One Clear Focus: Determining Dilemmas & Moving Toward Solutions

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Editor’s Note: We recently asked Gregory Hessee, director of Initiatives at the Colorado Legacy Foundation (CLF), to share a little bit about his organization’s experience with utilizing the services of our Professional Development Center. If you’re unfamiliar with CLF, it’s an independent nonprofit working in partnership with the Colorado Department of Education and public education stakeholders to accelerate bold improvements in student achievement. More information about CLF and the Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative, which is the area Gregory heads, can be found at the end of today’s post.

As Director of Initiatives at the Colorado Legacy Foundation, I have the unique honor of facilitating a team of three brilliant content specialists (one each in math, science, and English) as they work with Advanced Placement (AP) teachers throughout the state who are differentiating AP coursework to diverse groups of students. My background as an urban school AP teacher/researcher and instructional coach provides me with the tools necessary to advise these specialists in ways to effectively engage all teachers in embedded professional development that truly supports their work.

However, much like most coaches, my experiences involved supporting the faculty of a single school, where specialists are striving to serve as a resource, guide, and coach for teachers at 23 schools located throughout the entire state of Colorado (a state that has more than a few geographic barriers). In order to successfully complete the monumental task of embedding individualized professional development into the daily lives of more than 200 teachers across 23 campuses, I knew we would need to find an organization capable of providing unique guidance for an uncommon problem.

Initially I contacted my colleagues in the contractual coaching world —many of them highly respected published authors of professional development texts. Unfortunately, these opportunities were cost-prohibitive to a grant-funded nonprofit such as the Colorado Legacy Foundation. Additionally, the specific issues faced by our team were not ones that most of my colleagues had encountered previously, and they were unsure as to the best route to offer support.

When I was connected to Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center, it was with a degree of trepidation. Being unfamiliar with its work (due to my own ignorance, it turned out), I was not immediately convinced that this organization had the background necessary to offer the assistance we required. Despite my concerns, our first webinar conversation provided me with nothing but faith in Eagle Rock’s abilities.

Both Dan Condon, Eagle Rock’s associate director of Professional Development, and Michael Soguero, the program’s director of Professional Development, shared one clear focus: determining my dilemma and finding a way to help me solve it. After recommending that it would be best to see the problem firsthand, we promptly arranged a time to visit the schools and meet with both teachers and students.

During these site visits, Dan and Michael asked pointed questions to determine what our participants felt were working and the areas requiring greater support. They composed a clear problem space, devised an incredibly well articulated agenda, and asked our specialists to define the dilemma each was facing in the upcoming school year. A date was set and on June 29 of this year, the four of us drove from Denver to Estes Park to see what the Eagle Rock Professional Development Center could offer.

That is when the magic began. Dan and Michael started the day off by allowing us to sit in on a brief morning session with Eagle Rock students — a large group of adolescents trying to find their way through this beautiful cost-free boarding school and into a high school diploma. They then escorted us into Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center and presented us with an agenda built upon a series of facilitated collaborative events. Most of these were based upon different forms of the Critical Friends Protocols that would afford us the opportunity to cooperatively consider the dilemmas we were facing, including their underpinnings and antecedents. By developing the day’s agenda in this manner, Dan and Michael gave us the opportunity to view these problems objectively and determine the solutions ourselves.

It’s important to note that, no matter where we work or how empathetic we attempt to be at our chosen occupations, we all struggle with hidden assumptions that form underlying beliefs from which we operate on a daily basis. For this reason, our actions are often based on concepts of which we are entirely unaware. Over the course of that amazing day at Eagle Rock, Michael and Dan patiently guided my team and me to unearth and analyze these hidden beliefs. Though this process can be a highly uncomfortable one, the supportive environment they have developed at the Eagle Rock’s School and Professional Development Center allowed us all to engage in this work with a strong sense of mutual trust. The realizations that occurred caused the entire team to recognize that the dilemmas we composed were tightly woven into the false beliefs that we held.

We spent the entire two-hour drive home sharing the impacts of our revelations. Though the problems that we will face in the upcoming school year have by no means vanished, we are now able to see how we can empower teachers to cooperatively find solutions to problems as they arise. This was not an easy path and it required near saintly patience on the part of our hosts, but we would not be where we are today were it not for the fantastic support of Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center. Their work with us will have resounding implications for the people we serve first and foremost – the students.

Editor’s Note: Thanks, Gregory, for the fantastic summation of your challenges and experience with our Professional Development Center. To those of you reading today’s blog entry, we’d like to pose the following question for your consideration:

From your perspective, what benefit does Eagle Rock’s professional development model of facilitating spaces where sustainable solutions emerge have over an “expert model” of consulting? Let us know what you think by leaving a Comment below.

In the meantime, here’s some information from Gregory about the Colorado Legacy Foundation’s Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative:

The Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative empowers high-need students to succeed in rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) math, science and English courses, thereby elevating expectations for students and sustainably transforming school cultures into those of college-readiness.

By targeting students in traditionally underserved, high-needs schools, Colorado Legacy Schools turns the traditional notion of who is AP-worthy and AP-ready on its head by expanding enrollment in and support for the AP program.

The Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative incorporates three clear approaches to increasing student success: direct instructional support for students, professional development support for teachers, and active recruitment including incentives.

Colorado Legacy Schools develops the capacity of AP teachers to support diverse groups of students by providing them with more than 150 hours of training; employing specialists who provide ongoing instructional coaching; and supporting 30 to 50 schools in building collaborative teacher teams in grades 6-12 that ensure teachers at all grade levels are providing students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in AP.

By developing a corps of teachers with the ability and desire to prepare their students for future AP coursework within each participating school system, Colorado Legacy Schools increases the capacity of those schools to sustain and grow successful AP programs well beyond the life of the grant. Additionally, Colorado Legacy Schools works with school administrators and teachers to actively recruit students — regardless of race, ethnicity, or income level — using test data to identify those students who demonstrate potential for AP success. These practices ensure that AP classrooms mirror the demographic diversity of the schools as a whole, democratizing and broadening opportunities provided by these college-level courses. The combination of incentives and school-wide support grows successful AP programs grounded in equitable access.

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