Learning isn't just for students

170 teachers attend conference on new teaching strategies, techniques

More than 170 teachers from across Northwest Colorado gathered at Soroco High School in Oak Creek last week, eager to show that learning isn't only for students.

Monday's First Annual Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, Staff Development Conference brought together elementary and secondary teachers for a day of sharing teaching strategies and learning new techniques to further their classroom instruction.

"Most of our teachers are always after challenging themselves," BOCES Executive Director Jane Toothaker said. "They like getting together, and they say the workshops are good. I think we have a really high standard for achievement."

The conference, funded by federal Title II funds, featured a keynote address and breakout sessions with educators from across the region and state. Specific breakout discussions were chosen as a result of a needs assessment teachers gave to BOCES staff in order to identify what areas of staff development they most desired, Toothaker said.

Staff development can immediately improve classroom instruction, Toothaker said, and better classroom instruction often results in higher student achievement, which is the ultimate goal of all educators.

Kiki McGough, special education coordinator for the Adams County School District, spent the afternoon addressing the behavioral needs of challenging students with a room full of note-taking teachers.

"You can't really develop a behavior plan if you don't know the reasons behind the behavior," McGough said, discussing the different outcomes students hope their disruptive behavior will produce and how teachers can take steps to curtail certain behaviors.

The more time teachers spend disciplining students, the less time spent on academics, McGough said, underscoring the importance classroom behavior has on student achievement. She even gave teachers tools for determining the motives behind a student's particular behavior and lists of possible teacher actions to positively and effectively address the disruptive actions of students.

Other breakout sessions included ones dealing with data-driven instructional practices, student motivation, reading and writing across content areas, integrating technology into the classroom and integrating mathematics. Session leaders included educational consultants Janet Bohart and Karen Streeter and South Routt math and science teacher Julie Hoff.

Staff improvement days are terrifically important for teachers and districts, South Routt Superintendent Steve Jones said.

"If we're going to improve student achievement, we have to have better instructional practices," he said. "It's important that we have that expectation for teachers, that they will learn and grow and try new methods."

Being able to link teachers from one district with those from other districts also can be a valuable way of improving instructional practices, particularly for smaller, rural school districts, Jones said.

"You have to network to find out what's working for other teachers," he said.

Toothaker said she hopes BOCES will continue to be able to put together interdistrict staff improvement days in the future.

"We really feel like it's a way to pool our resources, which is really what BOCES is about anyway," Toothaker said. "Teachers like this, they like getting together, and they say the workshops are good."

The Hayden, South Routt and North Park school districts sent their staff members to Monday's development conference. Toothaker said staff from the other four BOCES districts -- Steamboat Springs, East Grand, Moffat County and West Grand -- also attended.

All BOCES districts had no school Monday, freeing up the day for staff improvement.

Participating teachers were able to earn up to 0.5 hours of graduate credit from Adams State College for attending Monday's conference.

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