In Appreciation of the Assistant Principal

By Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Dear School Administrators and Teachers:

For several years I walked around in the “skin” of an assistant principal. I am very familiar with the challenges you face, the hours you dedicate to your school, the loyalty you pledge to your principal, and the joy you experience watching students succeed. As a teacher, I distinctly remember thinking about the life of an assistant principal as being stress-free. I formulated a judgment that their administrator duties and responsibilities compared to my teacher work were notably less. At that moment I believed that an assistant principal could use the restroom at their leisure, leave paperwork for the next day, eat lunch uninterrupted, and build relationships with students and parents quickly. I was wrong – what a difference perspective makes!

More than just a “right-hand man or woman” employed to take the excess workload from a public-school principal, the assistant principal is a vital component of a school’s success. They are responsible for handling administrative, disciplinary, and logistical tasks, along with planning activities and monitoring and reporting on the status of the school, its student body, and staff. In some schools, the assistant principal may count teacher or substitute among their list of job roles as well. With that said, assistant principals are the backbone in school building administration.

As an assistant principal, there were moments of uncertainty and worry that I did not make the best decisions. The long hours of supervising sporting events, participating in parent-teacher conferences, attending trainings, conducting home visits, advising students, counseling teachers, etc. did not create a stress-free life.

Although unintentional, the assistant principal job is sometimes unappreciated. This week the nation celebrates the sacrifices and contributions assistant principals make to the American education system. I was fortunate to have strong assistant principals and acknowledge that my success as a principal relied heavily on their shoulders. They were my foundation. Teachers, before you submit that discipline referral or complain about a consequence from a discipline referral, and principals, before you add another task to their already endless list, I challenge you to reflect and try to “understand things from their point of view.” This week and beyond I encourage all principals and teachers to consider the efforts of their assistant principals and share their gratitude for all that they do to support students, teachers, parents and communities.

Educationally yours,


Our Voice Matters

By: Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN


We are in a day and time where public education is under constant scrutiny which makes advocating for schools, teachers and students a top priority for administrators. As a principal, I never imagined constant communication with local, state and federal representatives would be a priority to ensure a high-quality education for all students. However, sharing their stories with those individuals became a norm. Their stories mattered and it was my responsibility to be sure they were told.

So, what can you do as a principal or assistant principal to ensure politicians understand the impact their decisions will have on your students and school?  Below are lessons I have learned as a principal and by participating in the Holmes Scholars program.

Although you may feel uneasy with becoming politically active, I was, at a minimum you should get to know your school board members, city council members and state representatives. This knowledge extends beyond their names. During my own journey of advocacy, I put myself in spaces that provided opportunities for encounters with those individuals. For example, I became active in local and state professional organizations, such as Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP). You will be exposed to and become familiar with the latest matters that may affect your community. Within organizations there will be individuals that are familiar with advocacy work and will be happy to guide you in the journey. Trust me, I know this to be a fact!  Additionally, city council members and state representatives sometimes attend functions sponsored by those organizations. More importantly, I invited them (elected officials) to attend and participate in school events, such as Real Men/Women Read and honor roll ceremonies, which provided first-hand opportunities to witness the “stories.”

Benefits of establishing healthy relationships with elected officials include having the space to have open and honest conversations when issues arise. Emails, office visits, telephone calls, and social media, used appropriately and professionally, to make your position known are excellent avenues for advocacy. While completing an Ed. Policy course and participating in events on Capitol Hill, I was reminded that the more a concern is brought to the attention of elected officials, the more likely it will become a priority. We can agree that elected officials do not know what they do not know, and if administrators are not telling the stories then someone else is. We must control the narratives. Sharing stories is critical in getting your message across.

Recently, I attended the American Association for Colleges Teacher Education (AACTE) Washington Week. Colleges and students from across the nation gathered to focus on educational policy and advocacy. “Washington Week showcases many of AACTE’s partnerships and highlights the importance of coalition and coloration, particularly among education organizations here in Washington, to advocate for educator preparation at the federal and state levels,” said Dr. Lynn M. Gangone, president and CEO of AACTE. During this uplifting conference, we were reminded of the importance of our voices being heard. The American Dream of high-quality education for all students is in danger, and we must hold elected officials accountable. If we keep silent the livelihood of education as we know it will continue to be attacked and altered at the expense of students. We cannot afford to forfeit our place “at the table.” Dr. Jane West, Vice President of Government Relations & Advocacy for AACTE, stated “if we are not at the table, then we are on the menu.”

