bit of rebellion towards traditional policies. Our discipline approach may need to look a little different, because each child we serve is different. Challenging. Unpredictable. Exciting. We got this!

Dr. Andy Jacks has a passion for the success of every single child ensuring that school is a place filled with meaningful relationships and support for even the most at-risk students. Andy is the principal of the award-winning Ashland Elementary School in Northern Virginia, serves on the Autism Society of Northern Virginia’s Board of Directors, and is an NAESP Fellow leading the Center for Innovative Leadership. Andy and his school have received various local and national recognition including Nationally Distinguished Principal, Virginia Principal of the Year, School Bell Award, State Excellence Award, Business Partnership of the Year, and a visit by U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. 

The Power of Integrity

Colonel Art Athens 

Integrity is essential for living lives of purpose and impact and building teams founded on trust and commitment. This presentation answers four key questions: (1) What do we mean by integrity? (2) What does integrity look like in action? (3) How does a leader maintain his or her integrity, particularly in challenging circumstances? and (4) How does a leader create an organizational climate of integrity?

Colonel Athens who recently left the federal government, having served for the past decade as the Director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership and previously, as the Naval Academy’s first Distinguished Military Professor of Leadership. Colonel Athens is a retired Marine Corps officer with command and staff assignments in all four Marine Aircraft Wings and an instructor tour with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (the Marine Corps’ equivalent to the Navy’s Top Gun school). He also served as a White House Fellow under President Ronald Reagan and the Special Assistant to the NASA Administrator following the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. Colonel Athens currently speaks around the country about leading with integrity and works alongside leaders to help them fulfill their personal and professional calling.

Concurrent Sessions 

Closing Opportunity Gaps: One School’s Path to Being Recognized for Exemplary Achievement Gap

Keith Ruffalo, Principal, Cedar Hills Elementary School, Oak Creek-Franklin School District

Come along for the ride of the peaks and valleys of our first three years together as a staff that led to Cedar Hills Elementary being nominated for and awarded the 2019 National Blue Ribbon Award for Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing by the United States Department of Education. Cedar Hills Elementary implemented a variety of systems and capacity building strategies such as shared leadership, continuous improvement, and creating a sense of belonging for staff, students and families. We also worked to build our capacity around instructional and socio-emotional learning practices such as goal setting, mindfulness, growth mindset, and trauma-informed care. While this session will not provide a prescription for success, it will tell the story of the many challenges and celebrations our school had that helped us achieve notable success over a three year period. It will also provide the opportunities for conversations to explore the strategies and systems implemented at Cedar Hills, leading participants to future learning in the area of closing achievement gaps - and maybe even a Blue Ribbon Award? 

Coaching for Equity

Tammy Gibbons, Director of Professional Learning, AWSA

Despite many productive coaching conversations we have missed opportunities to have the deeper conversations that influence language, decisions and mindsets.  This means many of our most vulnerable children go underserved in regular and special education settings.  This session will focus on coaching stems and entry points for impacting equitable practices for students in Wisconsin.

Self-Care and Work-Life Balance

Joe Schroeder, Associate Executive Director, AWSA

The responsibilities of a school leader are daunting, as a variety of folks seek out our limited time, energy, and resources to meet their virtually unlimited needs and desires. Day after day, week after week, they keep coming and coming and coming. No wonder that 89% of school administrators report feeling very stressed at least once a week and that high leadership churn prevails. Self-care and work-life balance are crucial to address such situations, but paradoxically, can be some of the very first things squeezed out of a busy leader’s life! Rather than becoming just another cautionary statistic, consider joining us in this session conversation about ways to feed those parts of our personal lives that make us BOTH whole and vital human beings AND more effective and efficient leaders at work, too. 

Powerful PLCs in a Pandemic: How Collaboration Makes Us Stronger

Janna Cochrane, North Greenville Elementary, Hortonville (2020 Wisconsin Elementary Principal of the Year)

The 30-minute live session will explore how elements of a powerful PLC benefits schools when faced with new challenges such as a global pandemic.  In addition, we will outline key structures and elements of our school’s collaborative teams that have played a part in staying open 5 days a week and leading school life in a COVID world.  The supplemental recording will explore the PLC structures in place and help participants reflect on expanding the impact of their collaborative teams.  And, highlight the Three Big Ideas of a PLC and their impact on handling schoolwide challenges: 1) Focus on Learning:  Teams focus on student learning within their collaborative structure, including SEL and responding to needs after spring school closure, 2) Collaborative Culture:  Dig into the importance of addressing social-emotional needs of staff and continuing to build culture, 3) Focus on Results:  How teams using established structures and data protocols to be responsive to changing student needs.

Are You Innovative?

Andy Jacks, Principal and Speaker 

What is innovation and who decides what should be changed? There are reasons some schools thrive during challenging times while others fall apart. Capitalize on the change process. Maximize input from stakeholders. Lead from within, both personally and organizationally, to empower the true potential of your entire school community!

