Reflections on the Past Academic Year — A River Runs Through It
Imagine peering over the edge of a cliff and staring down on millions of gallons of raging water the color of chocolate milk and knowing you’re going to be in the midst of that turmoil in just a few moments. Thirty years of white water paddling experience suddenly feels inconsequential.
Lava Falls is the largest rapid on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. Sure, there are a couple safe routes, but finding them is certainly not easy. It demands a team effort and even then there are no guarantees. Even though you might pick what appears to be a solid route from shore, there’s much to be done once you enter the chaos.
A few years back — in 2009 — I found myself in just such a spot. Many questions ran through my head. Will the route I choose work? Will I have the skills to adjust to changing circumstances? Will I have the presence of mind to stay calm when a misplaced oar stroke could flip my raft — or worse? Is risking my life a good idea?
I remember looking at my 18-year old son Max sitting at the front of my raft. What would I say to his mom if things went wrong? I can’t explain the attraction to living life on the edge, but I know I’m drawn to that activity like a moth to flame. It’s a life where the course is unclear, where a lifetime of experience is called into question, where I must rely on others for safe passage. It’s a life where the spoils of defeat are not inconsequential, and where the victories are addicting. I always want more.
On Sept. 3, 2012 — the day I stepped into the role of Eagle Rock’s head of school — I remember experiencing the same feelings I did back at Lava Falls three years before. Truth is, just as I can’t run a river by myself, I require plenty of expert help to run a complex and meaningful organization like Eagle Rock.
Reflecting back on this past year, the biggest lesson I think I’ve learned is the vital importance of teamwork. I’ve worked here for 13 years and I understand the “path of the river” well. But it’s one thing to stand on the shore and talk about the right path, and quite another to be “at the oars” in the current.
I have a great executive team in the form of Philbert Smith, Michael Soguero, Susan Luna, and Jen Frickey, as well as an amazingly dedicated and talented staff that keep this ship afloat and on course. Our aspiration this past academic year was to “become more responsive to student needs, both locally and nationally.” We charted our course for the year by creating four overarching objectives to focus our work, which I shared in an earlier blog post, and in a moment I’ll share the results of that work.
But first, I want to acknowledge that we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount of work on campus and around the country that has been covered in previous posts and isn’t captured in our focused objectives. In addition to doing the “work” of Eagle Rock, we’ve also experienced the passing of two very dear on-campus members of the Eagle Rock community — Mary Strate and Rick Gaukel — and one graduate, Casey Whirl. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to Mary, Rick, and Casey’s families. You will always be remembered.
I won’t drag you through volumes of reflections from my year, but I do want to report out on how we’ve done with our four big objectives. Here’s a quick look at the highlights:
Objective No. 1: The Professional Development Center (PDC) /School relationship at Eagle Rock is inextricably interdependent.
- Students are traveling with PDC staff externally and being used more intently on campus. In addition our staff has become more involved on campus and around the country, either traveling to work with networks of schools around the country or working much more intensively with schools visiting our campus. We’re connecting visiting educators in much more intentional ways to the experience of visiting Eagle Rock and we’re sharing more of our experience nationally.
- Our two key PDC staffers, Michael Soguero and Dan Condon, have worked tirelessly this year to increase our professional development reach and have nearly maxed out their ability to work with other networks of schools. This capacity limitation was recognized by our board of directors and resulted in additional resources to add a new PDC position and some early brainstorming to increase our virtual support to schools via increasing Internet resources.
- Our primary strategy — or “hedgehog” as Michael fondly calls it — is helping other progressive schools get better within their own context instead of exporting practices. This year we’ve found a hybrid where we integrate the goals of the organization with the knowledge and expertise we’ve gleaned from our own school experience. For example, if a school wants to implement proficiency-based graduation requirements, improve their internship program, or design curriculum to support teaching for understanding, we not only do an asset-based assessment in their context and help them carve out an agenda based on their desires, we also bring expertise in those particular areas of reform to the table. As a result, we’re able to listen attentively to specific needs of the networks in which we work, facilitate change process for them AND bring our own expertise from working on similar initiatives in our own school. We believe professional development should be forged in real schools with real students and this year we’ve made some good progress connecting the efforts of our school with the PDC and visa versa.
- Finally, we’ve Continue reading…