Making a Difference: Professional Development for Teachers

If our teachers are given a specific way, or a systematic way, to teach something and have a good model, then the students are going to benefit from it.

Denva Smith

Reading Coach,
Clay County Schools

Nestled in the South Fork of the Kentucky River, Clay County is home to educational institutions rather melodiously named—Burning Springs, Goose Rock, and Paces Creek elementary schools, to name a few. Though a county rich in tradition, it’s sometimes poor in literacy. And that’s one tradition educators such as Denva Smith, Clay County’s district reading coach, work daily to change.

“A lot of our children have been reading below grade level,” said Smith, a Clay County native. “We have been working on intervening with these children for several years.”

Integral to that intervention, Smith says, has been incorporating the research-based training and enrichment materials KET provides to teachers for professional development.

“The videos have been an asset to us. Some of the videos have specific strategies the teachers model for us to see,” she said. “If I could describe coaching simply, it would be one-on-one professional development. The coach gets the knowledge and learns the skill—and then they share that with others at their school.”

One of KET’s reading professional development resources Clay County uses is Literacy Strategies in Action. This award-winning resource—honored as top teacher in-service program in 2007 by the National Educational Telecommunication Association and produced in partnership with the Kentucky Department of Education—features DVD-ROMs distributed free to Kentucky schools.

“That is just a perfect fit for what I do,” Smith said. As the district reading coach, Smith holds monthly training sessions with instructional coaches for each of the county’s schools. The educators view the KET materials, study the strategies they present, and carry them back to their schools for implementation.

“One of the things teachers like so much about it is that it is Kentucky classrooms,” Smith said. “That really establishes that credibility—that these teachers they are watching are using the same standards that we use, and are held to that same accountability.”

While she is an educator who primarily trains other teachers, Smith says her goal is to always keep student achievement, and what is going to work for children, in mind.

“If I feel disconnected from students, I just focus on my coaches and realize that they are my classroom. I teach them—and they share it in their buildings.”

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And the results in student achievement have been remarkable. Smith proudly points to a dramatic increase.

“In the 2002-2003 school year, 41 percent of primary students were reading on grade level,” she said. By the time they’d been tested in the 2007 spring semester, 81 percent of the primary students were reading on level. One first-grader in particular, she noted, progressed from reading on a kindergarten level at the beginning of the school year to a nearly third-grade level at the end of the year.

“KET is a resource that we continue to choose. It’s there, we have it, it’s good quality, it’s aligned with state standards,” she notes. “We know KET and we trust that they have provided us with information aligned with those standards.”

Smith praised the methods used in KET professional development, noting that the video and multimedia materials address critical teaching needs through in-depth presentations, real-world classroom examples, and extensive follow-up resources. “If our teachers are given a specific way, or a systematic way, to teach something and have a good model, then the students are going to benefit from it,” she said.

“Iíve got books and books of research on these shelves that support that ... but Iíve seen it in our own children, firsthand, that in using those research-based strategies—that’s what it’s all about.”