Understanding Our Professional Development Center’s Theory of Action

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Here at Eagle Rock School, our Professional Development Center owes much of its success to the fact that we take seriously our charge of having an impact on student engagement in high schools on a national basis. Ours is a small team with four national facilitators, and as a result, we are spread rather thin considering our nationwide parameters.

As a result, we don’t crisscross the country in an effort to persuade other schools to do things our way — even though our own school’s processes have been incredibly successful, especially where re-engaging the unengaged has been concerned. Instead, we concentrate on working with educators who agree that they have “something” that they want to improve upon with respect to their own schools’ engagement with its students. And once we’re in accord, we surface the assets of the target school or organization and help them create an implementation plan around their particular assets.

In other words, we teach educators and administrators how to cook with the ingredients already in their kitchen.

To do this, we’ve developed a ‘hedgehog’ — a single-minded and focused strategy that we successfully use ourselves and urge other educational institutions to employ. And before we go further, a brief description of this concept is in order.

Identifying your hedgehog is a notion that was popularized by Jim Collins in his best-selling book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. The concept envisions a goal of doing one thing and doing it well.

In his book, Collins relates the parable of the fox and the hedgehog. The clever fox continues to come up with schemes that will result in the hedgehog becoming his evening meal. He is frustrated by the hedgehog’s reliance on doing his one and only trick to avoid that dinner demise: Rolling up into a thorny ball.

This concept, when applied to our theory of action, requires the intersection of three answers:

  • What is it exactly that you are passionate about?
  • What can you be the best at?
  • What would it take to get you out of bed and eager to come to school?

When engaged with a client, our staff uses appreciative inquiry to help discover “what are you passionate about,” while many of its asset tools are used to surface, “what can you be the best at?”

David Allen’s best-selling book Getting Things Done, also plays a serious role in our work. This productivity management system captures just about everything. It promises “breakthrough methods for stress-free performance.” In the words of Allen, “only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized can we achieve effective productivity and unleash our creative potential.

Job Embedded Change Projects — a framework that seeks to integrate what the client is already doing with what they seek to accomplish — is another tool we use. Based on Peter Senge’s systems thinking, it is distinct from “adding on” more and more layers of responsibility and doing things “on top of” what else is going on. Instead, it is inspired by the notion that time is an expansion of job-embedded professional development.

Fundamentally at the heart of all change is behavior, and which behaviors need to occur for the change to be successful. That’s why we also work with our clients to look at their habits, routines and vital behaviors. These practices look at how to influence the desirable behavior and create an environment where it just becomes “the way we do things around here” — eliminating or reducing the need for willpower and discipline.

Put it all together and you have our theory of action. It’s not prepackaged or necessarily neat and clean. Instead, it’s intentionally highly adaptable to facilitate the work we do around the country with schools and educators interested in re-engaging the disengaged.

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Michael-SogueroAbout 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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