Virtual Summer Learning — Call for Proposals

Submit your proposal by May 15, 2021 at or scan this QR code:

NJCTE invites educators of all types from grades K-16+ (public, private, cyber, charter, etc.) to submit session proposals for 30- or 60-minute presentations:

1) approaches for the teaching of reading and writing which amplify student and teacher voice;

2) examples of literacy instruction which develop students’ abilities to read, write, and think critically about equity and justice while adhering to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards; 

3) examples of collaborations with individuals in our diverse communities (public librarians, authors, local historians, social activists, business people, etc.) in order to enrich our students’ literacy education; 

4) methods to engage students with our world.

Kindly note that proposals should reflect educational practices and should not be product promotions or solicitations.

Sessions will run from mid-July through August 2021.

ELA instructors continually create opportunities for students to find and develop their own voice within this evolving world. 

Essential to this process is the infusion of equity and justice in our instruction.

With this in mind, and to help our presenters, there are five strands for sessions. We welcome proposal submissions on these and related topics.

  1. Cultural Responsiveness and Equity/Social Justice and Antiracist Teaching
  2. Technology Supporting Voice, Equity, and Social Justice
  3. Lifting Voices from Diverse Communities 
  4. Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) and Trauma-Informed Teaching
  5. Flexible Instructional Models to Support Equity, Inclusion, and Justice 

Educators at any level and in any phase of their career, including pre-service teachers, are encouraged to attend and/or present.


New Jersey educators will gather virtually at the NJCTE 2021 Summer Learning sessions to benefit from professional programs, panels, discussions, idea exchanges, guest speakers, and shared classroom experiences.  

Additionally, many opportunities exist for educators to participate as speakers, chairpersons, recorders, and to assist with session management.

All sessions are offered free of charge to current NJCTE members. Educators will have the opportunity to join NJCTE at a discounted pandemic rate of $15 for the year ($5 student rate). 

Presenters will be notified by the middle of June. If a proposal is selected, NJCTE will work with the presenters to find a mutually agreeable day and time for presentation. All sessions will be recorded and distributed later to registrants.

As a presenter, you have the unique opportunity to influence a wide body of educators. We expect that you will join us as a registered NJCTE member if you are selected to present, and we look forward to your continued contributions to the organization. A yearly membership will be offered at a discounted pandemic rate of $15. A student membership is available for $5.

Find more information about NJCTE: @NJCTENews Blog:

Please contact the NJCTE 2021 Summer Learning Co-Chairs with any questions:

Katie Nieves, and Twitter @Ms_KatieNieves

Denise Weintraut, and Twitter @SmilingTeach

Virtual Summer Learning — Call for Proposals

NJCTE Meeting with Erika Leak, NJDOE – February 2 at 4

We invite you to join us for a special NJCTE open meeting with Erika Leak, Office of Standards, New Jersey Department of Education, on February 2 at 4. Erika is eager to check-in and discuss experiences that ELA educators are having in this current climate. 

Please register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

NJCTE Meeting with Erika Leak, NJDOE – February 2 at 4

The benefits of joy and gratitude

by Joseph S. Pizzo

At the initial NCTE SCOA meeting, the theme was “Joy.” It was defined as “the feeling that acknowledges satisfaction in oneself and in others as well.” During this pandemic, the main direction was identified as a critical component of both the personalities and the lives of all educators and families. 

We wrote about the topic of joy. We discussed our writings in both breakout rooms and a full meeting. Here is my note.

“Joy is reflected in the woman raising the child. We uplift as we mentor, but we gain from those we mentor as well. We experience confluencia as joy flows inward, but the experience is even greater when the confluencia follows its natural course and flows outwardly to share that which it has gained previously.”

At the second SCOA meeting held later in the day, we examined an article entitled, “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Breakout rooms were again used so the article could be discussed in assigned sections. The notes from my group are as follows:

  • Positive emotion words, negative emotion words, and “we” words (first-person plural words) that participants used in their writing have an impact.  
  • The gratitude writing group used a higher percentage of positive emotion words and “we” words.
  • The lack of negative emotion words—not the abundance of positive—explained the mental health gap between the gratitude writing group and the other writing group.
  • Gratitude letter writing produces better mental health by shifting one’s attention away from toxic emotions.

