2020 Empowered to Lead Symposium: Session Descriptions



Embracing Inquiry and Equity with Game-based Course Design

Robert D. Ford (@robdford) 6-12 ELA Coordinator & Teacher, North Branford Public Schools

Much of the discussion of “gamification” or “game-based” learning revolves around personalization, or more broadly, student agency, engagement, choice, and voice. That is, proponents of game design argue that gamified courses provide a more effective means through which students can personalize their learning and exercise some degree of choice or “say” in their education. For this presentation, a course entitled “American Protest” will be shared. This game-based course is conceptualized as a darkened game map. Students meet the standards of the course by exploring different parts of this map, the parts they want to explore, not necessarily the ones they are told to explore. Though historically grounded in the 1950s-60s, the major assessments for the course ask students to investigate contemporary examples of activism in relation to the activism of a half-century before. The presentation provides concrete examples of what happens when teachers give up control and trust students with their own learning. As an added bonus, it provides a very good example of an explicitly interdisciplinary course that harnesses the protest art and literature of a specific time period in order to get students to critically engage with activism today.


Vocabulary Comprehension: Syllabication and Morphology to the Rescue!

Barbara Connery (@BarbieConnery), Teacher, Regional School District 6

According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, “Dyslexia affects 20 percent of the population and represents 80-90 percent of all those with learning disabilities.” Dyslexia impacts reading, specifically decoding and accurate and/or fluent word recognition and spelling. The teaching of decoding skills explicitly and systematically is beneficial for all students, yet it is vital for those with dyslexia (LiteracyHow). Members of this workshop will discover how to incorporate syllabication and morphology strategies in order to support their students in decoding multi-syllabic words. It is the combination of word accuracy and fluency that ensures the desired comprehension of complex literary and informational texts. Frontloading Tier I and Tier 2 vocabulary using syllabication and morphology will incorporate best practices that will ensure equity for the struggling readers in every classroom across disciplines. Participants will leave this workshop with a stronger understanding of how words work and with materials that they can use in their classrooms and beyond.


Building Engagement Through Student Outreach

Jack Rudy (@bhsupbeat), Director of Berlin Upbeat, Berlin Public Schools

As an example of an organization/student group that works for the community to emphasize equity and inclusion in a school-based organization, the Berlin Upbeat Program has over 300 students in the program ranging from theatre students to athletes to special education to Hartford CHOICE to top achieving students. It also facilitates connections with over 30 outside organizations and community groups to help with the development of the students in Berlin. This session will provide an overview the Berlin Upbeat Program, a thirty-two year program based around drug and alcohol awareness, building student leaders, and community outreach and service. The second part of the presentation will be a Q and A with students in the Berlin Upbeat Program about the work we do and how we facilitate student involvement and outside organization engagement. Attendees will be able to observe a long-standing successful program to identify aspects they could use or model for their district and community. Attendees will be able to identify aspects of their current school district and where they can use the already built connections and institutions in place to build more engagement from outside organizations. Attendees will also be able to identify key strengths and weaknesses in efforts to engage outside organizations with the school and students.


Equitable Implementation of the Seal of Biliteracy: Lessons from Hartford Public Schools

Kimberly Winfied (@KimberlyWinfie7), World Language Instructional Coach, Hartford Public Schools; Daisy Torres (@CTELDirector), Director of English Learners, World & Dual Language Programs, Hartford Public Schools

This session is designed for educators who are interested in learning more about the Seal of Biliteracy. To date over 35 states have implemented the Seal of Biliteracy, empowering and motivating students to demonstrate what they can do in English and one or more additional languages. Participants will learn what they can do at the classroom, school and district level to support diverse learners and create pathways to achieving the Seal of Biliteracy. The session will offer data and key takeaways from the first and second years of implementation in Hartford Public Schools, one of a handful of districts in Connecticut that awarded the Seal to over 100 learners in 2019 and one of the only urban districts to do so. Participants will learn strategies to ensure equitable access to the Seal for ALL students, including heritage language learners, students with disabilities, English language learners, and speakers of low incidence languages.