For many of us that are advocating for our students and schools, we must not be discouraged if it seems that your efforts are not being noticed. We must be persistent and keep our message alive.

Advocating for your students can lead to unexpected territories. Through involvement in professional organizations, relationship building with an array of individuals, and being in the right place at the right time your voice can be heard by those responsible for policies. For example, while completing a fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education, I had the honor and privilege to speak on a panel at the Black Congressional Caucus convention. During this time, I had the opportunity to meet elected officials to discuss current issues in education and discuss matters such as diversifying the teacher workforce. Who would have thought an individual from a small rural town in North Carolina would have the honor of representing educators across the nation? It was through my passion for educating all students that my advocacy unfolded.

It is true that every school has a story. These stories are powerful when it comes to advocacy. It is imperative that we, as administrators, are aware of the political dilemmas facing schools and what can be done to ensure all students have a shot at the American Dream despite their demographics. Opportunity gaps will continue to widen if we do not remain a constant member at the table.

Below are links to information concerning advocacy:

NAESP (National Association of Elementary School Principals):

NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals):

AACTE (American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education):


Igniting the Joy of Leisure Reading

Guest post by Blanqui Valledor, York County School Division

In my dream classroom, my students would instantly gravitate to and acknowledge the brilliance of the piece of literature I assigned them to read. We would have in-depth discussions, and they would beg for more insightful pieces of text.  That was the dream, not the reality.

It is a struggle to get students to read and get excited over texts when we are constantly competing with short synopses of text found on the web.  “This is boring. Why are there so many words? Why do I need to read this?” became chanting mantras in my classroom.  I quickly realized that no matter how creatively or enthusiastically I explained the importance of reading and discussion, they could not empathize with the positive power I experienced whenever I read.


Enter leisure reading.  In 2014, the International Reading Association published a study on the importance of leisure reading, also known as self-selected, independent reading. According to the 2014 study, “leisure reading enhances students’ reading comprehension, language, vocabulary development, general knowledge, and empathy for others, as well as their self-confidence as readers, motivation to read throughout their lives, and positive attitudes toward reading” (International Reading Association). Out of my need to share my love of reading, I incorporated leisure reading into my curriculum. I had nothing to lose.

At first, leisure reading was met with resistance: “What if I don’t like the book, do I have to continue reading it?” “No,” was always my answer; “I don’t finish books that I don’t like, why should I force you?” I stocked my classroom with a variety of text – young adult, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and best sellers. I read while they read in class.  I shared what I was reading and questions I had, and soon after others began sharing their experiences with the books.  From their interests, we discussed topics presented in the text which evolved into creating text sets as our mode of research.  The chanting mantras I heard for years began to fade and were replaced with ‘You have to read this book!’

Incorporating leisure reading into my curriculum was the best pedagogical decision I have ever made.  By allowing my students to select their text, I have been able to understand my students better.  They have introduced me to new worlds outside the traditional literary canon, and I have reciprocated their enthusiasm by introducing them to “classics” based on their interests. By the end of the school year, the majority of my students have read anywhere from eight to ten different books – more than I could ever accomplish with them in class.

Student Testimonials:

Thankful for Partnerships

Administrators in the SURN Principal Academy help shape an educational partnership that spans the state.

Administrators in the SURN Principal Academy help shape an educational partnership that spans the state.

At this time of year, many of us engage in reflection on the many things for which we are grateful. At SURN we pause a moment this week to acknowledge our gratitude for the many meaningful partnerships that breathe life and purpose into the School Leadership Institute. Our connection with William & Mary School of Education runs deep, and the support we receive from faculty and staff provides a foundation for reaching beyond the university and into the K-12 classrooms and schools we serve.

We collaborate and work with our 30 Virginia school divisions to bring quality professional learning and development to educators across the Commonwealth. Through these collaborations and experiences at William & Mary School of Education, leaders have established relationships far beyond our walls. This fall principals willingly opened the doors of their schools to allow their colleagues an opportunity to develop their skills in instructional leadership as they complete collaborative walk throughs together.

