The Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute (TJEEI) held their 2015 Executive Leadership Summit on Tuesday, April 21st in the UCF Teaching Academy building, and brought together administrators, educators, and scholars in the exceptional education fields to discuss the theme of wellness – specifically the connections between health, literacy, learning, and general wellbeing.

Juli K. Dixon, professor of mathematics education in the School of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, spoke with attendees about a specific student; her daughter, Alex Dixon, suffered a stroke while undergoing a complex brain surgery. Despite the odds being stacked against her, Alex was determined to recover fully and continue achieving her goals, and her story has become an inspiration to parents and exceptional students worldwide.

“There are so many children who are so special, who are so amazing, we need to share their journey and live by their example,” Dr. Dixon told the group. “We need to look at what is challenging to them and find ways to minimize those challenges. We can’t remove them; many of those challenges are what make them so special. But we can minimize them so that students can reach their goals.”

The TJEEI Executive Leadership Summit offers an opportunity for those working in exceptional education and related fields to converse and collaborate. By sharing experiences or knowledge from their specialized areas, attendees can develop a more complete approach to addressing student, teacher, and family needs.

Susan Kelly, associate director of the Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute, told us that “What I find most valuable about this summit is hearing from individuals that represent a variety of perspectives. I think we push one another to think outside our normal scope of work with children and families with different abilities, and by the end of the day we’ve broadened our thinking regarding elements of wellness. Today we talked more about the social and emotional wellbeing of children and their families rather than focusing solely on the intellectual wellbeing. I think this is what all children deserve.”

“The 2015 TJEEI summit was a wonderful experience,” said Ashley Blount, TJEEI scholar and doctoral candidate. “It was beneficial communicating with a diverse array of individuals, many of whom represented different backgrounds such as counseling, exceptional education, and so on. Sharing experiences and discussing ways in which we can all promote best practices when working with children was beneficial. Along with the focus of the summit, it was refreshing discussing overall wellness and brainstorming ways to promote child well-being on individual, group, and systemic levels.”

The Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Leadership Institute provides opportunities for children and adults with exceptional needs to engage in lifelong learning. To learn more about the research, outreach, professional development, and collaboration efforts of the institute, visit the TJEEI website.