Cultural Competence in Lesson Planning 

Michele Ridolfi O’Neill (@brooklynmichele), Educational Issues Specialist, Connecticut Education Association

Cultural competence involves awareness and understanding about cultural diversity in one’s classroom, school, and community. The information and learning tasks in this workshop are designed to help you along the path

toward becoming an even more culturally competent educator, learning about and working to end racial and cultural bias, being open to norms that are different from your own, and helping students and families feel comfortable in school.


Evolving Toward Inclusive Assessments 

Neil Gile (@GileNgile), Principal, Williams Middle School, Longmeadow, MA and William Sullivan, Social Studies teacher, Williams Middle School, Longmeadow, MA

As life-long learners and individuals committed to the ongoing quest for creating meaningful learning experiences for students, we aspire to provide the audience with relevant assessment tools that highlight best practices associated with inclusive practices. Critical to the experience is appreciating that learning must connect with a wide range and diverse student body in a way that is not only fun and engaging, but also resonates with an individual on a personal level. This becomes a matter of truly understanding your audience and the needs of each learner. This presentation will truly challenge the traditional approaches to understanding our learners. By exploring one educator’s journey, this session will provide firsthand advice and exemplars that highlight ways in which we have been able to infuse equity and inclusive assessment practices into the classroom setting.


You Are Welcome Here: How Storytelling Promotes a Caring Community of Acceptance and Inclusion

Katharine Miserocchi, teacher, Advanced Learning Program, Greenwich Public Schools, Greenwich, CT

Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation or instilling moral values. In a similar fashion, individuals have stories to tell that have the potential to provide a critical bridge of understanding about what is important to them, where they have come from, who they are now, and what they aspire to. When we invite all members of our community, however that is defined, to share their stories of personal success, struggle, and revelation, we are effectively saying “we value you.” Participants will learn about ways to incorporate storytelling into their communities focused around themes and topics that acknowledge the diversity of its members. Inspired by the Moth Radio Hour, a series of live storytelling events around the country where people tell true stories that captivate and touch the hearts and minds of the listeners, participants will develop one-minute personal stories to share in the group. We will reflect on the needs and concerns we have as educators to embrace and include the wide range of people whose lives we impact. In addition to sharing one another’s stories, we will explore examples of memoir and autobiographical literature available for elementary and middle school age children, which represent some of the rich culturally diverse stories that have transformed our ideas of inclusion and equity.
Empowered to Lead through Transformative Emotional Intelligence

Dorina Sackman-Ebuwa (@Dorina_BELIEVE), Educator/B.E.L.I.E.V.E.! LLC, 2014 Florida Teacher of the Year

In this eye-opening and highly interactive workshop, participants are introduced to Transformative Emotional Intelligence (TEI) and the positive impact it has on teacher leadership, teacher leader efficacy, educator resilience, teacher retention, and student achievement (Hammett & Low 2017). Using real talk, humor, and the doctoral research of the presenter, participants engage in seven (7) strategic techniques of The Seven Pillars of TEI that help achieve meaningful growth and change, bring out a leader’s individual potential for intelligent self-direction, and new behaviors that lead to a stronger healthier, more equitable school, classroom, and community culture. The goal of this vulnerable, self-reflective and self-aware session is for participants to understand the crucial role TEI plays in 21st Century educational leadership and how the phrase “Happy teacher, happy students; happy students, happy learning!” is what our teachers and students deserve. Participants receive a digital set of all TEI materials used in the session to take back their schools and begin their professional and personal TEI journeys. Participants leave feeling more self-aware, refreshed, hopeful, revived, and ready to empower to lead via TEI.




Sustainable Staffing: Cultivating and Retaining Effective Teachers

Rachel Gross (@racheligross), Principal, Malverne School District; Steven Gilhuley (@sgilhuley), Assistant Superintendent, Malverne School District; Meredyth Martini (@malverneSpecEdu), Director of Special Education, Malverne School District

Did you know that 40% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years? Learn how to create a self-sustaining system for hiring, developing, and retaining teachers. See how strategic planning and a multi-tiered approach to support faculty can result in a cost effective and efficient approach to securing a strong and committed staff. Walk away with easy to implement programs and initiatives to nurture and support your new, seasoned, and veteran teachers. The interactive session will include tips for re-creating the “sustainable staff” approach without any impact on current budgets, staffing, or resources.