Having a positive outlook and avoiding toxic thoughts and situations was found to lessen the use of toxic words in one’s daily lexicon. According to the authors Joshua Brown and Joel Wong, “many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.” The experimental group in the study wrote letters of gratitude while the control group did not.

The research study that was conducted by Brown and Wong involved “nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counseling at a university. We recruited these participants just before they began their first session of counseling, and, on average, they reported clinically low levels of mental health at the time. The majority of people seeking counseling services at this university in general struggled with issues related to depression and anxiety.” 

The main findings made in the article are as follows:

  1. Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions.
  2. Gratitude helps (the individual) even if you don’t share it (in some form with others).
  3. Gratitude’s benefits… (emerge slowly over) time.
  4. Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain. (“…when people who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude.”)

The authors of the article conclude that “practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.”

I shall conclude my report by sharing the note of gratitude that I have written to my colleagues at NJCTE. 

Dear Friends,

I am grateful to all of you, my colleagues at NJCTE. We consistently have a range of different tasks to address and complete. It is important to know, however, that we gather our talents and combine our efforts to help any of us who may be in need. We acknowledge the commitments made to our organization and our membership by readily offering to help any member who may be in need. The unselfish nature of our organization makes me proud to be a member.

Thank you, NJCTE for your kindness of heart, your generosity of spirit, and your willingness to give of yourself to help others in need. 


Joe Pizzo

The benefits of joy and gratitude

NJCTE High School Writing Contest 2020

The New Jersey Council of Teachers of English invites New Jersey students in grades 9-12 to participate in its 2020 Writing Contest:

“Social Breath 2020”

Deadline: January 11, 2021


  • Poetry (one poem, 50-line max)
  • Short Story (5 page max, double-spaced)
  • Personal Essay (5 page max, double-spaced; MUST respond to prompt) 


Write a personal essay or narrative about taking a Social Breath in 2020

In 2020, we have heard a clarion call for social change. Names such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have become familiar to all who read or listen to the news. Many columnists, politicians, and everyday citizens are calling for change. In a personal essay or narrative, consider the call for social change as you experience it. Have you actively participated? If so, how has your participation manifested itself? If not, why have you chosen another path? What other factors impact your thinking about being a responsible citizen and engaging in actions and activities that result in a socially and emotionally secure world?

Entry Criteria

  • Only New Jersey high school students (public or private) are eligible to enter
  • Students may submit a maximum of one entry in each category (i.e., one poem, one short story, and one personal essay)
  • Teachers may submit up to ten entries for their students in each genre. Surplus entries will be disqualified in order of submission date.
  • The file submitted must be anonymous. Essays, short stories, and personal essays with a name, school, or class typed on them will be disqualified.

Submission Links: 

Questions? Contact

Congratulations to the winners of our 2019 contest!

NJCTE High School Writing Contest 2020

NJCTE OFFERS GRANTS FOR NCTE 2020 Virtual Convention

In recognition of and response to what has been a tumultuous year of teaching, NJCTE is offering one-time grants in the amount of $100 to five NJCTE members so that they may attend this year’s NCTE Annual Convention.

You must be a current member of NJCTE to be eligible. If you joined or renewed your membership after March 1, 2020, you are current. If you can’t remember, please consider re-joining. Membership is only $15 this year.

We will announce the winners, drawn at random, on November 9 at 8 P.M. The application form will be open until then. Please be considerate of the financial needs of others if your district or institution is already supporting your attendance at NCTE.

NJCTE OFFERS GRANTS FOR NCTE 2020 Virtual Convention

Join us! NJCTE Open Board Meeting — 10/25, 6pm

NJCTE is required to hold an annual open board meeting. Typically, we hold this meeting after our spring conference, but this year, for obvious reasons, we did not. So, we will hold our meeting on Zoom, October 25, 6pm.