The opportunity to network and to collaborate with peers is cited as a strength of virtually every workshop and program at SURN. Learning and innovating together to enhance student achievement is a hallmark of what we accomplish in partnership with each other, and relationships are at the core of this. We look forward to continued growth in our partnerships with all of you.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at SURN!

SURN’s 20th Annual Leadership Conference: June 20-21, 2016

Join SURN to explore cutting-edge ideas in learning and practical application. With innovative discussions on engagement and developmental feedback, modern views on branding and preparing students for the future, this promises to be a dynamic conference. Let’s turn tomorrow’s classroom into today’s reality.

Register Online Today:

Monday, June 20, 2016:
 8:30am – 3:30pm

Tuesday, June 21, 2016: 8:30am – 2pm

Registration begins at 8am

The SURN Leadership Conference offers a forum to learn and exchange ideas at The College of William and Mary. SURN invites researchers and practitioners to share their work in a combination of interactive general and concurrent sessions to promote dialogue. Each year’s theme connects to the priorities identified by the SURN Advisory Board. Participants from our SURN programs share their experiences from year-long, job-embedded professional development that can be applied in other settings. Leading education writers, researchers, and consultants provide international and national perspectives on their work. The opportunity to share with other educators, discuss topics with leading researchers, reflect on the prior school year, be inspired, and plan for the upcoming year are all reasons individuals and school division teams attend.

Conference participants are primarily from Virginia, they include: superintendents (5%), central office personnel (35%), principals and assistant principals (45%), teacher leaders (5%), and other educators such as The College of William and Mary faculty, VDOE personnel and retired school personnel who coach in the schools (10%).

We are pleased to offer a wonderful slate of speakers, as well as concurrent sessions, and a post-conference session!

We will have featured addresses from Dr. Billy Cannaday and Dr. Steven Staples, impactful leaders in Virginia Education. Session presenters will include Shawn Boyer, Shawn Clark &Abbey Duggins, Mary Cay Ricci, Joe Sanfelippo, and Allison Zmuda.

Past speakers have included Prof. John Hattie, internationally renowned researcher of education; James Nottingham, creator of The Learning Pit; Deb Masters, Principal Consultant at Cognition Education and the Director of Visible Learning Plus, and more! To see a full list of speakers from previous years, please click here.

Support SURN Partner: Crittenden Middle School

Help support a middle school in the SURN Partnership to get 100K. Crittenden Middle School in Newport News is a semi-finalist for an award from Northrup Grumman STEM School FAB LAB. They need your help as they have a “voting day” through Facebook on November 19th. The school with the most votes moves forward. Crittenden Middle is one of 20 schools in the USA in the running, support Crittenden in winning the day by voting for them at The site has a paragraph and video of what they propose to do.



Crittenden Middle School is located within the Newport News Public School District of Newport News, Virginia. Crittenden has an underutilized space that could be used for a new lab – otherwise known as a ‘STEM Zone.’ The school’s STEM program draws students from all across the city, and they believe it could be further enhanced with a renovated lab. Their dream lab would feature a research center including a design, build and testing center. ‘STEM Zone’ could also host local leaders and innovative experts to bring real life scenarios to the classroom to inspire students. For more information about Crittenden Middle School

Thinking about Text Sets: Considering Time and Place

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Thinking about Text Sets: Considering Time and Place

by: Kerrigan Mahoney

If you ever dutifully memorized the definition of the setting of a novel as the time and place where the story happens, and never much thought about it again, well … you have much to look forward to! Setting is the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, the eerie chirps of crickets at twilight, the sensation of a pat on the back for a job well done; the sound of hope, the smell of fear, the chills of desperation. Time and place shape identity, experiences, and social and cultural norms: both for our students and in our books. Considering how time and place impact identity and shape actions can be a powerful bridge between students’ own lives and experiences and those of the characters in a book. Centuries can become seconds when you can stand next to your character and empathize with her.