Pathways to Health: A Framework for Mental Health Literacy

Donna Volpitta, Ed.D. (@donnavolpitta), Founder & President, Pathways to Empower

Youth are experiencing mental health issues at alarming rates, leading to several states passing legislation requiring schools to incorporate education on mental health literacy. Most educators, however, are not prepared to address this topic. In this interactive session, participants will learn The Resilient Mindset Model, which serves as the foundation for Pathways to Health, the first comprehensive, K-12 brain-based framework for teaching mental health literacy. This session will provide insights into the Four Ss of Resilience and how to use them to make challenges opportunities to build resilience, the brain’s natural response to challenge, the social threats and rewards of the brain, how neurochemicals affect mental health, the tools of a healthy brain, and the brain science of mindful meditation. Easy to understand and apply in any situation, The Resilient Mindset Model empowers educators to help foster mental health in themselves, their students, and the wider community.


Teaching Truth to Power in the Classroom 

Chris Buckley (@ChrisBuckley22), Social Studies Teacher/Lead Educator, Brookfield High School/RFK Human Rights

The session focuses on methods to develop and strengthen the empowerment of students through the investigation of human rights activists from around the world. Participants in the session will explore the materials and student opportunities available through the Speak Truth to Power educator toolkit sponsored by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights as examples of the types of activities that can encourage student engagement and empowerment both in and out of the classroom. Participants will be exposed to model lessons that can be utilized in classrooms as well as online resources, support materials, and professional development opportunities for the development of classroom and school-wide activities designed to foster inclusion and empowerment of students. The session provides teachers and teacher leaders with materials that provide students with access points to the values of inclusion and equality through the use of relatable content. The session also provides the opportunity for teachers to explore teaching practices that help to further the values of inclusion and equality by highlighting the core concepts of human rights education with a strong focus on the ideas of education about, through, and for human rights.


Choose Love in Education: Be Part of the Solution

Scarlett Lewis (@ScarlettMLewis), Founder and Chief Movement Officer, Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement

The Choose Love Enrichment Program is a comprehensive character education and social and emotional learning program. The Choose Love Enrichment Program is a comprehensive SEL program. It has its foundation on a profound formula for choosing love in every situation. The understanding that you can’t always choose what happens to you but that you can always choose how you respond has transformed schools around the globe. The program includes the best of what is statistically effective in non-academic learning including character education, growth mindset, positive psychology, mindfulness, SEL, emotional intelligence and more. Developed by educators, for educators, this unique program offers powerful lessons in choice, being present, conflict resolution and more. Using Casel.org’s 5 core SEL competencies of responsible decision making, self and social awareness, self-management and relationship skills, the program offers another common value that connects all human beings, love. The program enables children and educators to choose love for themselves and others through a formula for Choosing Love. The program and presentation include citations throughout and is fully backed by decades of scientific research.


Write Together: Creating an Equitable, Inclusive, Intergenerational, Community Through Writing and Placemaking 

Ann Neary (@neary_ann), ELA teacher, NBCT, Staples High School Westport, CT; Jan Bassin, Founder and Director of The Writer’s Workshop at The Westport Center for Senior Activities and Coordinator of Writing Programs, Westport, CT

In our increasingly age-segmented and ageist society, teens and seniors rarely interact, an emotional disservice to both. Positive, productive and supportive intergenerational work through story, helps to reframe negative conceptions of aging for both generations.

This session entails a deep dive into a unique community experience. Using Patti Digh’s quote, “The shortest distance between two people is a story,” presenters Jan Bassinand and Ann Neary developed a shared curriculum to provide time, space and encouragement for a multigenerational writing experience to those often left out of critical conversations: our senior citizens and our youth. In doing so, they have created an equitable and inclusive environment within the community of Westport. Students find risk taking with writing less frightening with elders as audience. Seniors find purposeful and meaningful engagement through the collaborative sessions with teens. We will discuss how we built this program, invited writing members, solicited community participation and paid for the project through grant writing. Additionally, we will share the thrilling results from participants young and old so attendees can take away ideas for their own community programs.


