College hosts education conference

“All of you are leaders in perhaps the most important domain. I congratulate you.” With these words Professor of Psychology and Coordinator of the Program in Leadership Studies George Goethals welcomed the participants of the Conference on Educational Leadership on October 7-9. The Program in Leadership Studies and the Program in Teaching co-hosted the conference at Elm Tree House at Mt. Hope Farm in Williamstown.

While the full impact of the conference is undetermined, “one definite direction is for these alums to provide all kinds of mentoring and support to Williams students interested in educational leadership,” Lecturer in Psychology and Director of Education Programs Susan Engel said.

Engel and Leadership Studies Programs Coordinator Merritt Colaizzi worked together to develop the concept for a conference to investigate these issues. “The conference idea was quite organic,” Engel said. “It emerged as we realized that many of our best students, interested in teaching, might some day, because of their motivation, personal force and ambitions, become educational leaders.” She said they also realized that Williams’ own alums would be a great resource in determining how best to prepare current Williams students to be educational leaders.

The first of its kind for the College, the conference brought together Williams alumni who are current or retired school superintendents, mostly in public schools, to discuss their experiences and difficulties regarding leadership in schools. For three days, the participants had group discussions and heard from several current Williams professors.

Lauren Siegel ’00, who assisted Colaizzi with the organization of the conference, was pleased with the results. “The alumni were really willing to give us advice and suggestions,” Siegel said. “As a senior, it helped inspire and motivate me to start the application process.”

The goals of the conference were threefold. First, the conference was viewed as a forum in which school leaders could discuss problems with each other, and hopefully develop solutions. Second, Williams students were involved in some of the discussions to learn more about the issues that face them if they pursue a career in school leadership, and to perhaps serve as a first step towards a mentoring project for students in the Program in Teaching at Williams. Third, the conclusions made in the discussions will hopefully inform Williams on how to prepare students to be successful school leaders.

Colaizzi said, “Rest assured you will see change in both the Program in Teaching and the Program in Leadership Studies as a result of this conference.”

The premise stresses the intimate connection between the qualities of a good leader and the qualities of a good educator. “In thinking about effective teaching, issues of leadership must be considered,” Colaizzi said. “Likewise, in thinking about good leadership one must consider how people communicate, learn, understand, and subsequently act – the basics in education as well. Both programs provide the opportunity for students to reflect upon practical leadership.”

This conference comes at a time when Williams’ teaching program is still young and requires considerable development and thought. The teaching program is an interdisciplinary program offering a variety of education-related courses. There is also an option to take a ninth semester and earn both the Williams degree and a Massachusetts state teaching certificate. According to Engel, about 75 students have at least taken a class through the program so far. Engel said “a great sense of urgency that this is a time of terrible chaos [for education].” However, she tempered this statement saying, “Teaching Williams students who want to be teachers [gives me] a feeling of hope.”

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