Project Based Learning has taken root in many schools across the world, and the momentum is steadily growing. In some cases, entire schools have made PBL their core approach to learning. Yet, some PBL teachers find themselves in isolated environments, often feeling frustrated, helpless, and a bit lonely when the power of PBL isn’t spreading to their colleagues. I’ve been in that situation more than once in my PBL journey, and it can certainly feel like you’re on an island. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that can assist as you seek potential PBL partners at your school and beyond.
1. Produce and Publish a Digital PBL Portfolio
PBL will not spread if there is nothing to spread, so it’s important to get intentional about accumulating and disseminating evidence that demonstrates to others the value of the shift to PBL. Below are some high impact ways to make your portfolio a platform that will resonate when you share it:
- Provide project examples. These could include both written project summaries and videos. At PBLWorks, we have a growing library of Project Cards and videos to get you started with potential formats you could follow.
- Pull back the curtain. Plenty of educators are looking to understand the background work and inner dialogue of PBL teachers, and your portfolio is an opportunity to make the invisible visible. Share planning documents, even ideas that didn’t make the final cut. Keep a project journal. Talk into your phone and record reflections and lingering questions. Collect all the messy little remnants of your process and place it in your portfolio. It may not seem like much, but your openness will make PBL more accessible to others. It might just earn you a few collaborators as well.
- Show student work. In addition to high-quality examples, you might include accompanying student reflections and product drafts to fully tell the story of their work. This will give teachers yet another look behind the scenes.
- Share sticky stories. Craft narratives that highlight major shifts in your thinking, successes, and lessons learned. Brag on your students. You might be thinking, “Yeah, but my story is just one student in one classroom.” That’s precisely the point! One student’s success in one classroom is news, and it’s worth a headline. Stories like that can stick to us like Velcro, and they often can compel action.
I’ve felt like a Project Based Loner at times, and sharing my portfolio to the world (especially through Twitter) eventually connected me to a vast network of educators that I never could have imagined.
There is power in simply and humbly sharing.
Your portfolio is not about showing off; it’s about showing up and contributing to the conversation. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it best: “Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.”
2. Target and Support “Sneezers” to Spread the Word
While you might be sharing your digital portfolio broadly, you can decide to take a more targeted approach within your school. Identify teachers around you who are most likely to believe in the power of PBL. Those first followers are the “sneezers” that can spread the word with you and make PBL go viral at your school. As you target and support newcomers, keep a few things in mind:
- Embrace your sneezers as equals. Ensure they understand that it’s about the PBL movement and not about you. Derek Sivers explains this masterfully in his short and highly engaging Ted Talk, How to Start a Movement.
- Honor their background knowledge. They are not broken, and you’re not bringing them on board to fix them. Despite being new to PBL, they most likely have vast content knowledge, and expertise that can be leveraged in a variety of ways, including sharing their thoughts and ideas in structured conversations like the Charrette Protocol, Consultancy Protocol, and the Tuning Protocol.
- Your best ability is availability. Sometimes support just means being around for your colleagues. I found it particularly helpful when I sent “Save the Date” invitations to my small PBL crew to come observe my project lessons. These invites would also come with a framing question for feedback that aligned to the Project Design Rubric or the Project Based Teaching Rubric. Over time, these invites often become reciprocal, and the mutual benefit of learning from each other’s practice builds community and trust. I’ve discovered that the closest distance between two people can be a little shared vulnerability.
3. Free Yourself from Active Detractors
In your zeal to connect with colleagues, it may be tempting to try to convert the hard-to-get teacher. This probably isn’t an effective use of your time and efforts, especially if this person is firmly against PBL. Embracing anything that interrupts the status quo means that your cause might be avoided or even actively disliked by some. That’s fine. Let them pound sand and keep your energy focused on those that care enough to learn more alongside you. The long-term secret weapon with active detractors might be student voice. Even the most belligerent opponents still love their students and hear the chatter. It’s hard not to reflect on PBL’s potential when students are sharing their excitement.
If the above sounds a bit daunting at this point, a free and simple way to start connecting is by following the #PBLChat on Twitter. Plenty of ideas, conversations, and resources are shared through this medium. So, jump right in and get to work (or maybe just lurk).
Your Moral Imperative
Being a Project Based Loner doesn’t imply that we are shuffling around with our shoulders slumped. It just means that we have a golden opportunity to be the connector who brings others to PBL. And, with that potential, our charge to take action goes beyond mere suggestion; it becomes a moral imperative. If PBL is good for ALL students (as it absolutely is), then it becomes our duty to advance the conversation and find allies. Once you embrace this call with passion and purpose, you won’t walk alone for long. You may feel like a Project Based Loner (at times we all do), but the truth is you’re not alone. We’ve been waiting for you.
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