In 1997 I had my first encounter as a teacher with a staff developer. I was preparing for my 11thgrade chemistry class in a New York City public school. I was frazzled by my lack of success connecting with students. I was running out of time when in the midst of the frenzy an unfamiliar woman walked into my classroom. We did not have a single chemical with which to conduct labs. Technology access was unpredictable at best.
This was our interaction:
SD: Hey, I’m R___ , I’m your staff developer sent by your district.
Me: Great. What are you supposed to be doing?
SD: I’m here to help. Whatever you need.
Me: Great (some relief and hope; help is provided)…could you help me with the work groups I’m putting around the virtual chemistry lab on the computers?
SD: Oh no….I don’t do that work with kids. I’ll watch you teach and then give you some feedback.
The momentary relief disappeared to be replaced by anxiety heightened ten fold.
Five years later, in 2002, I became the founding principal of the Bronx Guild, which would become the first and for a time only Big Picture School in New York State. Time and again, we were sent well-intentioned staff developers, each with his/her own agenda and approach. Rather than wanting to understand the unique vision and approach of our Big Picture School, they tried to sell me on the Prentice Hall math program, the latest literacy initiative of the district or whatever they were sent to represent.
I realized very quickly that if our school were to be successful, we had to take professional development into our own hands. And, I vowed that if I were ever in the professional development business, I would do everything I could to understand what the school leaders and staff identified as the help they needed before I offered my services. My job would be to bring support for that school be the best possible school they could be inside of the model to which they aspired. I would not come in with a predetermined agenda, an approach or a program to sell.
Since, returning to Eagle Rock Professional Development Center in 2006, I have had the privilege and joy of putting that vow into practice with schools all over the country. My professional development team works with the Coalition of Essential Schools, New Mexico Center for School Leadership and Colorado Legacy Foundation as well as Big Picture Schools. We have been supporting Big Picture leadership around the country since 2009 by running principals retreats, launching the Mid Atlantic Critical Friends Group, and designing and facilitating the biannual Senior Thesis Conference and Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements workday.
We’re beginning new work in Oakland, Washington State and Detroit. Our process is to begin with listening and observing in order to identify assets and understand what you would like to improve before we recommend one to three year customized work plan for your consideration. Eagle Rock PDC draws on a wide repertoire of signature pedagogies for designing and facilitating large events as well as professional development and coaching sessions at your school. Our aim is to leave you in a place where you carry on the work yourselves with the resources you have.
If working with our Eagle Rock PDC team is of interest to you, let’s begin a conversation. You can reach out to us through the email below.
We will be leading the Senior Thesis Project Conference in Providence on May 9th and 10th. Please attend to focus on how to strengthen STPs as well as get a sense of the work we do.
What benefit do you see in Eagle Rock’s framework for collaborative, asset based school improvement rather than the more typical expert model of school improvement and professional development?
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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.