By Jessica Salfia

Last weekend was our second annual WVELA Conference, and this was pretty much all of us at WVCTE and NWP@WVU this week…


(Actually, we all looked more like this until about Wednesday/Thursday:)


But after a few days to rest, recoup, and process all the incredible learning and collaborating it soon became clear that this second conference was truly something special.

It has taken me all week to sift through all my thoughts and reflections, and I’m going to start by seconding all of these lovely reflections from Emily Tanzey: conference presenter and participant and teacher at Suncrest Middle School in Morgantown, WV. who got this beautiful conference post up earlier this week. (Be sure to give this a read too!)

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WVELA19: The Highlights

Over 150 teachers from not just West Virginia, but all over the country joined us at the MountainLair in Morgantown for learning and leading. This year’s theme was “A West Virginia for All: Creating Diverse and Inclusive ELA Classrooms,” and it soon became clear that this theme was going to elicit some extraordinary conversations and collaborations.

The conference opened with poet, quantum thinker, and entrepreneur, Crystal Good, who kicked things off as the Social Media Senator for the Digital District of West Virginia. She made us laugh and cry, and also performed an unpublished poem called “Civil Up and Rising.”


Waving her a red bandanna over her head, her clear voice rang out across the packed room:

“On the one

they say in Logan County

there’s too much misery, despair

five days

on the two

Sid Hatfield & Freddie Gray

they say they have to guard us

to educate their


live in luxury

our children almost wild”

The poem juxtaposes the 1921 uprising of Blair Mountain miners with the civil uprising in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015.

“boom pop

say it loud

Baltimore on the one

say it proud

Blair Mountain on the two

which side are you on?”

There is a powerful tradition of resistance in West Virginia. From our state’s secession from Virginia during the Civil War to the recent #55Strong teacher movements of 2018 and 2019, West Virginians have long valued labor, equality, and social justice. The connection Good makes in this powerful poem between our own identity and history of resistance here in the Appalachian mountains with the recent resistance to racism and oppression across the nation that has given birth to movements like #BlackLivesMatter could not have been a more perfect introduction to a conference and conversation on how to create more inclusive and diverse West Virginia classrooms.

Disruption, resistance, and refusal to surrender would soon emerge as recurring themes throughout the weekend.

NCTE Past-President, scholar, and author, Jocelyn Chadwick not only gave the morning keynote, but spent the weekend learning and collaborating with West Virginia teachers. In her talk, Jocelyn shared some of her own story, insights about the unique characteristics of our Gen Z students, and discussed education is the great equalizer. “Kids will be brilliant if you let them,” she told us.

Appalachian author, Ann Pancake brought us to tears first by talking about the power teachers had in her own life and on her journey as a writer, but also with the reading of a powerfully moving  essay about gender roles, acceptance, sibling relationships, and refusal to conform.


Day 2 kicked off with a powerful session on ways to disrupt your curriculum and the cannon with author, educator, and #DisruptTexts co-founder, Tricia Ebarvia. One teachers said after her session, “I just learned more in 30 minutes than in the last 15 years of teacher P.D.”

And the day ended with teachers on their feet, cheering as award winning author, Kwame Alexander read from his new book, The Undefeated.

On site all weekend was teacher rock star and Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Dr. Peggy O’Brien holding workshops on the Folger Method of teaching Shakespeare. For years The Folger has been helping teachers disrupt the way they teach the Bard, and Folger strategies are straight fire for not just Shakespeare, but any text.

Every Folger session was packed with teachers moving, laughing, and learning.

Concurrent sessions featured presenters from all over the country sharing strategies and best practices.

We were thrilled that #TeachLivingPoets and #THEBOOKCHAT were both repping in the 304. (304 = West Virginia’s area code for you out-of-staters.)

Melissa Alter Smith, Joel Garza, and Scott Bayer all brought their wisdom to West Virginia, and echoing through the halls were conversations about how the movements to teach contemporary and diverse works of literature spearheaded by these extraordinary educators could revolutionize so many West Virginia ELA classrooms.

