Beaufort County teachers teach their peers in new training program

sbowman@beaufortgazette.com

February 17, 2014 

The roles were reversed Monday in the Beaufort County School District -- the teachers sat in the students' desks and raised their hands with questions.

As part of a new professional-development program, nearly 2,000 teachers and staff attended the district's first "Best Practices Day." Teachers could choose from more than 300 workshops to learn about a variety of topics and techniques to use in the classroom.

But unlike many previous professional development days, taught by consultants, these workshops were conducted by the district's own teachers.

"We have so many gifted and talented teachers right here in Beaufort County, and we don't tap on those resources enough," said B.J. Silver, a science teacher at Bluffton Middle School who explained a Port Royal Sound lesson she created.

"We don't always need to reach out for professional development," she added.

It cost the district less than $13,000 to put on Monday's full day of training and pay for the 125 speakers, chief operational services officer Phyllis White said. The cost of just one outside consultant could be several thousand dollars, depending on their expertise, availability and travel, White said.

Keeping expenses down was not the reason for the new format, superintendent Jeff Moss said.

"The benefit is that the teachers may have picked up some of the practices from an outside presentation before and have refined them to work for our students in Beaufort County," he said. "So it's not hearing from someone out of state or from another district that may not have a student demographic like ours."

The workshop topics were offered for all grade levels and ranged from using Google apps during lessons to incorporating local examples, such as places and people, into the curriculum.

Many teachers said the sessions were more productive because they know the instructors.

Bluffton Middle School social studies teacher Pamela Pray said it's often difficult to grasp all the information during such sessions, but follow-up questions to these instructors will be only a call or email away.

"These are our co-workers and people here working with our students," Pray said. "So you can work with them on a more personal level and feel more comfortable asking them questions."

The district will survey teachers after the Best Practices Day to gauge their reaction to the training, according to Moss.

Several teachers said they want more, similar opportunities.

"With this, the sessions were much more individualized and taught very specific things you could take back with you to your classroom," Bluffton Middle math teacher Anne Gillins said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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