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Kelly Walters, teacher from Columbus school district, and Kaci Wright, teacher from Parson school district, talk in the breakout session of Growing Writers from Readers on Friday, April 5. The teachers were asked to talk amongst each other about their answers to a question they were asked. Logan Wiley

PSU hosts first literacy conference for teachers

Elementary and middle school teachers from the surrounding area gathered in the Overman Student Center for the first annual Gorilla Literacy Conference. 

The conference, titled “Creating Joyful Writing Experiences for Students and Teachers”, was organized by College of Education department of teaching and leadership professor Susan Knell with the purpose of improving teachers’ confidence in teaching writing. The event took place on April 5 starting in Ballroom C, and lasted from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. with nearly 150 teachers in attendance. 

“I’m very happy with it,” Knell said. “I think everybody greatly enjoyed it. We had a wonderful keynote speaker; he’s really top notch in the field of writing. We had wonderful breakout sessions. I feel like it was a success.” 

Serving as the keynote speaker for the event was 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. The day also featured four breakout sessions designed to improve attendee’s teaching and evaluation methods, as well as Q&A sessions with Fletcher and representatives from Pitt State’s graduate program, with door prizes being handed out at the end. 

“The main thing is we hope that they can get new ideas to take back and try out in their classrooms on Monday,” Knell said. “To have felt inspired and more confident in teaching writing and when teachers are enthused about what they’re doing, obviously their students will be as well.” 

With the assistance of a grant from the Greenbush Education Service Center, teachers from all regions of Kansas. and southwest Missouri were able to make the journey to attend, with the farthest travelling group hailing from Sublette, Kan. For Brooke Wire, a first-grade teacher from Chanute, the travel led to “a well-spent day.” 

“Everything was meaningful,” she said. “Just thought provoking and a lot of stuff I think that people, no matter what they teach in K-12, could utilize and maybe inspire them a little bit. 

Wire decided to attend the conference after learning about it through social media and a friend who recently had been taking graduate courses at PSU. After discussing and listening to “a lot of passionate speakers with good ideas”, Wire has considered what types of changes she might make to her classroom. 

“Mostly probably just giving back some freedom to my young writers,” Wire said. “A lot of the times I feel like we inadvertently squelch creativity out of them when trying to guide them. So just giving them back some of that creative freedom.” 

With initial expectations met and attendee evaluation forms now in hand, Knell plans to learn and improve with the intention of maintaining the Gorilla Literary Conference as a source of professional development for teachers in the nearby area. 

“We’re hoping this will be an annual event so teachers will know the Gorilla Literacy Conference will be this spring and just something, hopefully, they can depend on to being able to come to,” she said. 

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