2021 Middle & High School Principals Convention 

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Click here for the paper program. 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 15, 2021 for registrants! Registration is still open for those who would like access. Find session descriptions below.




Staying Personal and Authentic in the Midst of Adversity

Tom Murray, Future Ready Schools

2020 has brought uncertainty at every turn. Opening this school year in the midst of a global pandemic has created significant anxiety and a loss of sleep for all educators, regardless of position. As we lead through uncertainty, how can we create a culture where both students and staff can thrive? How can we work to overcome fear and fail forward when things don’t go as planned? How can we best leverage the things that we still control? Regardless of what happens outside our school walls, together we can work to create meaningful opportunities for those we serve when we hyper-focus on the things that matter most. The work is hard, but our kids are worth it! 

Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools Today

Tom Murray, Future Ready Schools

Having no historical precedent, the current speed of technological breakthroughs has led to the coming age of workplace automation, dramatically altering the world of work that our students will enter upon graduation. With the vast disparities of inequity that have existed for centuries, all that is known about how students learn, and the predictions regarding the world that our students will face tomorrow, utilizing a traditional, one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and learning is educational malpractice. Built upon the foundation of leadership and school culture, a redesigned learning experience fundamentally shifts the teaching and learning paradigm to one that is personal, while altering the use of authentic assessments, how technology is leveraged, the spaces in which the learning occurs, the way educators grow professionally, how schools collaborate with the community, and ultimately, the sustainability of the system as a whole. In this session, Murray will dissect these eight keys, which each serve as a puzzle piece for redesigning the learning experience, to unlock tomorrow’s schools so that today’s modern learners leave ready to create new industries, find new cures, and solve world problems. We must create tomorrow’s schools today and you are part of the solution. 

Tom serves as the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools®, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, located in Washington, D.C. He has testified before the United States Congress and has worked alongside that body, the White House, the US Department of Education and state departments of education, corporations, and school districts throughout the country to implement student-centered learning while helping to lead Future Ready Schools® and Digital Learning Day. An ASCD best-selling author, Murray serves as a regular conference keynote, was named the “2018 National/Global EdTech Leader of the Year,” by EdTech Digest, the “2017 Education Thought Leader of the Year,” one of “20 to Watch” by NSBA in 2016, and the “Education Policy Person of the Year” by the Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015. His best-selling book, Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, co-authored with Eric Sheninger and published by ASCD, was released in June 2017. His most recent book, Personal & Authentic: Designing Learning Experiences that Impact a Lifetime, was released in October of 2019.

Motivating Teachers - Finding the Power to Educate

Akil Ross, Professor and Speaker

Our nation faces a severe teacher shortage and teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates. The audience will leave this session with strategies to engage their staff in our most important work; developing meaningful relationships with all of our students.  In so doing, not only will our best teachers remain in teaching they will thrive.  

“He flunked the third grade. Now he’s the best high school principal in the nation.” This was the headline from the local newspaper after he was announced the National Principal of the Year. Dr. Akil Ross’ story is a testimony of the power a community has to transform a struggling student into a high performing student. Akil grew up in Washington, DC during the height of a drug and crime wave that claimed the potential of many young people in his community. In the midst of these conditions, transformational elements were made available that empowered him to maximize his potential. As principal of Chapin High School, Dr. Ross was named the 2018 Secondary Principal of the Year.

Concurrent Sessions

Tools Every Secondary Leader Needs for Communicating about Critical Issues

Joe Donovan, Founder of the Donovan Group

We all know that effectively engaging students, staff, parents, and other stakeholders is vital for principals. But, how do we have effective two-way communication about the most sensitive issues we face, from issues related to student and staff social media posts to arrests on school grounds to facilities-related crises to communicating about COVID-19?  In this session, communications expert Joe Donovan will introduce a process and set of tools to thoughtfully engage all stakeholders about critical issues. Participants are encouraged to bring their most challenging communications issues to the 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. 

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.

Centering Every Learner’s Genius by Design

Jill Gurtner, Middleton-Cross Plains

A decade ago a group of dedicated educators, community members and young people set out to design a high school experience which would truly engage all in deep learning.  The resulting school, Clark Street Community School (CSCS),  was recently honored as the first Gold Level School of Opportunity in Wisconsin by the National Education Policy Center. Through a student-centered, competency based approach with deep connections to the community,  CSCS welcomes students and their families into a collective effort to transform public education to ensure that every child deeply understands their personal genius and confidently understands how they can use it for the greater good.  In this time of significant change in our schools and in our world, come consider the possibility of a new vision for learning with us. 

Implementing the EL Education model to create a culture of college and career readiness

Bill Haithcock, Kenosha

What does it mean to be ready for College? What does it mean to be ready to enter the workforce in the 21st century? Disconnected students ask, “Why is school important to me?” Educators face the challenge of preparing students to enter a complex world. To accomplish this, it is imperative that schools develop a culture where students care about growth and take ownership of their own learning. During this workshop we will identify elements of an effective college and career readiness approach. Participants will consider effective strategies utilized by EL Education (formerly knows as Expeditionary Learning) to build student character, student ability to create high quality work and improved student achievement. 

From Research to Practice, How to Create the Learning Spaces Kids Need

Tom Murray, Future Ready Schools

What does research say about learning space redesign? How can educators redesign their spaces even if budgets are limited or nonexistent? What is the purpose of such redesign and what role should student voice play in the process? Redesigning learning spaces is about understanding how design impacts the brain and learning; not about being pretty for Pinterest. Join Future Ready’s Thomas C. Murray, author of ASCD’s Learning Transformed, to discuss, learn, and design innovative learning spaces for today’s modern learners. Come ready to engage, discuss, and design! 

Getting Started with Grading for Learning

Jerry Pritzl and Mark Hoernke, Poynette

Moving from traditional grading to a Grading for Learning system can feel like an insurmountable challenge. While difficult to implement, the gains in student achievement and positive school culture are undeniable. This session will guide school leaders through the key components of a successful implementation.  The session will also highlight the deliberate leadership practices necessary to lead this transformative change in a school system. 

Standards-Based Grading in a Personalized Learning Environment

Larry Zeman, Chetek-Weyerhaeuser

Would you like to improve student motivation and engagement while improving student learning?  Have you implemented standards-based grading and are you ready to personalize the learning experience for students?  This session will share personalized learning strategies in a standards-based grading system targeted at improving student performance.  Specific examples of how student choice and voice have increased engagement and motivation will be shared by teachers and students

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.

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.

Leading in Uncertainty 

Akil Ross, Professor and Speaker

In times of uncertainty and change, the actions of the leader are magnified. During these times, the difference between success and failure hinges on the decisions and actions of the school leader. This session will give school leaders a practical guide for leading students, teachers and school communities when it matters most.

Personal and Professional Boundaries: Keys to Proactive, Resilient Leading and Living

Joe Schroeder, Associate Executive Director, AWSA

In constantly serving and giving of ourselves to others, it is easy to forget that we have limits. And when we regularly forego our limits, we put both our long-term health and resilience at risk while also often depriving others of the opportunity to learn and grow. This session, which is focused upon one core aspect of self-care, will help you explore the counterintuitive notion that setting sound boundaries – both at work and in your personal life – is actually one of the most loving and generous steps you can take. You will leave the session understanding fundamentals at work in setting boundaries and strategies for immediately applying them to your life in loving and effective ways, without guilt.

Legislative Update

John Forester, SAA 

AWSA and the School Administrators Alliance’s John Forester will provide an update on the Legislative issues of most importance to secondary school leaders in the 2021-23 Session of the Legislature, including COVID related legislation.  

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.