Annual Conference for Middle Level Education

Philadelphia, PA • November 6–8, 2017

Spotlight on Leadership Sessions

Being a leader in the middle grades can be both rewarding and challenging. These sessions are built with you in mind, addressing both the rewards and challenges of leadership! Facilitated by middle level leaders from around the country—including faculty members of the AMLE Institute for Middle Level Leadership—these sessions will provide robust information and research-based solutions that will help you and your middle grades school grow in exciting, positive directions. *Sessions are subject to change.

John Bernia is the principal of Carleton Middle School in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and a Ph.D. student at Oakland University, where his research interests include professional development and the EdCamp model for professional learning. His creative approach to professional development offerings, drive to create opportunities for students and staff, and dedication to using technology for productivity and for his own learning earned him the distinction of being named one of three Digital Principals of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals in 2015. John has presented around the country on topics including productivity, digital leadership, and literacy. You can follow him on Twitter @MrBernia.

Derek McCoy is currently the principal of West Rowan Middle School in Rowan-Salisbury Schools. He brings a wide range of experiences as a secondary school assistant principal, instructional coach, director of curriculum and innovation, and principal. He helps improve learning and teaching efforts as well as lead best practices with a 1:1 iPad initiative. Derek was named a 2014 Digital Principal of the Year by NASSP and has received recognition from other groups for his efforts to use social media and technology to help connect learners with best practices and experts, create impactful collaboration networks, and ultimately help grow all schools. Using the power of technology and digital tools is an essential means for lead learners to change how we teach and how students learn.

Becoming a Connected Leader
The needs and responsibilities of educators continue to grow. To grow the schools and learning environments we need to prepare future-ready students, educators have to continue to grow their understanding of what learning is and develop their skill sets. Join this participatory session as we explore what a connected leader is and the strategies that leaders at all levels can employ to truly become lifelong learners. Bring your device and join the growth conversation.

Leading Your Digital Shift
The 21st century is nearly 20 years old. Has your school started to take the necessary steps to repurpose instruction, communicate with stakeholders, and revisit your infrastructure and budget in the digital age? This session will focus on moving school organizations forward to embrace the new opportunities technology creates for educators. Every student in your school was born after the new century … are your practices still grounded in the last century? Join this participatory session as we explore strategies that leaders at all levels can employ to truly make a difference in their learning environments. Bring your device and join the growth conversation.

Shelley Burgess has served as an award-winning teacher, principal, director of student achievement, and assistant superintendent of educational leadership. Her highly respected work focuses on building leadership capacity through coaching, collaboration, and building a positive culture of change that leads to dramatic improvements in teaching and learning. She now works as a full-time partner in Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. and is the co-author of P is for PIRATE: Inspirational ABC's for Educators.

Beth Houf is a middle school principal who is passionate about innovative and transformational leadership to maximize school culture and student and staff learning. Beth is an eMINTS (enhancing Missouri's Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies) trained educator. She is a facilitator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Leadership Academy, providing monthly professional development to state educational leaders through the integration of 21st century learning skills. Beth has presented at ISTE, the Missouri PLC conference, Missouri PBIS conference, Interface Math and Science Conference as well as multiple district and local professional development sessions. She has been a guest lecturer at William Woods University, Westminster University, and the University of Missouri.

Lead Like a PIRATE: Courageously Navigate the "C's" of Change
Learn dynamic strategies to inspire staff, dramatically transform school culture, and build schools where students and staff are running to get in rather than out. This uplifting and motivational session demonstrates how to take the revolutionary ideas from Teach Like a PIRATE and supercharge them for educational leaders. You will walk away from this session with the courage and practical ideas to become the kind of leader you've always hoped you could be.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • Ideas to help leaders ignite passion and tap into the inner genius of their team in order to encourage risk-taking, learning and growth
  • Strategies to help leaders maximize their time and spend most of their time doing the work that has the greatest impact on teacher growth and student learning
  • Actions to help leaders earn trust ... not lose it
  • A coaching model designed to support leaders in giving feedback that teachers value and helps move practice forward
  • Models for how to transform professional learning in their schools

Paul E. Dunford serves as director of secondary instruction in the Capital School District in Dover, Delaware.

Dunford previously served as chief of the Performance Support and Technical Assistance Branch of the Division of Special Education and Early Intervention Services at the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). He was the Maryland director of middle school initiatives in the Division for Leadership Development. His team responsibilities included the Maryland Principals' Academy, the Aspiring Principals’ Institute, and the Academy for School Turnaround. With the award of Race to the Top, the Division of Academic Reform and Innovation was created to lead and support statewide reform efforts. Paul was named director of Cross-Divisional Initiatives responsible for leadership development through The Breakthrough Center, a Statewide System of Support. His work was with chronically low achieving schools, Turnaround Schools, and their local school systems.

