I arrived at Eagle Rock under a self-induced misconception. I had proposed a weeklong residency with the Professional Development Center to learn how their small school in Estes Park, Colorado, took students from around the country and re-engaged them in their own education.
Coming from New York City where I work at at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, I was anticipating spending a week in the retreat-like atmosphere, observing how staff supported students in developing habits of individual responsibility and self-regulation. I was looking forward to learning how this unique school cultivated student ownership of individual learning plans in each one of its students.
The first incongruity confronted me at the daily community gathering, where a student named Raji facilitated a communal discussion of his strengths and areas for growth. As I saw other students challenge the young man to own both his strengths and his weaknesses, I had my first inkling that responsibility can’t only be an individual pursuit. Other teens challenged Raji to “walk the walk” after commending him on his growth since joining the community.
Later, “Announcements” opened the floor for all members of the community to share information. These ranged from relating information about upcoming organizational meetings to suggestions that students clean up after themselves or respect each other’s space. But there were no deans, teachers or staff members making these announcements; it was fellow students. No issue was seen as too small with students embracing an active role in the accountability to the norms of the community.
It was then that I began to understand that personal responsibility can’t be the only goal (or, I would argue, the primary goal) that I was considering when looking into how to get students to own their education. In the back of my mind as I was investigating re-engaging students, I discovered ideas such as Continue reading…