Professional Development As An Engine For Self Renewal

(with John Finefrock, Public Allies Teaching Fellow)

We have been working the past three years with Big Picture Learning. In our latest work, we have helped some New England schools develop conferences and they have become an engine of self renewal. Read how two of our Public Allies Teaching Fellows experienced the “Senior Thesis Project” (STP) Conference in April.

Students and staff from Big Picture schools spanning from Tennessee to Vermont congregated in Newport, Rhode Island for the Second Annual Senior Thesis Project Conference. Facilitated by staff from the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colorado, the purpose of the gathering was to reenergize students as they work on their Senior Thesis Projects (STP), their culminating masterpiece before graduation.

The Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center is both an alternative residential high school and a professional development center that works with educators from around the country who wish to study how to re-engage, retain, and graduate students.

For those unfamiliar with the Big Picture model, students are out of the classroom two days each week to gain real-world experience in internship placements in their communities. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are reserved for advisory, in which students work with their small groups to share support and maximize the learning experience. A favorable student/staff advisory ratio, generally around 1:15, ensures individualized attention and productive group work. This common practice and consistency in the Big Picture model allowed for productive and smooth collaboration between schools at the STP conference.

As the schools came together to share their trials and triumphs, collaboration fueled alliance, and students and staff from across the country inspired one another to achieve greatness. At the end of day one, one student proclaimed, “It’s truly been inspirational and fascinating to hear other people’s ideas and passions,” and yet another stated that, “It [conference] really lifted a weight off of my shoulders.”

Students and staff engaged in workshops designed to construct a vision of success by building off of the positive attributes of each individual. Participants were given the opportunity to present dilemmas in small group settings, allowing for constructive dialogue and real-time problem solving. Each individual walked away from the conference with an action-step to implement, and, in the words of one Big Picture student, a “renewed sense of passion” for their Senior Thesis Project.

If you wanted to create a conference that was at your learning edge, what topic would you choose?