Register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Please join us to ratify changes to our constitution and our new board code of conduct. We will also ratify a few of our interim board appointments and elect new folks to some of our new board positions.

In particular, we are looking for someone to serve as a Web Coordinator and Communications Chair. Are you interested?

Or, if you have expressed interest in giving more of your time and energy to NJCTE, join us and we can definitely make a place for you in the organization and talk about how you can become more involved. 

This will not be a long meeting. Come and approve our new constitution and code of conduct and help us by stepping up to serve or by helping elect others.

Questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out:

Join us! NJCTE Open Board Meeting — 10/25, 6pm

“We Survived September! Now What?” Virtual Panel Discussion

Join us Tuesday, 9/29, 6-7pm to raise a virtual toast — with whatever kind of beverage and/or ice cream flavor you prefer — to ourselves and ELA teachers everywhere and to talk about what has worked well during September remote/hybrid/in-person teaching and learning and how we will carry that forward into October and beyond.

The discussion will be facilitated by NJCTE board member Denise Weintraut and feature four excellent NJ ELA educators (see speaker topics and bios below).

Time: Sep 29, 2020 06:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 899 1228 0611
Passcode: 708880

NJCTE board member and 2020 AMLE National Educator of the Year Joseph Pizzo on “Poetry and the Pandemic”

“My poetry assignment entitled ‘The First Day of School’ has been transformed by the outbreak of COVID-19 and the accompanying restrictions and regulations. Rather than discussing a typical first day of school, my students focus on the challenges and changes (both positive and negative) that this pandemic has imposed upon them as both students and social beings. Some of the images are very powerful.”

English and Theater Arts teacher Katie Whitley on creating a collaborative virtual classroom environment

“COVID-19 has certainly presented significant challenges in regard to creating a ‘space’ to develop an interactive and supportive classroom community. Complications with computer access and connectivity coupled with the discomfort some students feel sharing themselves on screen can make video platforms feel like an incomplete alternative to an in-person collaborative classroom environment. After much trial and error, I developed a template for a weekly slideshow that  has allowed for a wider variety of ways for students to work together, interact, and get the support and assistance they need.” 

English Special Education teacher Ashley Pollitt on “Check-in Questions: Beyond Simply Getting to Know Students”

“Students often chat as they trickle into the classroom. This year, preoccupied with learning who’s who in a mask and implementing safety protocols, I did not readily engage students… that is, until one day I checked in: What made you smile this week? Before long, this became a daily practice: What have you done for yourself today? If you could describe yourself as an animal at this very moment, what would you be and why? Soon, students will routinely create and ask their own check-in questions. As we move past the “get-to-know-you” phase—and as I continue to learn the unique needs of my students with disabilities—this information will ideally help me structure meaningful goals for all students.”

English teacher Jason Toncic on “The Problem with Zoom”

“With the take-up of remote teaching via Zoom over the past year, many educators have found themselves teaching to blank screens. Although this may be disconcerting for teachers, I’ve found that the discourse about students’ videos has masked a greater issue: the loss of physical space in the classroom. Due to equidistance, classrooms are dominated—even more than usual—by teacher-led discussion with little room for other voices. What consequences emerge in classrooms where only one dialogue can occur, and what options exist within the software that can mitigate some of this unanticipated problem?”

Speaker biographies:

Joseph Pizzo is an English Teacher beginning year 47 on 11/3, Black River Middle School – Integrated Language Arts Teacher and Drama Club Co-director, Centenary University – Adjunct Prof. of Communications, Union County College and College of Saint Elizabeth – Former Adjunct Professor, AMLE National Educator of the Year – 2020, former NJCTE and NJAMLE Educator of the Year, NCTE Historian, NJ Autism Think Tank Member, a poet and author, and much more.