Dunford was the instructional director of middle schools for Frederick County Public Schools facilitating plans for system-wide middle school reform. He began his 10 year teaching career in Massachusetts then Athens, Greece. He served as middle school assistant principal, curriculum supervisor for career and technology education and middle school principal. He partnered with the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) through Quality Schools and was nationally recognized for his work. He was a Maryland Distinguished Principal Fellow serving in the Baltimore City Public School System. He was awarded the Washington Post Distinguished Educator Award, a PTA Life Membership and recognized as a National PTA Outstanding Educator and was Maryland Technology Education Teacher of the Year.

Dunford serves on the Leadership Institute faculty for the Association for Middle Level Education and has been an adjunct professor at Hood College in Maryland.

Special Education Services and Middle Level Structures
As standards based instruction takes a firm hold in the middle grades landscape, a clear understanding of high-quality special education instructional practices and multi-tiered system of supports are critical to ensure success for every child. This session will look at instructional leadership practices in the middle grades to support the goals and objectives for all students, including those with disabilities.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • Actions middle level leaders might take to support high-quality specialized instruction in their schools
  • Options for special education services in the middle grades structure
  • How the focus on the “first teach” serves students in universally designed middle grades classrooms
  • Various tools and schedule structures that support multi-tiered system of supports for your middle school

The Middle Grades Master Schedule: An Instructional Tool
Effectively designed master schedules provide the framework for essential middle grades practices and support for innovative instructional strategies. This session will explore the components of the middle grades scheduling process and connections to the evidence-based practices found in This We Believe, and provide a set of essential questions for scheduling teams to consider in determining if their master schedule is a contributor or a deterrent to improving student achievement.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • A clearly defined set of actions to guide the process of creating a middle grades master schedule that supports their school vision, mission, and core beliefs
  • A customizable tool to assess staff perceptions of how their current schedule structure supports some of the evidence-based practices found in This We Believe
  • A set of comprehensive questions for scheduling teams to consider when designing, adjusting, and assessing their middle grades master schedule as an instructional tool

Currently the superintendent of Jackson Public Schools in Jackson, Mississippi and a valuable faculty member of AMLE's Institute for Middle Level Leadership, Dr. Cedrick Gray has served as a teacher, assistant principal, middle school principal, director of leadership development, and superintendent of school improvement. As a middle school principal, Cedrick has been credited with his schools' successful turnaround in culture and academic achievement, and as a result, he was nominated Principal of the Year and worked as a mentor principal for New Leaders for New Schools. He also led the professional development efforts for his school district's 400 principals and assistant principals in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. Under his leadership as a superintendent, his previous school district in southwest Tennessee achieved “Exemplary School District” status from the Tennessee Department of Education. As superintendent of Jackson Public Schools, he has been recognized for the district's consistent improvement in student performance and operational efficiency. Under his leadership, one of the district's middle schools was recognized as the top-ranked in the state along with three of its elementary schools ranking in the top ten. He also led efforts to restore the district's national and state accreditation, raise the district's graduation rate, and institute the district's first ever 1:1 initiative for the high school Freshman Academies. Cedrick is known for his practical solutions, compelling insights, and inspiring wisdom about what works in middle level education–for teachers, leaders, students, and families.

The Road Less Traveled: Behavior Management that Engages Middle Level Learners
If you spend 99% of your time with 1 % of the students because of their poor behavior or bad choices, this session is for your leadership team and you. Participants in this session will explore proven ways to reverse the trend of the minimum amount of students demanding the maximum of your time. You will be equipped with strategies to empower your students to make better choices.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • Understanding the importance of building professional relationships
  • Learning a step-by-step process for improving culture and climate
  • Time and facilitation for teams to begin to develop their plan

What Every Superintendent Wants Middle Level School Leaders to Know (and be able to do)
In this intellectually engaging session, participants will get a peek inside the mind of a school superintendent and what the superintendent wants potential school leaders to know, understand, and be able to do. If you have ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask, this session will review the five characteristics that every high performing school leader has. These characteristics not only help improve the performance of the building level leader but solidify the relationship between superintendent and principal.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • Understanding the importance of building professional relationships
  • Learning a step-by-step process for improving culture and climate
  • Time and facilitation for teams to begin to develop their plan

