Podcast Recap: The Beginning, Episode 1—A Conversation with Dr. Bob Eaker

Inside the Treehouse Podcast Recap, Episode 1, The Beginning, a Conversation With Dr. Bob Eaker

Where do great educators like to hang out? Inside the Treehouse.

That’s right, we recently added a podcast to our repertoire of resources. Now, you can take us with you in the car, on a walk, or even running errands. During our podcast, Solution Tree CEO Jeff Jones sits down with some of the greatest minds in education. With each compelling conversation, you’ll get to know these experts more personally, including what has brought them to this point in their careers and where they are heading in the future.

It only seemed fitting that Jeff interviewed PLC at Work® architect Dr. Bob Eaker for the first episode, which dropped on October 9. The topic of discussion? The beginning of a beautiful friendship, both personally and professionally, between Dr. Eaker and Rick DuFour.

One in a series of interviews with Dr. Eaker, the first chat touched on:

  • Dr. Eaker’s journey into the field of education
  • His pathway to becoming a renowned educator, writer, and speaker
  • The early days of Dr. Eaker and Rick DuFour’s friendship
  • The birth of the professional learning community concept

The road to education

It was by chance that Dr. Eaker stumbled into his career in education. While in the Marine Corps, Eaker served a Navy Admiral who suggested he read books while standing around waiting for orders. Typically, a quiz followed, so Eaker knew he couldn’t get off the hook too easily. Out of this, a love for reading grew.

After the Marine Corps, Dr. Eaker went to college where he earned a degree in history, which led him to a job as a history teacher in Tennessee. He made his way up the ladder to assistant principal. Shortly after getting his master’s degree, Eaker started doing some writing for a local politician. Now, 33 books later, he still has a way with words.

A friendship is born

A shift into presenting only made sense and Eaker’s natural knack for speaking took him far. It was at a conference that a curious Rick DuFour approached Eaker after a presentation. DuFour wanted Eaker to personally speak at his school in Chicago about research on effective teaching. An accidental, but beautiful friendship was born. The rest, they say, is history.

Creating the PLC concept

So how did these two great minds come together to create the concept of professional learning communities?

At the time, the big thing across the country was the term clinical supervision, where someone would go in and objectively observe teachers in the classroom. As Eaker and DuFour dove into this practice, they realized there was something missing—no guidance for improvement if faults were found.

Eaker and DuFour went to work. Then, Dr. Eaker was a university professor, which allowed him plenty of time to mine through research studies. DuFour was a practitioner, so he was able to put research into action inside his school. The conditions were perfect for Adlai E. Stevenson High School to be their lab.

Eaker and DuFour used the effective schools research as the base, building upon it to create their prized professional learning community concept. According to Eaker, the PLC concept was simply a collection of effective schools’ best practices, wrapped up in a collaborative culture.

The word spreads

They began to spread the word about their trials, errors, and successes, which looked much different than it would in today’s digital age. In-person presentations turned into full PLC institutes, eventually leading Eaker and DuFour to writing a book: Pursuing the Promise of Excellence.

After another rendition called Creating the New American School, DuFour approached Eaker to write a new book on their 15 years of research surrounding the PLC concept. Professional Learning Communities at Work was published in 1998.

Findings form a foundation

The book itself drew from nearly two decades of hands-on work at Adlai E. Stevenson High School. What Eaker and DuFour found was that a collaborative school culture, whether people are assigned to teams or they ban together on their own, is vital for success. Further, they found that it’s critical to clearly articulate what the expectations are for kids to learn.

Eaker and DuFour also discovered that a logical shift was needed where students were taught and assessed along the way, rather than at the end of the unit. Their insight proved to be a forerunner to the term “formative assessment,” coined a few years later. Eaker and DuFour also recognized that a school’s response should be systematic and layered—hence, the pyramid of interventions was born.

The story continues…

Eaker’s story is one of opportunity meeting preparation. Dedicating his career and life to education, along with 40 years of friendship to Rick DuFour, Dr. Bob Eaker is a true trailblazer and legend. Deemed a PLC at Work® architect, Eaker’s contribution to the field of education is greatly appreciated and inspiring. Additional interviews with Dr. Eaker are in the works, so stay tuned for more captivating conversations!

Our next episode will be available soon!

Episode two of Inside the Treehouse will be available on October 23, and will feature Dr. Anthony Muhammad. Learn how Dr. Muhammad’s upbringing led him to become the powerful PLC and cultural champion he is today.

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