Inclusion and Equity in Gifted Programming: A Practical Guide

Lori Leibowitz (@NPSGifted ), District Coordinator of Gifted & Talented- Norwalk Public Schools;; Jessica Stargardter (@MsStargardter), Gifted Specialist, Norwalk Public Schools

Norwalk Public School district is one of the only urban districts in Connecticut where the population is growing…and fast. Schools are faced with the challenges of supporting the needs of increasingly diverse student body. To increase academic rigor and close the achievement gap for its students from various backgrounds, Norwalk began to redesign its gifted and talented program by implementing the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. Learn how Norwalk Public School district partnered with the University of Connecticut to create spaces for inclusion in its gifted programming including Twice Exceptional Students (2e), English Language Learners, and lower-income students. Participants will learn about various components of the redesigned program such as Enrichment Clusters, nonverbal screeners, student share meetings, and co-teaching. This session will provide participants with a hands-on and practical guide about implementing a talent development model. Attendees will have the opportunity to engage in a series of discussions about fostering inclusion and serving underrepresented populations , workshop and “redesign” a portion of their curricula, and identify protocols or programming to focus on better serving students with a diverse set of talents and needs. This session will provide teachers and administrators the opportunity to bring “redesign” ideas back to their school district and begin the important work of honoring the gifts and talents of all students.


“In Their Shoes”: Learner-Centered Teaching Practices for Equitable Education of Our ELLs

Dorina Sackman-Ebuwa (@Dorina_BELIEVE ), Educator/B.E.L.I.E.V.E.! LLC; 2014 Florida Teacher of the Year

In this highly interactive, energetic, and mentally stimulating session, participants engage in a sample lesson using complex text, high vocabulary, and technology to learn how to empower our English Language Learners (ELLs) in equitable content area classrooms. Because one of the largest inequities in the education of ELLs is the lack of time to enhance their CALPS: Cognitive Academic Language, Proficiency Skills, the lesson focuses on an analysis (and importance) of teaching Academic versus Social Language and Content Vocabulary versus General Vocabulary in content courses. When our ELLs are exposed to the necessary and specific content academic literacy, they are 82% more likely to be prepared and successful for not only state assessments but over-all college and career readiness. The goal is for participants to attain a better understanding of how it feels to be an ELL by truly living “in their shoes.” Not only will participants leave with all digital materials used in the session, but participants also leave with “a-ha” moments of compassion and empathy for ELL, ten (10) learning-centered teaching strategies to use in their classrooms that increase ELL achievement and confidence.
Global Environmental Stewardship: Building Global Citizenship Through the Exchange of Art and Dialogue

Miguel Barreto (@miguelba13), MS, Creative Connections Rainforest ArtLink Program Director; Dr. Cheryl Iozzo, Art Educator, Greenwich Public Schools, 2015 CT Teacher of the Year Semifinalist |

Through a presentation, hands-on inquiry-based activity working with art, and an Interactive Video Conference IVC with students/teachers in Guatemala and Russia, participants will dialogue with students and teachers in the Guatemalan rainforest and Russia, focusing on mutual concerns on the quality of their local environment and their take on this. Attendees will gain a new perspective on “Environmental Issues” by interacting with students and educators working thousands of miles away; Attain a new perspective into their own culture and environmental understanding; expand their students’ awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the lives of international peers who live in Guatemala and Russia; discover the power of the arts to convey ideas; experience the use of technology for cross-cultural communication; and view best practices for interdisciplinary work




Improving Access to Text: Using PDFs and Screen Readers in the Classroom

Lisette Martinez-Samalot (@Lisette06657582), elementary school teacher/ Mount Holyoke College Grad-Student Fellow

Screen readers represent a powerful tool for making printed material accessible to a wide variety of students’ special needs. Using the tool to its potential requires not only a clear vision of when, how and with whom to use it but also requires care in the development of the text to be read. Portable data files (PDFs) are useful in ensuring the optimal recognition of text by screen readers. This session will illustrate simple and effective techniques to employ when producing the best possible file to be used with a screen reader. The session will review uses of screen readers in helping learners access meaning and will reflect on screen readers’ potential in providing access to different populations. More importantly, participants will get an overview of the most common mistakes when preparing text for screen readers and how to avoid them; and will leave with an easy-to-use reference guide designed to encourage a wider employment of this powerful tool.