Educational Leader. Questioner. Writer. Speaker. Marlena Gross-Taylor is a dedicated and successful K-12 administrator with a proven track record of improving educational and operational performance through vision, strategic planning, leadership, and team building. She is an educational consultant and founder of, which she created to further support educational leaders. A Nashville transplant originally from southern Louisiana, Marlena's educational experience spans several states allowing her to have served K-12 students in both rural and urban districts. She has been recognized as a middle school master teacher and served as an administrator at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Because of her sound knowledge of both elementary and secondary education, Marlena has broad-based experience creating and implementing dynamic interactive programs to attain district goals while leveraging her flexibility, resourcefulness, and organizational and interpersonal skills to foster learning through a positive, encouraging environment. Marlena's professional development expertise has garnered both state and national attention and serves as an AMLE faculty expert. As a proud Louisiana State University alumni, she is committed to excellence and believes all students can achieve.

Culturally Responsive Leadership
Deepen your understanding and commitment of culturally responsive practices in order to foster diverse educational experiences in your school and develop an intentionally inclusive community that incorporates multicultural perspectives.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • Leveraging cultural capital to increase relevance and rigor of curriculum
  • Examining the effects of a single story to avoid missionary attitude
  • Increasing understanding of the principles for culturally responsive teaching
  • Exploring strategies for establishing caring relationships with a diverse student population
  • Differentiating between equity and equality in preparing students to be future ready

Juan Rodriguez from Framingham, Massachusetts, had been a principal in urban and suburban schools for 27 years. Juan was the Massachusetts Middle School Principal of the Year in 2005. Fuller Middle School had been designated a Spotlight School, a Compass School, and the top performing middle school for ELL learners in 2007. He has been a mentor of principals and part of AMLE's Leadership Institute Faculty. Juan completed the National Institute of School Leadership program (NISL). He presented at the International Reading Association Conference on secondary reading and was a co-presenter in the State of Maryland Leadership Series.

Meeting the Needs of ELL Students
Every day, millions of linguistically and culturally diverse students enter our schools. Increasing diversity in schools places increased demands on all middle level educators. Successful middle schools ensure that all students are achieving in all aspects of their middle school experience. This session looks at both classroom strategies and school-wide interventions to support the English Language Learner. We will provide a perspective on instructional strategies, forging cultural connections, creating a supportive environment, assessments, and professional development.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • Ability to identify learning strategies that enable ELLs to succeed
  • Learning the difference between Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills and Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency
  • Appropriate materials and classroom approaches for ELLs
  • Learning about the SIOP lesson design
  • Identifying support systems for ELL students

As the Director of Middle Level Services for the Association of Middle Level Education, Dr. Dru Tomlin has a commitment to educational improvement and a passion for teaching, learning, and middle school. He began his work in the middle grades as a young adolescent at Lynnhaven Junior High School in Virginia Beach, trying to fit in with other kids while also playing tuba in the marching and concert bands. In 1994, Dru began his formal career in education as an English teacher at Harrisonburg High School in Virginia and then, in 1998, he discovered the joys of middle school in Georgia as a language arts, reading, and social studies teacher and then as a school administrator. He has also been a school system staff development trainer and a faculty member for AMLE's Leadership Institute, believing firmly in the power of professional learning. For his work, Dru has been recognized as a school system Teacher of the Year and as Georgia's Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year. He holds a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning and a M.S. in Educational Leadership from Georgia State University and a B.A. in English/Secondary Education from James Madison University.

Tools for School Improvement
Building, maintaining, and sustaining an effective middle school can be challenging work. The essential key is knowing how to gather, analyze, and utilize critical data about best middle school practices and the level at which they are being implemented at one's school. Explore this topic and the AMLE School Improvement Assessment tool at this engaging session.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • A better understanding about the importance of data
  • A tool for school improvement
  • Connections with other middle level leaders

Appointed May 2011, Nikki C. Woodson is the superintendent of schools for the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township. Washington Township is a K-12 public school district with over 12,000 students (67% students of color & 57% qualify for free/reduced lunch) and nearly 1,600 employees. Dr. Woodson has lead the district to be one of few nationwide to offer International Baccalaureate to all students in all schools within her urban school district. The long legacy of high achievement for students in Washington Township is a mark of a supportive community to achieve superior schools.

Dr. Woodson's appointment as superintendent made her the first African-American female superintendent in Marion County and one of the youngest in the state of Indiana. Prior to this appointment, Dr. Woodson served in several areas in education including teacher, special education program manager, assistant principal, principal, director of communications, director of staff development, director of continuous improvement, and assistant superintendent. All of her positions have been held in large urban public school districts in the Indianapolis area within Indiana.