These three books put time and place, front and center:

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, the Michael Printz Award winning novel for excellence in young adult literature, links together seven vignettes that unfold on the same Scandinavian island over the course of millennia. The sensory experience of the island itself, along with the mythology and peoples tied to this place bring together each vignette in captivating and visceral storytelling. This genre-defying book will provoke discussion on the nature of time and the congruency of the human experience among students and adults alike.

“Open Mike Fridays” in Mr. Ward’s English class bring together the students of Bronx Masquerade, Nikki Grimes much beloved Coretta Scott King Award winning novel. The first year copies of this book showed up in my classroom shelves I heard: when can I read that book? Hey, that looks like a book I actually want to read! My internal celebratory dance and accompanying whisper/shouting was immense, but I played it cool – and my students certainly took the bait. Each chapter in this story is told from the point of view of a different student in Mr. Ward’s English class along with accompanying poem shared at “Open Mike Friday.” The importance of classroom space itself and its power to help students learn through shared experiences in a positive and supportive environment cannot be undersold – in this book or your classroom.

“Where the best and brightest strive and shine and stairways lead right to cloud nine.” Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie is a celebratory picture book for all ages. The reader can dance, sing, stroll, study, and play through the masterful use of language and compelling illustrations that take us on a journey in Sugar Hill. An excellent book to think about how literary devices and figurative language can help to captivate readers; it also could be an excellent mentor text for students to write about their own neighborhood, school, classroom, time, or place that is important to them.


Questions to consider when thinking about setting:

  • How does the setting impact the plot, characters, or conflict?
  • In what ways does the setting evoke a sensory response?
  • How does a change in setting (or lack thereof) help to propel the story?
  • How does the combination of words and images shape your experience of the story?
  • How does the setting in this story relate to places you have been or settings you have experienced in other stories? How does this impact your understanding of the setting in this story?


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To all of our SURN Assistant Principals, thank you for all that you do!

AP Week

March Reading Madness Round 2

The Winners Are In!  Time for Round 2!

Your votes have been counted, and we are moving to round 2 of SURN’s March Reading Madness!  Please take a minute and vote for your favorite books.  Only the books with the top votes will advance to round 3!  Please also share with your colleagues and students for more fun!

March Reading Madness Schedule:

March 3 – Round Two
March 10 – Round Three
March 17 – Quarter Finals
March 24 – Semi-finals
March 31 – Final Championship

The Official Bracket Based On Your Input:

Click to enlarge image.

Click to enlarge image.

Please visit our Google form to vote.  It should only take about two minutes—it is super quick!

More Information on the Books:

White Dolphin

Ruth and the Green Book

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

The Book Whisperer

Accessible Mathematics

The Energy Bus

Teach Like a Pirate


Papa’s Mechanical Fish

To Kill a Mockingbird

Mr. Peabody’s Apples

Another Day in The UK

As SURN Director, Jan Rozzelle, and Assistant Director, Jenny Hindman, travel through the United Kingdom to visit schools they may visit for the 2016 Study Tour, they have been building relationships with school leaders. They are learning about how these schools are using research and practices

Jan and Jenny engaged in conversation with Jill Harland and Jo Davies, co head teachers at Brudenell Primary School in Leeds England. Their passion for seeking out research and placing it into tactile is evident. For the past 5 years teachers at Brudenell have engaged children in P4c (Philosophy for Children). When asked what p4c helped them do, the year 3 and 4 students in Mrs. Acton’s class said, it “warms my thinking” “I like p4c because there are millions of answers,” and ” it helps us reason and think fast,”

The mud kitchen in the outside play area at Brudenell

The mud kitchen in the outside play area at Brudenell

We saw evidence of the growth mindset (Carol Dweck‘s work) and Will Ord‘s mindfulness. Every space in the school communicated care and learning. Like the schools we visited in Berwick-upon-Tweed students questions and work covered walls making the values and learning in the school evident.

Present made by a student in response to the query of what life would like without books

Present made by a student in response to the query of what life would like without books

The action research being conducted by teachers and support staff on questions of interest in their context was especially interesting to us. We sought to know more about this school wide job-embedded professional development by talking with faculty members and the co-head teachers.

James Nottingham identified this school as one for SURN to visit and we hope to include it on the 2016 study tour we are planning