Celebrating Our Communities: Using Literature in Elementary Classrooms to Make Connections with All Students

Anthea Grotton (@3littleredwoods;), Teacher, Tolland Public Schools; Sheri Barna (@barwilli8), Teacher, Tolland Public Schools

Session will provide practical best practices to build on staff capacity to make connections with all students and families. We will discuss navigating perceived “difficult” or “sensitive” topics with staff and look at how honest and open these same discussions can be with students. Participants will brainstorm possible roadblocks, such as reluctant staff and parent reactions, and come up with possible solutions. We will look at data to show the importance of reaching all students and making those crucial connections. Ready to use practices will be discussed that can then be brought back to districts and shared with staff so that all are better equipped to reach all students and families in a systematic way. Participants will look at current literature/picture books applicable to topics including but not limited to: kindness, social and emotional learning, LGBTQ+, diversity, creating a welcoming space for all, social justice, etc. Participants will share resources that they have used as well as leave with a running Google doc of resources. Participants will also have an opportunity to discuss practices in their district through an equity lens and look at how practices can be improved upon to be inclusive for all.


Redefining the Literary Canon for Middle School

Michele Giorlando DeRosa, English/AVID Teacher, Western Middle School, Greenwich, CT

This session will focus on unit plans and lesson ideas which integrate a wide variety of authors, specifically voices that have not been historically included in the literary canon. Participants will walk away with book club ideas that expose students to diverse authors based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and experience. We will examine different aspects of literature that can help to balance out the voices students are reading. Participants will also discuss ideas and experiment with confronting difficult and sensitive topics in the classroom regarding prejudice, stereotyping, and labeling. The session will offer some creative activities, writing, and reading ideas that will allow students to discuss their own perceptions of labeling and being labeled and why the inclusion of diversity helps enhance literary experiences. Participants will leave with ideas to create their own unit which embraces equity and inclusion in literature.


We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby – and Have Many More Miles to Go

Katherine Bassett @read12me”), CEO, Tall Poppy, LLC; 2000 New Jersey Teacher of the Year

Women face considerable hurdles in attaining equity with males in leadership positions – in industry, society, education. While women have made great strides in entering the workforce, they have not kept pace in matching progress in leadership roles. In this session, not for women only, we will examine historical aspects of women in leadership, determine where women in leadership sit today, unpack essential leadership characteristics in successfully leading, undertake self-recognition of leadership styles that resonate with us individually, explore misconceptions about female behavior that inhibit women from leading, and identify skills to address this gap. This session will build awareness of the significance of the equity gap in leadership positions, create understanding of the perceptions that inhibit women in attaining and maintaining leadership positions, and examine skills that women can build on to overcome these roadblocks. With a focus on data that addresses gaps in gender equity in the workplace and schools, unpacking leadership skills and how to build leadership skills among colleagues and students, and examples of where and how women are leading successfully, participants will gain an understanding of leadership in general, skills needed to successfully lead, and the kinds of leadership in which individuals wish to engage.