Professionalism: People Lose Their Way When They Lose Their Why

Tammy Gibbons, Director of Professional Learning, AWSA

In this session, participants will consider how professional lapses in the workplace can contribute to low staff morale and turnover, adverse outcomes for children and loss of community trust. This session will look at coaching stems and opportunities to build relational trust while maintaining high expectations for the adults in our schools. 

Navigating the Long Implementation Bridge: Leadership Skills for Deep Change

Joe Schroeder, Associate Executive Director, AWSA

Thought leaders such as Michael Fullan often talk about three phases of change: initiation, implementation, and institutionalization. Despite our best efforts, most change efforts unfortunately stall out somewhere between initiation and early implementation, which is concerning for many reasons, particularly because student learning doesn’t benefit much until the effort becomes institutionalized! This session will help you recognize common problems of practice that lead to this regular dilemma and, more importantly, will provide a number of tools to bridge the gap in your school so that your collective impact on students can be more deeply realized.

Building Staff Capacity for Social Emotional Teaching and Learning

Maria Dyslin, Principal, MCPASD 

As educators we teach the whole child, this means equal emphasis on teaching and providing levels of support for both social emotional and academic learning. To move forward as a cohesive system staff within a school it is helpful to focus on staff will and skill around social emotional learning, particularly when it comes to how we view, interpret and respond to misbehavior. This session will focus on lessons learned and considerations for moving forward based on my school’s journey towards Restorative Practices.

Legislative Update

AWSA and SAA’s John Forester will update key COVID related legislative issues and preview the 2021-23 Legislative Session.

Coaching for Engagement: Creating the Conditions for Learning

Tammy Gibbons, Director of Professional Learning, AWSA

In this session participants will deepen their understanding of “look-fors”  so as to distinguish between an educator who thinks like an activity designer versus an assessor. Achievement and opportunity gaps exist when students are missing a sense of purpose and belonging in the classroom and if the cognitive rigor reflects low expectations for learning. Analyzing video scenarios for possible entry points is one strategy participants will experience in this session. 

Becoming a Better Version of Yourself: The School Leader Paradigm in Action

Joe Schroeder, Associate Executive Director, AWSA

Scores of administrators know that it is possible to be a principal who “runs a school” – maybe even for twenty years – without ever becoming a learning leader who is developing a learning organization.  But the journey to this level of leadership is not easy. In response, a consortium of state principal associations across America (including AWSA), called the School Leader Collaborative, has been working for several years to re-conceptualize how we view principal leadership with a framework called the School Leader Paradigm, or Paradigm. Essentially, the purpose of the Paradigm is to help educational leaders become better versions of themselves by deepening the complex interplay between a leader’s personal attributes with targeted action domains of the local context so that schools get the learning leaders they need. So come to this session to learn how the Paradigm can serve as a GPS to guide and fuel your ongoing leadership growth this year and beyond.

Supporting Students with Significant Emotional and Behavioral Needs

Dave Kunelis, Eva Shaw, Timothy Peerenboom, and Melanie Sickinger, DPI 

Supporting students who have emotional and behavioral disability-related needs can feel like a nearly impossible task. With an efficient, effective and equitable Multi-Level Systems of Supports (MLSS), designed to meet the needs of all students, it is possible. Components of a strong equitable MLSS should include aspects of Wisconsin’s Social and Emotional Learning Competencies, the School Mental Health Framework, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, and Response to Intervention. This session will provide tools to assess your current system as a way to more effectively address the needs of students with severe emotional and behavioral health needs. Participants will also work through examples to identify root causes of a student’s challenging behavior, and will review state and national resources available to Wisconsin schools.

School Report Card Data

Eric Larsen, Director of Assessment, Data and Accountability, CESA 6
The WI Accountability Report Card will be getting a new look and feel this year, as well as new metrics.  This workshop will explore the report card changes and dig deeper into the new target group metric as well as the reporting categories College and Career Readiness and Arts Data information. 

Leading Professional Learning Communities:  A Lever for Change

Tammy Gibbons, Director of Professional Learning, AWSA

Collaborative teams can exponentially transform outcomes for students when remaining focused on the impact of teaching on learning. Do instructional practices, change as a result of your teams collaboration efforts? Are your teams mutually accountable to each other for the decisions made? Does the performance of the team improve as a result of the time spent together? This session will address these questions as we focus on what leaders can do to build, sustain and monitor collaborative teams.

Cracking the Code: The Tactics for Hardwiring Leadership Impact Into Your Weeks and Work

Joe Schroeder, Associate Executive Director, AWSA

Possessing good intent to make a difference as a school leader is one thing. Developing a thoughtful plan so that you intentionally and powerfully live your deepest purposes rather than chase the next task is an entirely different thing. This session will highlight the tactics and approaches of school leaders who are finding means to “crack the code” in solving this common problem that befuddles so many leaders. In this hands-on session, we will examine and leverage peer examples that are designed to offer guidance and inspiration for “hardwiring” your deepest priorities, step-by-step, into your daily and weekly planning and doing.