The Professional Development Center: A Force For Good

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In 1989, American Honda Motor Co. designed and executed a philanthropic initiative that would strengthen American Honda’s good corporate citizenship. Tom Dean and Mak Itabashi identified widespread student disengagement in high school as an issue that American Honda could directly address. This would take the form of a school that served high school students as well as a professional development center that would contribute to improved results in public secondary education nationally.

The school exists for the purpose of professional development. It is through professional development that Honda’s investment is leveraged into the greater good. ~ Tom Dean (founding board chair)

According to Forces for Good, a study on what makes great nonprofits great, “Great nonprofits spend as much time working with institutions outside their four walls as they do maintaining their internal operations.” Many consultants to schools practice an “expert / export” model of professional development. Such providers have developed a package of “answers” and they charge significant fees to give that answer to schools all over the country without regard to context. They take a one size fits all approach.

While we do share some successes at Eagle Rock with others through conference presentations, this is not the heart of our work. Our approach finds us working with organizations and public high schools across the country in their setting such as Health Leadership High School through the New Mexico Center for School Leadership. We optimize our reach by working primarily through organizations that convene large numbers of schools and touch hundreds sometimes thousands of students’ lives. Our approach is to discover the client’s aspirations, surface the assets that already exist in their setting and, through facilitation, engage the local expertise in a process of continuous improvement towards their vision. The contextual, strengths based and facilitative approach constitute what Jim Collins would call our hedgehog strategy.

In Jim Collins’s words, “The essence of a Hedgehog Concept is to attain piercing clarity about how to produce the best long-term results, and then exercising the relentless discipline to say, “No thank you” to opportunities that fail the hedgehog test.”

We work with Big Picture Learning, a progressive organization of 70 high schools located around the United States from Los Angeles to New York and Nashville to Seattle. We work with these organizations co-designing events that provide value and results in their area of interests. We have worked with schools on instituting project based learning, developing teacher competencies, and designing literacy programs. Most importantly we model and help launch new approaches to professional development so that we can turn the work over to the local talent in the schools and organizations. Our long term relationships to establish sustainable learning organizations is reflected in our work with the Coalition of Essential Schools as we convene the Coalition’s Affiliate Centers.

The process we use to establish systems for continuous improvement are anchored in the same systems we apply to our own learning at Eagle Rock School. We walk our talk by employing the same strategies to improve results for our students that we ask of schools around the country.

Our work has been well received as we have groups ranging from 85-100% in their desire to continue their work with Eagle Rock’s facilitation. Typical feedback includes, “The day’s activities were engaging and very thought provoking. Exactly what we needed to get started! The PDC is providing us with a structure that will lead us far in this process. I look forward to our continued work together.” We hope this blog post reminds our friends and colleagues of the special contribution American Honda has made to education and communities of need over the years.

How would you suggest we increase our impact in the long term?

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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.

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