NEWPORT BEACH : Teacher-to-Teacher Project Is Instituted

Teachers in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District will get the chance to go back to school in coming months to learn from their peers and pick up tips on teaching.

The idea is part of an innovative district program that began with a group of math teachers who have gotten together one evening a month to discuss how they could better teach and involve students in learning math curriculum. The instructors shared techniques and lessons that had worked in the classroom for them--and those that hadn't.

District principals and administrators said they watched the teachers in this informal networking group grow professionally, and they realized that the district had one of the best teaching tools at their fingertips--their teachers.

So the district is setting up a program, informally dubbed Teachers Teaching Teachers, that coordinators say is shaping up to be an inexpensive, effective way to help teachers improve their skills.

The district hopes to unveil the program in the spring, complete with a course list of offerings for teachers and by teachers. Those involved are now trying to determine the format.

"The important thing is this plan is being put together by teachers. They're experienced in what their needs are. They know best what the kids need," said Bill Knight, principal at Newport Elementary School and coordinator of the program.

The teachers will receive credits for the courses they attend, and the classes will be offered in the afternoons and evenings at area schools.

The topics will cover virtually every subject taught. Course topics are scheduled to include self-esteem, second languages, "user-friendly science" and ways of bringing resources beyond textbooks into the classroom, officials said.

As part of the program, Knight said, instructors will visit teachers in the classroom and check their work in action.

Too often, he said, teachers attend a conference alone because the district can only afford to send one participant. After trying out the new techniques, the teachers get little feedback to know if what they are doing is right or could be improved, he said.

"What we've learned from learning is you have to get the feedback, and you only get that through coaching," said Knight. He likened a teacher without feedback to a basketball player without a coach.

Funding levels for the program are still uncertain. The biggest expense, officials said, is pay for substitute teachers who will be brought in to give the teachers a chance to meet with "coach" teachers for evaluations.

The district hopes to start the program in this spring, with courses being added and dropped depending on reaction from teachers and students.

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