Dr. Woodson has earned three post-secondary degrees from three universities: a Bachelor of Science (B.S. in Elementary & Special Education) from Ball State University; a Master of Arts (M.A. in Educational Administration) from Butler University; and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D. in Educational Administration & Curriculum/Instruction) from Purdue University.

Among her numerous honors, Woodson was named The Graduate of the Last Decade (G.O.L.D.) from Ball State University as well as a distinguished Purdue University Fellow. She has been recognized by UNCF for her commitment to children and was named Indy's Best & Brightest for recognition in the field of education. In 2012 she was recognized as the “Breakthrough Woman of the Year” for breaking barriers in her field. Most recently, Dr. Woodson was given the state honor of International Educator of the Year by Global Indiana and recognized for her Achievement in Education by the Center for Leadership Development. Additionally, the American Association of School Administrators awarded her the 2013 Women in School Leadership Award as well as an honor from Ball State in 2013 for Outstanding Alumni Achievement.

Active in the community, Woodson has served as a board member of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Home, Young Audiences of Indiana, and a national board member of Challenge Day. She has served on both the regional and head council for International Baccalaureate (IB) and is now serving a 3-year term on the IB Board of Governors. President Obama invited her to a day at the White House in 2014 as one of 100 superintendents chosen nationwide to attend the first-ever Future Ready White House Summit. Lastly, she serves on the IUPUI Collegiate Board of Advisors.

Is It Working? A Personalized System for Middle Schools to Monitor Progress of Initiatives and Strategies
Coaches use data to secure victory, mechanics use data to get the engine started, and physicians use data to heal. In our schools, data is used to inform instruction and enhance student achievement. But, how do you use the immense amount of data in an organized manner to really increase achievement? Participants will learn how to organize, filter, and effectively use data to inform instruction without intimidation.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • Exploring multiple approaches for using data to improve student learning and measure achievement
  • Learning about varied and ongoing assessments that measure and advance learning
  • Reviewing your own school improvement efforts for effectiveness
  • Take-away strategies for school improvement process

Out of the Box Leadership – Hands-On Leadership Strategies
Accountability and mandates have forced leaders in a corner where primary time is spent on data analysis, reporting, and compliance monitoring. While accountability is important, leaders can take a hands-on approach at the middle level that will allow valuable insight in the education system of the school. This session will show participant's first-hand how their leadership can take on a more hands-on approach to be a creative, inspirational, and transformative leader.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • The ability to assess their own leadership style
  • Hearing real examples of hands-on leadership and their impact
  • Designing opportunities for their own hands-on leadership in their middle level school(s)
  • Tools to inspire the culture of their school as leaders

David Hayward has spent more than 20 years sharing his passion for education and technology, inspiring educators to integrate educational pedagogy with 21st century technology tools. He began his career as a classroom teacher in Toledo City Schools and within a few years accepted the position of educational technology trainer (ETT). As an ETT, his love for teaching and technology grew as he helped develop, teach, and facilitate the integration of technology in the classroom, providing individualized instruction to teachers and students as well as conducting district level technology workshops. In 2002, he moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he completed his M.A. in Technologies of Instruction and Media from The Ohio State University. That same year he accepted a position with Instructional Technology Services of Central Ohio (ITSCO), a non-profit education technology agency in Ohio. He spent 12 years with ITSCO working in and out of schools continuing to share with and build the education technology community in central Ohio. Currently, David spends his days working as an Education Technology Coach while working with additional educators through social media and as an Ashland University Adjunct Professor.

Social Media for Teaching and Learning
Social Media tools are vital to educators looking to support their own professional growth and teaching. They allow educators the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with others from around the world providing sharing opportunities to build a professional learning network, gather resources, and create learning opportunities for students. In this session, participants will be introduced to various social media tools, experience how teachers are using these tools for professional growth and teaching, as well as meet and share with other educators interested in using social media.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • A definition of social media
  • A greater understanding of how and why social media plays an important role in today’s school culture
  • Access to resources to begin building their own social networks

Transforming Student Consumers into Student Creators
As access to technology increases are we changing our approach to teaching? What does good classroom technology implementation look like, how do we create efficient organizational structures and how do we support our teachers and students to move beyond enhancing lessons to transforming lessons through the effective use of technology. Participants will explore these questions and leave with a greater understanding of what successful classroom technology implementation looks like.

Participants will leave this session with:

  • A definition of digital literacy
  • An understanding of the SAMR technology model and how it can be used to effectively examine technology related lessons
  • Examples of what good technology implementation looks like
  • Strategies to take back with them to begin transforming their lessons