Ashley Pollitt is an English Special Education teacher at Ridgewood High School with experience in General Education, Co-Taught, and Resource settings. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Montclair State University in Teacher Education and Teacher Development with a focus on critical disability studies. At Montclair State University, Ashley also serves as an adjunct professor, teaching courses in the Early Childhood and Special Education (ECSE) and Educational Foundations (EDFD) programs.

Katie Whitley has been teaching high school English and theater arts since 2008 and is an adjunct professor of writing studies at Montclair State University. Katie is also a doctoral candidate in Teacher Education and Development at Montclair State focusing on critical literacy and feminist pedagogies. 

Jason Toncic is an English teacher at James Caldwell High School. As a Ph.D. candidate at Montclair State University, he is examining discourse records from online English classes within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic from March-to-June last school year.

“We Survived September! Now What?” Virtual Panel Discussion

Call for applicants: NCTE/NJCTE Teachers for the Dream – Deadline Oct 31

Call for applicants: NJCTE Teachers for the Dream – Deadline October 31, 2020

The New Jersey Council of Teachers of English (NJCTE) seeks to address and support underrepresented teachers of color in New Jersey and within our own organization. The Teachers for the Dream grant, funded with the generous support of NCTE, will help NJCTE support teachers of color within the state and within the leadership of our organization. We also hope that this initiative will help us increase the diversity of our membership overall.

If you are a teacher of color, please consider applying: If you are not a teacher of color, please share this application with a friend or colleague who might benefit from this award.

Call for applicants: NCTE/NJCTE Teachers for the Dream – Deadline Oct 31

Cocktails in Crisis is Back!

Calling all ELA educators, K-16! Let’s come together virtually, with your favorite cocktail or mocktail.

We did it before, and we are doing it again because it was such a success! If you came before, you know it was great. If you missed it, join us this time around. You’ll be glad you did.

Date/Time: Thursday, August 13, 2020, 4:00 PM Eastern Time

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 957 8036 2429
Password: 59175101

Our thanks go to the American College of Education for graciously sponsoring this event and providing our generous door prizes! If you’d like to continue your education while still teaching, be sure to check them out by contacting our representative below.

Kerry Delaney

Field Enrollment Specialist

American College of Education

101 W Ohio, Suite 1200, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Phone: 833.230.6585


Cocktails in Crisis is Back!

Register Today for NJCTE Summer Virtual Professional Development Sessions

Beat the heat this summer with lots of learning options to inspire you — our presenters are offering condensed, virtual versions of their spring conference sessions to benefit NJ educators this summer.

Join one, a few or all of the sessions — they are free to NJCTE members and only $5 for non-members! You can register for the sessions at the links below. Note that sessions will only run with five or more participants, so please be purposeful in your responses so that presenters can plan accordingly. We welcome your participation and enthusiasm at some or all of these awesome sessions this summer!

Thursday, July 16, 3pm, Janice Alvarez: This presentation will use various pieces of culturally responsive literature to demonstrate various lesson activities that will increase student motivation and achievement. Cornelius Minor’s book, We Got This, will be referenced and teachers will leave with tangible lesson ideas and a bibliography of culturally responsive and appropriate mentor texts.

Monday, July 20, 10am, Kristie-Anne Opaleski: There are a myriad of effective SEL programs available for the elementary and the middle school classrooms. However, options are limited for high school teachers though teens need this instruction equally, if not more. As the District SEL coordinator and instructional coach, I created SEL in the Secondary English Classroom for my high school colleagues encouraging them to try feasible and simple ways to integrate social-emotional learning in their English classes. Our district had a felt need at both high schools that all students, regardless of their academic level, needed coping skills; consequently, I created this Google Slide presentation as a springboard to start teaching SEL skills, specifically self-awareness and self-management to teens. The focus is on what teachers are already doing and capitalizing on ways to do it better. Most teachers care about their students, therefore some of these techniques are more of reminders than methods. I presented this to 40 high school English teachers and 95% of those surveyed felt like they could employ at least one of the strategies presented the next day.