Among the dozens of other brilliant teacher-presenters who made choosing a concurrent session to attend one the hardest parts of the weekend was Heinemann author, Liz Prather, who shared strategies from her book, Project Based Writing: Teaching Writers to Manage Time and Clarify Purpose.

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There was so much learning and leading!

One of the best parts of this conference was the awards luncheon.

This year WVCTE awarded the WVCTE Excellence in Teaching Award to Elkins High School’s Andrew Carroll.

This award is given by the WVCTE Executive Committee in recognition of extraordinary teaching and service to your community and students. Know a great teacher? You can nominate them or apply yourself next year!

This year’s award was extra special for me as Andrew is former student of mine. In his acceptance speech, he talked about connections and about how great teaching grows great teachers. (I admit, I had trouble not shedding a few proud tears.)

And then, later we had an opportunity to take this picture: 

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The luncheon speaker was Delegate Danielle Walker and she took us to school, to church, and to the mountaintop. She was DYNAMIC. And not only did she serve as our luncheon speaker, she came and learned with us all weekend as a conference attendee. I hope that ALL lawmakers take a page from Del. Walker’s book, and spend some time walking the same road as educators to better understand how to create pro-education legislation.


I am incredibly proud and completely overwhelmed by the amazing weekend of collaboration and learning that we helped facilitate. It has been WVCTE’s partnership with NWP@WVU that has created this opportunity for West Virginia Teachers to grow and learn together, and I am so grateful for NWP@WVU’s co-directors, Audra Slocum and Sarah Morris.

We are also incredibly grateful to the West Virginia Humanities Council. Presentations by Tricia Ebarvia and Kwame Alexander were made possible by a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council. 

humanites coucil

As part of our grant requirements, we asked conference attendees to fill out surveys on their conference experience. Here’s a small sample of some of our favorite feedback: 

  • “There are few experiences that energize my teacher brain more.”
  • “Really an amazing opportunity to consider our practice and be inspired to teach better! Thank you!”
  • “In my 9 years of teaching this is the first conference that I’ve been to that felt truly relevant to me and my classroom. I was fully engaged and inspired. In the future I would like to see more connections to middle school and a way for resources to be shared out from all classes. It was so hard to choose just one per session!”
  • “Great program! Lot of good information that I can take back to the classroom.”
  • “Thank you for bringing in WV artists and authors. Blown away last two years of new authors to take back to classroom.”

I look forward to many more years of WVELA, and planning for next year is already underway, so if you’re feeling like you missed out this year, don’t worry!

Dates for next year will be released soon, and you can mark your calendars!

And you can still get one of these beautiful WVCTE t-shirts!  Click HERE to order one!


Looking Ahead!

Want to get involved in WVCTE? We are now taking nominations for officers for the 2019-2022 term! Executive Vice President, Karla Hilliard, will assume the position of President, but we need nominations for Executive Vice President (incoming President, 2022-2025), Secretary, and Treasurer. We also would love to have more members of the executive committee, the conference committee, and folks who want to help us build up the middle school and elementary school sections of our organization! You can send your suggestions and nominations to All members have authority to self nominate or nominate other WVCTE members. 

Our next WVCTE Executive Committee meeting will be Tuesday, June 18th at Daily Grind in Martinsburg. Can’t make it? Let us know and we’ll skype you in!

Were you at #WVELA19? Comment, Facebook, Tweet, or email us and tell us how your conference experience was! 

Categories: Blog

1 Comment

Finding Your End of Year Last Breath – West Virginia Council of Teachers of English · April 12, 2019 at 8:01 am

[…] has been the month for state literacy conferences.  WVU led off with their event which was showcased on WVCTE blog earlier this month.  Not to be outdone, Marshall University and the Central West Virginia Writing Project […]

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