Sometimes, teachers need teachers.
On a recent afternoon, a group of Schalmont Central School District teachers were getting a lesson from colleague Sarah Scotti on using Smartboards — electronic whiteboards that allow students and teachers to draw and move items around the screen as part of a lesson.
Bronson Knaggs, director of the Schalmont Teachers’ Institute, said in order to make full use of technology such as Smartboards, there has to be adequate training. Often, the technology sits in a corner and is not used.
“Many districts put in a lot of technology but don’t adequately support it,” he said.
Schools have not always done a good job at adapting to changing times and having teachers learn new methods, Knaggs said. That is one of the goals of the Schalmont Teachers Institute.
“We are a learning community, as well,” he said.
Schalmont is one of the few districts to have its own in-house teacher center. It came about in 2001 as a partnership between the administration and the Schalmont Teachers Association and was funded through a grant from the state Education Department. There are 125 such centers statewide, but Schenectady has the only other one in this area.
In addition to learning about Smartboards, other lessons have been on the slideshow software Prezi and the new Common Core math and English standards coming into effect next year.
There is a tremendous amount of change happening in education, including a new teacher and principal evaluation system that has taken effect this year and will be fully phased in next year. The Schalmont Teachers Institute is more important than ever in that climate, Knaggs said.
“Having that learning environment has definitely given Schalmont a great leg up when it comes to implementing this amount of change,” Knaggs said.
Knaggs said having an in-house teacher training program is more efficient. They very seldom have to bring in special consultants to do the training.
Also, unlike a situation where a consultant comes in for a day of training and then leaves, the teachers have easy access to their colleagues for ongoing refreshers on the material.
The institute has its own 22-member policy board made up of administrators, teachers, parents and people from the community, according to Knaggs, who has been director for four years. In addition to his responsibilities with the center, he also teaches social studies at the high school.
Teachers also suggest ideas for future topics. Third-grade teacher Kristin Reilly said she likes that the resources are always updated and teachers have access to information. Special education teacher Patricia Green-Dehn said instructors get a lot out of the program.
“It provides us with a lot of the skills and opportunities to learn that we might not otherwise be able to afford,” she said. “It really keeps us up to date.”