It seems fitting that our 25th anniversary should serve as an opportunity for those of us who work at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center to unveil our keenest insights from the past quarter of a century, neatly packaged and available to anyone who is interested by way of a new downloadable eBooklet.
That eBooklet — Sharing Our Experience: Lessons From 25 Years — is the result of our experience with engaging students in their own education on our Colorado campus, as well as our well-recognized efforts through our Professional Development Center of providing hands-on support and facilitation of planning sessions for schools throughout the country interested in attaining the same for their students.
Indeed, these lessons — shared in detail below — are relevant to our supporters, followers and observers. But they also hold significant relevancy for anyone interested in the nationwide effort to help young people to actively participate in their own education.
Here then are the most essential lessons we’ve learned during our quarter century of engagement with students on our campus, and through supporting schools around the country. First up are lessons learned from working directly with students here at Eagle Rock School:
- Shared culture: By creating a sustainable and shared school culture, we have discovered we are able to develop individual character and values among our students. The result is personal growth, academic success and personal choices that can lead to healthy, successful adult lives.
- Engage the disengaged: Given the right opportunities, challenges and staff support, young students can make significant changes in their attitudes, which results in their ability to realize their potential. And when they trip up, they learn from those mistakes by receiving constructive support — without the need for harsh criticism or judgmental attitudes. Their past doesn’t have to become their future.
- Ask more of your students: Consistently challenge students about the way they think, act and work. Providing motivation and support to students results in those youth passing that experience and knowledge to others, which sparks leadership and responsibility. A side benefit is students finding themselves with the insight, energy and resilience to tackle even the most difficult task or problem.
- The art of civic engagement: Education is so much more than preparing for college or a career. It’s the chance for students to get out of themselves and into service, whether that be on campus, their home communities or the world at large. By learning about world issues, developing opinions and talking about those opinions, students learn to become engaged in civic and global issues.
- Students take ownership of learning & development: When young people discover and connect with their own reasons for learning, they become effective advocates for their own development. A cookie-cutter education has never sat well with our form of teaching. We prefer a program that highlights a student’s strengths and interests, which encourages a lifetime of learning.
- Holistic approach to grow: Education should not be limited to academic lessons. In other words, book-learning has its place, but we prefer a holistic, personal learning program that promotes intellectual growth by means of physical, mental, spiritual and social experiences.
- Develop trusting relationships: Young people must feel accepted before they can be encouraged to change and learn. It’s all about trust — between adults and fellow students. Once trust and acceptance are realized, there is no limit to attaining high expectations.
- Embrace differences in people and in thought: Our success as a human race depends on our ability to accept — and embrace — cultural differences, whether those distinctions be color, ethnic background, religion, gender or sexual identity. And it doesn’t hurt at all for our students to openly consider a range of ideas and beliefs that might differ from their own.
- Sense of community: The importance of shared values of the school community is critical to learning and growth. It is through a strong sense of community on campus among students and teachers that creates a safe environment that can’t help but lead to learning.
- The voice of the student has value in teacher development: Education is a two-way street with everyone participating as a learner. The leadership of students can advance professional development and establish educators as teachers — and learners — for new generations of students.
Next up is a shorter list of lessons. These come from our Professional Development Center:
- Context is everything: Educational innovation at different schools requires solutions that grow out of existing assets and a school’s individual context. Every school is unique, and challenging dilemmas requires a recognition of those differences in order to discover the solutions that work best for that school.
- Learning from the inside out: Teachers learn best with job-embedded or work-based learning. It’s by applying new learning to the education they’re already presenting that teachers discover how to do what they’re already doing better and easier.
- Focus matters: Being clear about our limitations in the area of supporting schools keeps us effective in our zone of comfort and competence. We’re a small team with an outsized impact due to our focus on supporting the implementation stage of change in schools.
- Asset-based approaches stick: What we find empowering for schools is drawing on theory and technique from asset-based community development. Positive deviance, the strengths-based movement, positive psychology, and appreciative inquiry, all lead to deep, meaningful and effective change.
- Inspiration is an ongoing pursuit: When educators come to our Rocky Mountain campus, they come to recognize the power of possibilities and they often tell us they return home inspired. But we all know that they need follow-up support in their own environment in order to develop lasting improvements.
Since Eagle Rock was established in 1993, we have served the educational, social, emotional and spiritual needs of young people who find themselves not doing well in their current schools or environment. That’s because one of our primary objectives is to lead these high school age students into taking back control of their own lives and learning.
If this post inspires you or you’d like to share the above takeaways with others in your community, please download and share a complimentary copy of our eBooklet, Sharing Our Experience: Lessons From 25 Years.