Wednesday, July 22, 10:30am, Kate Overgaard: During this session, I will discuss the outline for implementing First Chapter Friday in classes, from elementary through college. The idea is to provide students with exposure to various texts and potentially open them up to different types of readings. I will share the list of readings used thus far and, provide sample lists for each grade level (elementary, middle, high school, college), etc.

Tuesday, July 28, 10am, Joe Pizzo: ELA Meets SEL 2.0 inspires ELA teachers to combine various strategies that infuse the fundamentals with fun wrapped in an envelope of SEL principles encouraging voice and choice. Participants will learn ways to connect with their students right from the first day of classes. The featured project is Character Comfort, an activity being featured in Shelby Witte’s new book for NCTE. The chance to create a Professional Learning Network (PLN) designed to continue the workshop experience will be offered. Bring your device, your energy, and your creativity!

Wednesday, July 29, 4pm, Mr. & Mrs. Krapels: As teachers, we all can probably recognize that student stress and anxiety levels seem to be increasing every year—especially when it comes to their grades. While this stress may be related and exacerbated by a number of factors, it’s evident that more and more, some students see their identities and their grade point averages as one and the same. Often, learning and reflection can take a backseat to the letters on their report card. This session aims to help teachers in the ELA classroom combat the obsession over grades by providing three replicable methods for teachers’ own classrooms. Because many of us teach in traditional schools that still rely on traditional grading methods and reporting, this session does not aim to help teachers “throw out grades.” Instead, its aims are to provide teachers with ideas that can help them challenge the traditional grading system while still providing the traditional letter-grade reporting that is required of so many of us. More importantly, this session will introduce participants to practices that if employed in their own classes, may help positively change students’ mindsets around grading and assessment.

Monday, August 3, 10am, Emily Meixner: In this session, the presenters will introduce the idea of reading “frames” and provide examples of how these frames can guide teachers’ use of whole class texts. Despite changing school demographics as well as an intensified awareness of the increasing social emotional needs of secondary students, the way in which English teachers “teach books” looks very much like it has for decades. The goal in this session is to model for teachers how they might identify and teach reading “frames” to provide students with not only greater purpose, but also with increased autonomy over how they read. Come prepared to reconsider texts you currently teach and/or imagine how you might approach new texts you’d like to explore with your students.

Thursday, August 6, 4pm, Bryan Weber: This presentation will introduce teachers to creative ways to build empathy in their students. Bryan will demonstrate how the use of critical lenses and creative assessments can foster greater understanding of diverse perspectives and experiences. Bryan will provide examples of actual activities he has used in his high school ELA classroom that assist students to feel and show empathy for others, especially with regards to women, individuals on the autism spectrum, and refugees.

Wednesday, August 19, 10am, Berit Gordon: How do we get to more joy and less struggle in a profession where people put in such tremendous effort and do such essential work? No matter what supports you might have in your school or district, you can take charge of your teacher growth and craft your own learning journey. This workshop will show that the expert is already in you, and will offer you some hands-on strategies/guidance you need and crave in order to become the high-impact teacher every student deserves. This workshop will provide a structure to help K–12 teachers reflect on your own professional development needs, set goals that work for you and your students, and access a host of practical strategies that will help you meet that goal. We will look at self-assessment checklists to help you find your own entry point. Once you have determined which goal you want to start with, you will look at the list of strategies and choose one to try.

Friday, August, 21, 10am, Colleen Potter: In our new hybrid world, digital portfolios are becoming an increasingly relevant tool for educators looking for ways to empower their students to communicate evidence of learning anywhere, anytime. Student-driven digital portfolios serve to document student learning and are a valuable space for prompting student reflection to integrate more thoughtful SEL education into the classroom. By capturing learning as it happens with audio, video, files from the cloud, readings, and artifacts from the ELA classroom, teachers can challenge students to reflect on their learning, feelings, and areas of improvement. This session will give a technology-agnostic overview of how digital portfolios can be used to capture learning and demonstrate social and emotional learning.

Register Today for NJCTE Summer Virtual Professional Development Sessions