Teachers share skills, tips at district peer gatherings

Sean C. Morgan

When a teacher finds a technique that works well with students, it should quickly spread throughout the rest of the school district.

That’s the concept behind staff workshops being held throughout the district in which teachers demonstrate their classroom successes for colleagues.

“The concept is that we have the talent and expertise we need right here in Sweet Home,” said Tim Swanson, District 55 teaching coach. “Sweet Home staff development is working to develop and showcase our building-based leaders.”

Those leaders form the “Sweet Home Academics Leadership Team.”

This form of staff development is considerably more effective than bringing in outside experts to talk to teachers, he said. Standard staff development provides about a 5-percent carry-through into the classroom, while this approach provides about 85 percent carryover into the classroom.

“We’re trying to put the systems in place where we get 85 percent carryover,” Swanson said.

Barbi Riggs, a first-grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School, attended the Riggs Institute (no relation) for a week about three years ago, and she has had remarkable success since then with what she learned using the Riggs phonics curriculum.

“In the years past,” Riggs said. “I’ve noticed that kids can get 100 percent on the Friday test but have a hard time transferring into their writing. The Riggs phonics program is transferring into their reading and writing. This program has knocked my socks off. This class this year has really shown me it works.”

On a recent spelling test, 18 of 24 students scored 100 percent in her classroom. The other six missed one word.

That’s the sort of data that teachers are looking at in their professional learning communities to hone local education programs; and moving that kind of performance around the district is the goal of developing building-based leaders.

The district is identifying teachers who’ve had those kinds of successes and showcasing them, developing building-based leaders. Among them are Michelle Hatchard, a leader in reading and writing, and Riggs.

Recently, more than a dozen teachers from around the district visited Riggs’ classroom after school. Students volunteered for a little extra class time with Riggs, and she showed the other teachers what she does.

The other teachers observe and learn from the showcases, Swanson said, but the biggest impact comes when the teachers start talking about what they’ve seen.

Riggs worked her way through a set of flashcards that teach children 114 sounds associated with 71 different letters or combinations of letters, including “-ough,” which has six sounds of its own.

She uses music heavily in her classroom, and she ended her showcase singing “Tony Chestnut” with the children.

Soon the teachers joined in to end the presentation. The music and motions that go with it don’t just keep the students interested in the subject material.

The activity helps get the teachers excited about what they’ve learned, Swanson said, and that launches their own discussions and collaboration.

“We have the knowledge here,” Swanson said. The local teachers have more credibility with each other.

“We don’t need to bring anybody in from outside,” he said. “Through instructional coaching and PLCs, our teachers get together and discuss how to get better.”