The 3rd Annual Joy of Literature and Literacy Conference

On October 11th, more than 160 educators, librarians, literacy specialists and administrators from around the Williamsburg area participated in the College of William and Mary’s third annual Joy of Literature and Literacy Conference.  With a focus on non-fiction this year, the conference offered sessions from award winning children’s book authors Don Brown, Steve Sheinkin, and Susan Stockdale.  Additional sessions were provided by literacy experts Joan Kindig, Beth Estill, Wendy Lucy, Katie Plum, Pam Griffin and Annyce Maddox, covering an array of instructional tools and techniques for incorporating non-fiction books across curricular areas. Participants were treated to captivating stories, resonant art, and powerful new ideas for engaging and teaching students with non-fiction books.

In addition to the conference sessions, attendees were treated to book signing opportunities with all the children’s book authors.  Speakers’ books were available for purchase, courtesy of the campus bookstores.

Planning for next year’s conference is already in full swing, and promises to be equally successful with the theme of reading and writing across the curriculum, featuring children’s book authors Candace Fleming and Barbara O’Connor! For further information, contact


Author Steve Sheinkin shares primary sources that he used in researching and writing the young adult nonfiction book, “Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon”

SURN’s Summer Successes

Participants in SURN’s Summer Professional Development offerings benefited from a wide range of opportunities to connect, learn, and grow.


Over the summer, SURN’s Williamsburg headquarters at the College of William and Mary were a destination for teachers and administrators across Virginia who invested in summer professional development opportunities that would positively impact their schools and students throughout the upcoming academic year.  SURN-hosted events included the Leadership Academy on June 20th and 21st, and Principal Academy on July 17th, both of which provided participants with opportunities for connecting around ideological and practical issues emerging in field of educational administration and leadership.  The Leadership Academy in June featured speakers John Hattie, Deb Masters, and Valerie Gregory, who discussed the principles and practices involved in promoting Visible Learning in schools.  Participants attending the second day of the year-long Principal Academy series in July focused their energy on learning and practicing observation strategies and using observation checklists to promote Visible Learning practices in their schools.  Overall, participants of both Academies left energized and prepared to motivate and support teachers in integrating Visible Learning practices in classrooms across the region.

In August, the College and Career Readiness Institute (CCRI) provided finished a year-long workshop series for high school English teachers who are striving to integrate the College and Career Readiness standards into their teaching through the use of best practices in literacy instruction.  Teachers left the most recent CCRI workshop held on August 29th with many practical strategies for integrating CCRI standards into their teaching, including lesson planning materials and research-based resources to inform instruction.  These teachers also received valuable resources, in the form of fiction and nonfiction trade books, to support CCRI practices in their classrooms.  On average, each teacher received $50 or more of books, which were provided by the SCHEV grant that supports CCRI programming.

Not all of the participants in SURN’s summer professional development opportunities remained in Williamsburg.  For 14 days in August, SURN took eager educators and administrators to Australia and New Zealand to observe first-hand the impact that Visible Teaching and Learning strategies have on student learning and achievement.  Participants spent time in classrooms where Visible Teaching and Learning practices have been fully integrated and invested time and energy exploring how to integrate these same principles school-wide in classrooms closer to home.  Participants also took advantage of opportunities to network while experiencing the culture and beauty of Australia and New Zealand.  Attendees of the 2013 Study Tour returned stateside ready to embark upon an exciting school year filled with Visible Learning in schools.

Classroom Observations: Research, Practice, and Principal Academy

For Principal Academy participants, classroom observations are emphasized as a way to support the use of high yield instructional strategies by teachers (for more on these strategies, see John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning for Teachers).  These focused observations promote conversations between administrators and teachers about teaching practices and are used as a springboard for regular communication about both teaching and student learning.  Observations in the Principal Academy are not only regularly conducted by administrators, but are also conducted by teachers as a way to encourage inter-professional dialogue focused on the use of high yield instructional strategies to promote student learning.

Principal Academy participants are not the only ones who have their eyes on this informative practice.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently funded research that led to a published paper entitled The Reliability of Classroom Observations by School Personnel.  In this paper, Ho and Kane examine the reliability between administrative and teacher observers, and examine different combinations of observations that provide reliability coefficients of .65 or greater.

The full report can be found here:

Here are some questions to consider about classroom observations.  You may want to share these questions with your staff in conjunction with the article above.  Hopefully these questions, and your answers, will inspire dialogue among professionals throughout your school!

  • What do you believe are the benefits of classroom observations?
  • What reservations do you have about using observations to inform teaching practices?
  • What benefits might there be to including teachers as observers in the process?
  • How might you encourage observations and discussions about the observations to inform teacher practice and promote student learning?