ASHVILLE — For teachers, professional development can sometimes be hard to come by but for those in the Teays Valley School District, they need not look any further than Viking Academy.

Viking Academy, conducted Wednesday through Friday this year, is training offered to teachers that helps them brush up and learn new things to use in their classrooms. The trainings are offered in various optional sessions throughout the day in multiple rooms and kicks off with a special keynote speaker.

Beth Keplar, director of teaching and learning for the district, said they put on programming in areas requested by teachers and staff. This year, there were 57 sessions many centered around supporting students and technology.

“Supporting students with mental health and behavioral and academic challenges always top the list,” Keplar said. “Courses that focus on using technology to teach in innovative and engaging ways always draw teachers who are trying to get better at using all of the tech tools that are available, and there are so many.”

Keplar said along with that nearly 40 teachers in the district have gone on the Pickaway WORKS educator tours where they tour local businesses and meet with business leaders.

“They’ve loved getting out and seeing area businesses and thinking about how they can tie that work into instruction,” she said.

Keplar said the classes are designed to make the teachers better at their craft.

“We continue to have classes that challenge teachers and push our thinking,” she said. “This year, we’ve updated curriculum in math and writing at some grade levels, so we have a lot of sessions focused on supporting teachers to make the learning experience great for our students.”

More than 310 staff members participated in classes this year, which accounts for about 95 percent of the district.

This year’s keynote speaker was Brian Mendler, who spoke about forming relationships with hard to reach students. Keplar said Mendler provided great suggestions and insight to the staff.

“We know that relationships and positive interactions are the foundation of student learning,” she said. “There are kids out there, because of tough life experiences or behaviors that they often can’t control, who are just harder to form relationships with. Brian’s message spoke to the idea that those kids are the ones that need us the most, even when they tell us to our faces that they don’t. Even when they make the day to day work of teaching more challenging. We’re continuing to focus on supporting student’s social emotional needs, and Brian gave ideas and suggestions for how to do that even with our most challenging kids.”

Keplar said at the end of the day she’s grateful to the district for supporting Viking Academy.

“I believe that teachers should have opportunities to choose meaningful professional development,” she said. “We keep offering this and they keep showing up and it gets bigger year after year. It means we’re doing something right. I couldn’t be prouder of our staff and all they do to keep growing in the profession.”

High school teacher Sara Bennett, who has taught at Teays Valley for more than 10 years, said the training provides her with fresh ideas and is a great way to start a new year.

“It also gives the teachers a chance to reconnect both professionally and personally,” Bennett said.

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