Building a School Culture that Celebrates All Students

Megan E. Lee (@meg_lee07), Dean of Students, North Branford High School; Gregory Gwudz, Assistant Principal, North Branford High School

Our school celebrates students during school-wide recognition ceremonies. Each semester, students and teachers nominate individuals who have demonstrated exceptional character, with all nominated students being recognized at an assembly. This past Fall, our 541 students submitted 540 nominations; these nominations were reflective of students across our school population. Our ceremonies help to foster a positive school climate and are committed to emphasizing equity and inclusion. While many schools recognize students for their achievements, we believe our approach allows for greater diversity of students and staff to be celebrated in a meaningful way. With opportunities for reflection and action, participants should be able to answer the question: How can I improve current practices to encourage meaningful student recognition by promoting greater equity and inclusion? Participants will begin by reflecting on their current practices for positive student recognition and the limitations that inhibit inclusion and equity. Next, we would work to define “meaningful recognition” as it applies to students, parents, and the community. Finally, we would share our school’s approach using sample nominations and video from the assemblies. Additional resources for obtaining buy-in; planning an assembly; and increasing student autonomy will be discussed, and participants will take away practical ideas to bring back to their schools.


Achieving Equity Through Family Engagement: Meeting English Learner Families Where They Are

Lisa Halloran (@LisaHH7), Kindergarten Teacher, Montville Public Schools; Lisanne Kaplan (@girlinthewoods3), District Coordinator, English Learner Program, Montville Public Schools

As a teacher, how can I engage English Learner families when we don’t speak a common language or share the same cultural background? What does a welcoming school environment look and sound like? How can I bridge cultural gaps and help families feel comfortable in school? How can I support EL families in taking part in their children’s learning? By building awareness of the unseen challenges of English Learner families, participants will explore ways to increase family engagement and help families feel welcome. Through interactive activities, participants will have the opportunity to view these challenges with a focus on equity and acquire tips and tools for navigating language and cultural barriers. They will leave with an array of resources and strategies to help them create parent partnerships that support student learning, improve outreach, increase family participation, and meet families “where they are.”


The Assessments We Need: Developing Actionable SEL Data-Points for Teachers and Students 

Jessica Hoffmann (@JADHoffmann), Director of High School Initiatives, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence; Cynthia Willner, Associate Research Scientist, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence; James Floman, Associate Research Scientist, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Rachel Baumsteiger, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

This session will present four new lines of applied research being conducted at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. All aim to provide educators and students with the social and emotional data points they need to create safe, nurturing classrooms where everyone can reach their full potential. We will first present two web-based applications for secondary school students: one for tracking school climate, the other students’ emotional experiences. Both apps empower students in making small changes that impact their wellbeing at school. We will then present research on a new measure of adult wellbeing, useful to supporting the mental health of educators and leaders in the school. Finally, we will present an assessment of emotion regulation for children K-12 which provides guidance for teachers in understanding the current emotion skills of their students and how to support their development. Session attendees will learn about the background and development of each assessment, and hear about opportunities to be involved in the research or future use of each tool. Presenters will make the connection that for social emotional learning (SEL) to be successful, it must be inclusive, culturally responsive, developmentally appropriate, and evidence-based. This means we must provide our educators and leaders with assessment tools that are equally applicable to their students, relevant for making informed decisions, valid across cultures, and accessible to all.
“We Are ALL the Same” – The Impact of a Unique Inclusive Environment on the School Culture and Climate

Kelsey Murphy LaPrad (@MrsKLaPrad), Special Education teacher, Brien McMahon High School; Stephanie Peckham, Health Education teacher, Brien McMahon High School

Have you ever walked late into a faculty meeting, movie, or other social gathering and everyone stares at you? Have you ever sat in a silent place and all of the sudden to your complete embarrassment your phone rings and everyone looks at you? Have you ever had to blow your nose in the middle of a meeting that is incredibly important to your career, and everyone gazes at you? This is exactly the feeling that a student with special needs feels when they are placed in a mainstream environment that lacks inclusivity, understanding and equality. At Brien McMahon High School, we have created a unique, peer-assisted program where students and faculty members are trained in best practices that include students with special needs. The inclusion stretches far beyond the classroom, as this program has allowed students to form relationships and bonds that are then visible in the lunchroom, during after school activities and in the community, to name a few. Taught by a regular education and special education teacher, this session will provide strategies, activities and lessons that create an inclusive classroom, and participants will understand the impact that this practice has on the school community as a whole. Participants will put themselves into the shoes of a student with special needs to realize how important inclusion is in our most challenging students’ everyday life.

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