Tom Vander Ark, chief executive officer and a partner of the popular Getting Smart online community for educators, was treated to a personal tour of Eagle Rock’s one-square-mile mountainside campus this past August — an experience that was hosted by our own Professional Development Center.
Vander Ark’s popular Getting Smart Podcast features news, stories, and information about innovations in learning and teaching, and during his visit, the Seattle, Wash.-based CEO took time to tape a segment for the show with Dan Condon, associate director of our Professional Development Center.
Vander Ark, who may be known to some readers for his appointment as the initial executive director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, now heads Getting Smart, a learning design company with headquarters in Seattle. The company provides advocacy, advisory, and coaching services with the objective of providing resources that lead to powerful learning for all students. As such, Getting Smart partners with education-focused organizations such as Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center, as well as other learning organizations across the country, in order to “invent the future of learning.”
During the 17-minute podcast, Condon shared his thoughts on Eagle Rock’s approach and on community connected project-based learning. With Vander Ark presenting the questions, Condon focused on how personal attention is a key to student engagement.
- When asked how much say Eagle Rock School’s students have in their own education, Condon chuckled and remarked, “I think they have more voice and choice than would make a typical educator comfortable — and that’s what we’re going for.”
- He said it’s worth the discomfort in order to allow a young person to feel that they run and own a place by sitting in on staff meetings, being part of disciplinary committees, hiring staff, and co-teaching classes. On this note, Condon added: “You know, real-life skills that we expect they’re able to put into action immediately rather than after college, which is what society typically tells folks when they’re supposed to enact change.”
- In response to a question about the success of Eagle Rock’s professional development activities, Condon said, “Our PDC is a small team, working in concert with student and staff here (at Eagle Rock) and clients coast-to-coast. Primarily we are school-change consultants. We help schools set forth plans in order to meet outcomes. We like things like improvement science, design thinking, school reform initiative protocols — things that keep schools in action.
When Vander Ark asked Condon if he likes what he sees for America’s educational future, our longest serving professional development staffer said, “Yes, I’m really encouraged. We have to be encouraged. Schools and their committees that have figured out that learners are at the center — and have tapped into that — are seeing successes. I think students need to be in the driver’s seat in order for change to occur.”
Other topics discussed during the informative segment of the October 16 podcast included Eagle Rock’s three-week wilderness orientation experience for new students; our Five Expectations that guide class and project design; the requirements for graduation from Eagle Rock School; student housing here on campus in Estes Park; and how our students manage to survive and thrive in such a unique residential high school setting.