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Project-Based Learning

A Busy Time of Professional Learning

By August 29, 2018No Comments

Summer 2018 was a Busy Summer of Professional Learning – For us and our teachers!

The practices of rigorous project-based learning and the skills and dispositions necessary for students to build contemporary skills require educators to make a paradigm shift. In order for students to have learning experiences that prepare them for a bright future, teachers and school leaders must also have the opportunity to learn.  We often underestimate what it takes to make the leap to project-based learning that engages young people in solving authentic, relevant problems. Unfortunately, teachers are often asked to take on new practices without the adequate time and opportunity to experience, learn and apply the teaching strategies involved.

Educurious has had a busy summer around the country with dozens of teacher groups learning the key practices of rigorous project-based learning.  As I reflect on the summer, I’m reminded of our own Adrienne Dickinson’s blog, Practical PBL: Four Tips for Better Implementation.  Adrienne offers four strategies to teachers as they implement their first project of the year.  But we think these are also critical elements of teacher learning as well.

  1. Choice is critical.
  2. Coach teams to success.
  3. Relationships matter.
  4. Know the goal before you go.

Choice is critical. We know that for innovation to work at scale the people doing the work have to own the innovation.  So, we think that teachers should have a say in how, when and where their professional learning takes place.

Coach teams to success.  Many, but not enough schools are beginning to have regular time for teacher collaboration.  For this time to be productive it’s important to provide support for teacher leaders who may be facilitating teams. We are excited about our work with STRIVE Prep in Denver for many reasons.  But one of the strongest elements of their work is to provide support for teacher course leads who work closely with us as we co-design a new project-based social studies program for World History.  In a similar way, in our upcoming work with six Seattle-area comprehensive high schools we’ll be working with the department chairs and the instructional councils at each school so they can lead the work on the ground.  

Relationships matter.  Tony Bryk’s work on trust in schools tells us that if the grownups in a school don’t trust each other nothing much good happens for students.  In fact, openness to improvement, trust and respect, teachers having knowledge and skills, supportive leadership, and socialization—are more critical to the development of professional community than structural conditions such as having PLC time (1994 Kruse, S., Louis, K. S., & Bryk, A. S.). Regardless of your role in a school community, all members of the community are dependent on others to achieve desired outcomes and feel empowered by their efforts.  Therefore, we need to support the professional learning of everyone in the school system not just the teachers. When teachers are taking a risk with a new approach such as project-based learning, relational trust is essential.

Know the goal before you go.  In Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action he describes the power of why.  This video has really stuck with me.  Fundamentally changing the experience of teaching and learning is not easy.  But we are much more likely to stay on course if we understand the why. In other words, the difference it will make for our students.  Here’s one why… In a  2013 survey of over 700 business leaders half of the respondents reported that many job applicants who were technically proficient lacked the communication, decision-making, and problem-solving skills necessary to do the jobs they applied for. Far too many college graduates touted high grades and test scores, but lacked key skills to be successful in the workplace.

All of us here at Educurious wish you the best as you begin another amazing school year.  What kind of new learning are you looking forward to? How are choice, teams, relationships and knowing the goal working in your classroom, school or district?  


We’d love to hear from you. Email me directly or tag us on social @Educurious.