While local schoolchildren won't be hitting the books for another couple of weeks, several teachers in the Lawrence school district are already back in the classroom in an effort to hone their teaching skills.
Every day this week and for part of next week, teachers will be participating in a variety of workshops presented as part of the district's in-service program. Among the topics being discussed are how to better make presentations to other teachers, how to use computer software and how to teach children keyboarding skills.
Sandee Crowther, director of staff development, said such workshops are presented throughout the year. However, she said, these early workshops are a good opportunity for teachers to become familiar with new additions to the school curriculum.
FOR EXAMPLE, about half of all fifth- and sixth-grade teachers will be expected to start teaching their students keyboarding skills this year. The program is intended to help youngsters without typing skills work on computer keyboards. Thursday's workshop on keyboarding will allow teachers to feel more comfortable with the subject before introducing it to their students. "It's hard to learn something and at the same time teach it on a daily basis," Crowther said.
The Lawrence school district is embarking on its sixth year of staff development, and Crowther feels the program is going strong. A total of 601 certified staff including 554 teachers, 20 administrators and 27 paraprofessionals have active individual development plans on file. That group constitutes 91 percent of certified staff, Crowther said.
Last year's teachers on the average participated in 40 hours of staff development programs.
Considering that teachers participate in the workshops on a voluntary basis and for no extra pay, "that's a pretty strong commitment," said Lawrence School Supt. Dan Neuenswander.
CLENECE HILLS, teacher at South Junior High School, said she thinks the staff development program is more important than ever because the median age of Lawrence schoolteachers is rising.
"We who have been teaching for many years need to stay in tune with the latest developments in education, and we need to renew our enthusiasm," she said. "The workshops have given us those opportunities, and I've taken advantage of a number of them."
Hills said she really enjoyed the in-service program's work in introducing teachers to peer coaching, through which teachers improve their teaching by observing each other in the classroom.
"In the past, it hasn't been appropriate to sit in on other teachers' classes. It seemed more like an inspection than a learning experience," Hills said. "We now feel much freer about observing each other in a non-threatening sense."
NOT ONLY ARE teachers improving through the in-service program, Crowther said, but the program itself is improving.
"The big change is more emphasis on follow-up. People are expecting more accountability," she said.
Hence, teachers not only take what they've learned in the workshops into the classroom. They tell other teachers how they were able to implement what they learned in the workshops.