With five staff members in attendance, Eagle Rock was well represented at last month’s School Reform Initiative (SRI) Winter Meeting in Tucson, Ariz.
The theme for this year’s meeting was “Place,” and while our visit included learning a lot about Arizona and Tucson, what truly brought the conference to life was coming together with educators from around the country to share in the common struggle and opportunity of teaching.
Unlike traditional conferences, where participants sign up for various workshops and lectures, most of the work at the SRI Winter Meeting takes place in small groups. Within these gatherings, 10 to 12 educators share dilemmas facing them in their practice. And, through the use of collaborative protocols, these groups work to reach a greater understand of issues, solve problems or uncork ideas.
The work in small groups is also a chance for educators to practice using protocols and facilitating Critical Friends Groups®, which we use in many different ways here at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center.
In our Critical Friends Groups at Winter Meeting, Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center staff worked through a variety of dilemmas. Science instructor Janet Johnson got her plan for internally run professional development at Eagle Rock tuned, and Societies and Cultures instructional specialist Diego Duran-Medina got a fresh perspective on his “Heartivism” class. Public Allies Fellow in Professional Development Kelsey Baun worked on ways to increase diversity in the Public Allies Fellows corps, and I received feedback on plans to increase literacy across the curriculum at Eagle Rock.
Even though we were working with different educators who were not involved in our practice directly, all of us walked away from our small group work with new ideas and perspectives that we were ready to carry with us back to ERS.
While we met a lot of educators from across the states in our small groups, it was great to see an old familiar face. On our first day in Tucson we happily met up with Ryan Morra, our 2009 Public Allies Science Fellow at Eagle Rock. Ryan is now a coordinator and educator at Shelburne Farms in northeastern Vermont, and our crew from Eagle Rock quickly partnered up with the Shelburne Farm folks most evenings to debrief small group and conference experiences. It was great to see how Ryan took his learning from his fellowship and applied it to his career in education reform.
Speaking of learning, on Friday morning of the event, we had the opportunity to sign up for Learning Experiences outside of our small group sessions. Diego and I attended a seminar on Spoken Word Poetry and Social Justice facilitated by the Tucson youth poetry group “Spoken Futures.” We both came away from the session energized and with specific tools to run poetry workshops back at Eagle Rock.
Janet Johnson attended a workshop on Adult Learning that sparked even more ideas for her on how to improve our internally run Professional Development at the Eagle Rock School. Michael Soguero attended a meeting with other leaders who help run teacher education programs to find ways to collaborate about their practice.
One of the biggest highlights of the Winter Meeting came during the final keynote address delivered by Curtis Acosta, who taught literature classes for the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson. As you’ll see from watching the video below, Acosta reminded us of the humanity at the heart of teaching and charged us to help our students connect to the “beautiful and precious knowledge” in the world.
Overall the School Reform Initiative’s Winter Meeting created a space for us to improve our practice by collaborating with other professionals. And it is helping us to become better facilitators and participants in our Critical Friends Group work. Featuring a setting in the warmth of the Tucson sun was also a great bonus. I’m already excited to see what next year’s group brings back with them from the 2016 Meeting.
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About The Author: Dan Hoffman is the Language Arts instructional specialist at the Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colo. Dan received his teaching certification in secondary education and social studies from Prescott College after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Urban & Environmental Policy from Occidental College in Los Angeles.