SURN Literacy Study Group

The SURN Literacy Study Group is a group of literacy specialists and other educators from SURN school divisions who meet monthly to explore strategies to enhance literacy and literature teaching at all levels. Led by Dr. Denise Johnson, Assistant Professor at The School of Education, LSG participants take part in discussions surrounding the do’s and don’ts of teaching reading and writing. Highlights of the group from past years include: designing professional development for teachers, coaching, writing conferences, informal assessments, and reading and writing across content areas.

What do current SURN Literacy Study Group participants have to say about the group?

“I loved being able to connect with others around the area to discuss topics and to gain knowledge of how other divisions are addressing similar issues/structures”

“This group has helped me to grow as a literacy leader and go “beyond my comfort zone” in advocating for “best practice” and “research-supported pedagogy.” It promotes a climate of trust where district representatives are able to discuss challenges and what strategies/practices could best help meet these challenges. This group of professionals is diverse, edifying, resourceful, and supportive.”

“I also think the sharing of resources is invaluable.”

Some key topics to be addressed this year include:

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Does your division have a representative attending the Literacy Study Group this year? If the answer is no, what are you waiting for? Email to make the most of your SURN experience!

College and Career Readiness Workshop

Motivating adolescents to read can be a challenge for educators; however, we know that there are four factors that make a significant positive difference when it comes to adolescent reading. Students who have knowledge goals for reading, choice in what they read, interesting texts, or opportunities to collaborate are not only more motivated to read, but also have increased reading comprehension and achievement (Guthrie & Humenick, 2004). On Tuesday Oct. 7, 45 secondary ELA teachers gathered together at SURN for our first of four workshops in the 2014-15 school year. This workshop series will focus on building student engagement and literacy practices in order to best prepare students for college and career. Each teacher left the workshop with two contemporary YA books – one fiction and one nonfiction – to help to jumpstart literacy efforts this year. Below are the titles from which they were able to choose.

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SURN Principal Academy

The 2013 and 2014 cohorts of the SURN Principal Academy met in September to continue their learning about high yield strategies. The 2013 cohort dived deeper into a session on John Hattie’s book Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learndesigned by Carol Sceare. Meanwhile the 2014 cohort considered how various learning strategies aligned to teacher pedagogy using a sorting activity on the form. Both groups engaged in a simulated observation using the indicators of student engagement form led by SURN Principal Academy mentor, Tony Vladu, principal of Denbigh High School (NNPS).


Visible Leaders Institute for Central Office

Twenty-six central office leaders from 20 SURN member school divisions engaged in a day long exploration of student engagement which included training on how to use the Indicators of Student Engagement Tool to collect formative feedback on what students are doing to learn in the classroom. The Visible Leaders Institute for Central Office (VLICO) consists of two one-day sessions designed to provide central office leaders with knowledge and skills to support their principals who are engaged in the SURN Principal Academy. A culminating activity was to create a poem modeled after the format of Margaret Brown Wise’s Important Book from one of four perspectives on student engagement. Can you match the perspective of administrator, student, teacher, and central office personnel to each poem?

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Resource Collection: School around the World

What does your classroom look like? How do you get to school each day? What’s for lunch?

The experiences of children across the U.S. and the world are very different – yet there are often underlying similarities that bind us together. Explore the resources below and share them with your students to start reflecting and discussing: why is school important? How does learning about a school help to reveal community values? What goals do you have for your school year? What do you take for granted about school and what would you like to change? Why is it important to know about school around the world?

SURN Study Tour

Photos from the SURN Study Tour in China

Documentary (available online from PBS): Wide Angle’s Time for School 3

Photo Series: Here’s What School Lunch Looks Like in 13 Countries Around the World

Photo Series: Quiet at the back: classrooms around the world

Article: School Years around the World: From Australia to South Korea

Photo Series: Back to School around the World

Infographic: Schooling around the World

Graph: Where in the World are the Best Schools and the Happiest Kids?

Books: Check your Library!

Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools around the World by Susan Hughes

My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs

What the World Eats by Faith D’Alusio and Peter Menzel

One World, One Day by Barbara Kelley

Welcome 2014 SURN Principal Academy Cohort Members!

Twenty-four principals and assistant principals from Virginia Regions 1, 2, and 3 started their two-year journey in the SURN Principal Academy, July 14-16 at The College of William and Mary. They focused on how to collect data about student engagement and provide feedback to teachers. As part of their reflection, teams wrote poems about student engagement from the perspectives of student, teacher, and administrator.

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Summer Publications

The academic school year is winding down, but that does not stop SURN Principal Academy participants and other educational stakeholders from achieving new milestones.  Yvonne D. Smith-Jones recently published a feature article in the VAASCD newsletter about coaching. Her article can be read at, and the June newsletter can be accessed (soon!) by visiting the following link:

Corwin Press published an article on the SURN Principal Academy about Visible Learning and Leadership. SURN Executive Director Jan Rozzelle and Valerie DiPaola, Williamsburg James City County (WJCC) Director for School Performance, will present at the International Visible Learning Conference on July 17, 2014 with a group of WJCC principals who participate in the SURN Principal Academy. The link to the article is:

SURN College and Career Readiness Institute

Looking Back on Elementary Nonfiction Literacy

This year, SURN held its inaugural Elementary Nonfiction Literacy initiative.  Two elementary teachers in grades 3 through 5 from each of SURN’s member school divisions were invited to participate in a series of three workshops designed to enhance teachers’ nonfiction literacy strategies and skills.  Each workshop focused on specific strategies for promoting elementary nonfiction literacy, while the themes of student engagement and student choice in nonfiction literacy overarched and were integrated across the three workshops.


