By Jennifer Wohlleb
Teachers haven’t come to blows when it comes to gaining access to the professional development for Shelby County Schools’ four-week Summer Reading Academy – yet.
But teachers have been clamoring for the training that some have called some of the best they’ve ever had, according to administrators in charge of the program.
“I need that PD,” was the common refrain of teachers not in the summer reading program, said Lisa Smith, Shelby County’s director of districtwide programs.
The training has been led by Dr. Patty Petty, the director of the Center for Literacy at Western Kentucky University. For the past two years she and her staff have provided two full days of training prior to the start of the summer academy and have followed up with an additional two hours every Monday afternoon during the program.
She said what makes this training so successful is that teachers get to focus entirely on reading without the many other demands they have on their time during the school year. The teachers also receive daily support, which included going online to report how closely they stuck to teaching specific curriculum.
“In other words, because of the research design that we put into this, we wanted to see if the amount of fidelity the teacher exercised made a difference on student learning,” she said. “They also had a place (online) where they could just talk to us.” Those comments went into a weekly newsletter Petty circulated.
She said that gave teachers a reason every day to stop and think about what they were doing and what was and wasn’t working for their students.
“Constant communication, constant support, and being in a closed environment, it was so much easier for these teachers to learn new skills and focus on their students’ literacy learning without the demands of the classroom,” she said.
Class sizes in the reading academy also are kept small, with no more than eight-10 students per teacher.
Because the training was so successful and other teachers were requesting it, Shelby County district officials brought Petty in for three training sessions during the school year.
“This year we’re going to try to do something once a month, so we’re looking at 10 sessions in Shelby County to include as many teachers as possible,” Petty said.