As part of an effort to improve teachers’ confidence in teaching writing, Pittsburg State University will be hosting its first annual Gorilla Literacy Conference.
The event is aimed at currently practicing elementary and middle school teachers in the surrounding region and will feature a keynote address followed by breakout sessions presented by experienced teachers. The conference, titled “Creating Joyful Writing Experiences for Students and Teachers”, is being organized by College of Education department of teaching and leadership professor Dr. Susan Knell and will be held Friday, April 5, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. in the Overman Student Center.
“The reason for starting (this event), many of my students graduate students, all the teachers say, ‘Yes, I feel confident teaching reading,’” Knell said. “When it comes to writing, some of them don’t feel quite as confident. So, I’m hoping, this is just a one-day conference, but hopefully I get them excited and feeling more confident, and hopefully they’ll have more ideas they can take back to their classroom.”
The keynote speaker for the conference is writer Ralph Fletcher who has published a number of books of poetry, nonfiction, and children’s books, including “Joy Write”, which the conference was named after. Fletcher earned his master’s degree in fiction writing from Columbia University and currently acts as an educational consultant in addition to his writing.
“He travels all over the world to speak about writing to teachers,” Knell said. “I have known about Ralph Fletcher for some time. He does books for children and professional books for teachers. We have faculty that use his books in their Language arts classes. I know everybody will be thrilled with him.”
While attendance is mostly limited to professionals, students in the College of Education’s early childhood and elementary education programs are invited. Students will have the chance to network with professionals in the field as well as earn one-hour of college credit at an additional cost.
“They can come for a partial day, they can come for all day, but I think it’s a good opportunity for them to see what a professional development day looks like and get to see what their future is going to entail once they’re in the classroom.”
After attending conferences over the years, Knell knew what she wanted out of them as a teacher and began developing her own based on that idea roughly a year and a half ago. After gaining the approval of the department and the College of Education, Knell was contacted by the Greenbush Education Service Center for additional support.
“We are also fortunate that Greenbush has new a federal grant for school districts,” she said. “It’s all for development for teachers and when they asked teachers where they needed the most help, it was writing. Luckily, Monica Murnan, one of our state representatives, also works for Greenbush and called me and said, ‘Hey, I think this might be a good connection’.’”
With an estimated 140 education professionals from Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma currently slated to attend, Knell emphasizes the need for teachers to have professional development outside of their districts to go back to their schools “refreshed” and with new ideas.
“To make writing, no matter what program the may be doing in their school, make writing an integral part of their day and to make it joyful and not feel stressed,” she said. “I always feel a conference has been worth it for me if I go back with one idea or one new piece of inspiration or something like that.”
Registration for the conference $75 and is open until Friday, March 29 on PSU’s website.