The first workshop, held in December, focused on integrating Power Tools strategies in the elementary grades, both in content areas and in literacy instruction through the use of nonfiction texts.  Also occurring during this session was an introduction to Edmodo, an online platform that participants used for between-session networking and assignment submission.  Participants were introduced to current research on elementary nonfiction literacy that highlighted the importance of helping students to develop nonfiction literacy skills.  Participants left the session charged with the task of constructing a text set and energized to begin integrating Power Tools strategies for nonfiction literacy into their classrooms.

When SURN Elementary Nonfiction Literacy participants returned for their second meeting in February, they arrived with shining examples of texts sets.  After sharing these with peers, participants engaged in a full-day workshop focused on the importance of student engagement and choice in nonfiction literacy.  During this session, participants were introduced to John Hattie’s work on high yield teaching strategies, and participants were provided with a framework for assessing student engagement through the use of SURN’s observation protocol.  The importance of student choice in nonfiction literacy was emphasized through an experiential book sorting activity, following which each teacher received approximately $100 worth of nonfiction trade books to keep and use in their classrooms.  With these new resources, participants were tasked with creating and teaching a lesson that integrated nonfiction literacy strategies and skills.  Participants were also asked to observe their co-participant teaching her lesson using SURN’s observation protocol, and to provide each other with formative feedback based upon the observation process.


Participants returned for the final session with high-quality lesson plans to share.  The final session focused on developing classroom procedures conducive to student choice and engagement.  Presentations highlighted real-world classroom practices modeled by SURN member school teachers that provide clear structure and organization to promote student engagement and choice.  Additional information on differentiation strategies for nonfiction literacy was shared with participants to ensure teachers could begin the 2014-15 academic year with a clear plan for integrating nonfiction literacy practices across the curriculum from the first day of school onward.  The remainder of the final session focused on affirming the work of the teachers throughout the Elementary Nonfiction initiative.  A Gallery Walk allowed teachers to describe changes they’ve made and would like to continue making to promote student engagement through nonfiction literacy.  Teachers left with an invitation to apply for one of several SURN Elementary Nonfiction Literacy book grants, which will provide teams of teachers with $750 in nonfiction books for their classrooms.

Between each session, teachers were actively engaged in submitting assignments, providing feedback to peers, and exploring connections between workshop content and real-world classroom practices via Edmodo.  The ongoing dedication and commitment of the teacher participants was evident and impressive, particularly given the impact of multiple snow days on the teachers’ classroom schedules and plans.  The teachers were supported throughout the process by the Power Team, a group of three teachers and one SURN staff member who shared first-person reflections and feedback on the importance of topics addressed throughout the Nonfiction Literacy initiative.  Additionally, the Power Team members served as allies for the teachers, validating the challenges encountered and providing ideas for overcoming obstacles inherent in trying something new.

Next year, the SURN Elementary Nonfiction Literacy initiative will embark on year two.  The capacity, motivation, and enthusiasm of the elementary teachers who participated this year makes SURN eager to continue to support elementary teachers in channeling their motivation and excitement toward promoting student success in and engagement with nonfiction literacy!

Celebrating SURN Graduate Assistants


Think about your work setting. What can you celebrate about your staff beyond the amazing work that goes on within the school? How can you incorporate their talents, knowledge, and passions into the work that done at school? This is the challenge that SURN embraces each time a new graduate student joins our team.

You read the blog; perhaps you have attended a SURN professional development offering this year or have gotten a SURN email, but did you know that the SURN staff has four part-time graduate students?

This week we want to celebrate the professional contributions of our SURN graduate students. They learn from us the nuts and bolts of effective program development, grant writing, and stakeholder communication – all skills they can transfer to their future workplaces. We learn from them what their passions and interests are. While at SURN they: communicate with stakeholders, prepare materials, welcome professional development participants, and coordinate programs within a larger grant. In short, they contribute in numerous ways to support learning and teaching in the Commonwealth.

Outside of their time at SURN, the graduate assistants are studying for master’s and doctoral degrees. As part of their scholarly journey, they are presenting and writing.

Amy worked to create and currently coordinates and co-facilitates the New Leaf Women’s Group, a women’s group for William and Mary students who want to make changes to high-risk substance use patterns.  She will also be presenting on techniques for working with couples impacted by addiction at the International Family Therapy Association’s 22nd World Family Therapy Congress in Panama City, Panama.

Jenny P. will be co-presenting at the Virginia School Counselor Association conference a session entitled, “Cyberbullying Support and Educational Group Curriculum.” She is also co-presenting a session entitled, “An Exploration of College Major Selection of High School Students” at the William and Mary School of Education Research Symposium.

Kerri is the founding Editor-in-Chief of the William and Mary Educational Review, a student run peer reviewed publication at the School of Education that is currently in its third publication cycle. This April she will be co-presenting her research paper, “School Leaders and Media Literacy: A Narrative Study on the Impact of Attitudes and Perceptions,” at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting. During the past two fall semesters, she has taught a graduate course for pre-service teachers entitled Designs for Technology Enhanced Instruction.

Paige provides support to pre-service teachers as a University Supervisor and Adjunct Professor at William and Mary. She also serves on the peer-reviewed WMER Board a journal within the William and Mary School of Education. Paige will be presenting at the upcoming NCN Conference through the Center for Gifted Education and the Research Symposium, both at William and Mary.

The experiences of these four women benefit SURN because they are constantly learning, writing, presenting, and reflecting. They have an amazing synergy about how they can better serve our stakeholders. John Hattie talks about “Know thy impact.” These graduate students are part of the SURN difference.

What is the impact of your staff within the school? Within the world? Think about how these two can come together.

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