The PBL Mindset for Leadership
by Drew Perkins, Director of TeachThought Professional Development
*this piece was originally published at TeachThought.com
In a recent blog post (How the Culture of Achievement is Hurting Our Schools) I noted the dangers of chasing achievement and scores in lieu of creating a culture focused on teaching and learning. If we’re truly trying to create a school and culture where students and teachers are excited, engaged and empowered by their work and thinking it will take more than a workshop or conference trip or even a few touches throughout the year. In fact, that type of limited engagement can be more problematic in terms of student and teacher performance and trust. As a believer in quality project based learning as a transformative model it’s important to note the same dynamic and realize that PBL done poorly can leave you at the bottom of the J curve that research shows is a typical progression of implementation as teachers refine their practice.
Implementing quality PBL takes several years but it also takes consistent guidance, work and leadership over that time. Teachers cannot operate as rogues and cowboys with an occasional refresher. PBL is a major shift for most schools and it’s processes have to be embedded in the school culture in ways that strengthen and support the work of teachers and students. Principals and other administrators are busy people who have stakeholders coming at them from all sides. These distractions can take the focus away from what Sir Ken Robinson notes as the most important anchors (14:24 mark), teaching and learning.
With this in mind it’s essential for leadership to engage in the work in much the same way they expect from their teachers. The best examples of leaders I’ve seen have participated in the PBL workshop alongside their teachers and used PBL to engage with their staff throughout the year. Creating a PBL mindset includes democratizing the culture by encouraging questioning and inquiry around purpose, product and audience. Strong PBL leaders learn alongside their teachers and use the thinking behind Driving Questions (How might we…do…so that…?) to flesh out what they need to know and do. They utilize the PBL process with staff development and to solve real problems in much the same way teachers would with their students.
“You don’t just “do” PBL, it’s a mindset and shift to using the process in all of your work and culture, leadership and all.”
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