Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the third in a series of updates about Eagle Rock’s strategic plan — Vision 2020. Below, director of professional development, Michael Soguero, provides the Eagle Rock community with an update on our efforts related to the plan’s second domain: Staff Thrives. If you’re interested in learning about the overall aim of the plan, please see News From The Rock: Vision 2020.
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Strategic Plan Update: Thriving as an Eagle Rock Staffer
By Michael Soguero, Director of Professional Development
A key theme that emerged during our strategic planning process was a focus on ensuring Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center was as engaging and purposeful a workplace as possible. We committed to develop clear statements and strategies addressing how to thrive as a staff member, provide training and support to help staff live healthy professional lives, and to create greater clarity on Eagle Rock’s limitations and reinforce that we are not designed for everyone.
We believe staff members thrive when they expend effort based on their strengths while improving the organizational mission of improving student engagement and serving the mission of making a difference nationally. Eagle Rock strives to be a model; an inclusive organization serving a diverse set of high schools nationally, each with a diverse student body with a diverse staff.
Numerous project ideas were generated as part of our planning process but we quickly realized that in order for any new initiative to succeed we needed to have some fundamentals in place. For that reason we chose to focus our early efforts on developing a robust professional management system and rationalizing the effects of working within a matrix organization — that is, an organizational structure in which the reporting relationships are set up as a grid, or matrix, rather than in the traditional corporate hierarchy.
We believe that once a robust system with clear foundational practices is in place, we could drive almost any other initiative addressing staff engagement and it would have a much greater chance of taking root, disseminating practice and sustaining for the long term. We were initially inspired by a great management resource called Manager Tools. While much adaptation has taken place for our mission driven, nonprofit setting we have remained true to instituting the top three management behaviors:
- Encouraging professional relationships
- Providing clear, simple performance communication
- Fostering continuous improvement
The recommended tools we’ve chosen to adopt have been weekly one-on-one meetings between supervisors and their staff, regular feedback, and conducting periodic coaching. The Eagle Rock Leadership Team became first adopters and has been trained and now regularly uses these tools.
In the 2014-15 school year, all instructional staff were also trained in the practices to use with the Public Allies fellows they supervise. Concurrent with the training, we have also regularized our performance appraisal system so all departments could be held to meeting similar benchmarks in performance communication and delivering well supported performance appraisals within the same time period. Our annual reviews now all address fundamental due diligence expectations, individual professional goals for continuous development and engagement in organization-wide initiatives to improve Eagle Rock.
The second issue being addressed within the staff thrives domain of the strategic plan is the matrix nature of our organization. We all wear many hats. A director of facilities who works within the operations department may also be a houseparent and advisor. As a houseparent they need to be responsive to direction from the director of students and as an advisor, from the director of curriculum. Without coordination one person may receive messages of priority from three different subsystems with three different sets of priorities.
All Eagle Rock staff members spend much time making hard choices about priorities and often working many hours in fragmented ways. We are studying best practices in matrix organizations and working on smaller matrix issues to tweak and study the process of creating more rational systems.
We believe once such systems are in place, we can rely on a sound system to feed through any new initiatives. Instituting restorative practices or strengths based engagement frameworks for example would have a much greater chance of being reliably instituted over time.
Curious to see another area of progress with respect to Eagle Rock’s strategic plan? Read Strategic Plan Update: Curriculum And Instructional Practices Improvement, by director of curriculum, Jen Frickey.
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About the Author: Michael Soguero is the director of professional development at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colo. There, he is primarily responsible for developing strategy that positively affects public education throughout the United States.