Embarking on a Project Based Learning (PBL) initiative may seem overwhelming. Questions like - Where do you start? How do you build excitement? How do you even explain PBL? - often are top-of-mind. Many are tempted to follow a “recipe” for success, but most school leaders know from their experience with school change efforts, that what works for one school, may not work for another, and that what works for one teacher may not work for another. Schoolwide PBL implementation is not a checklist of things to be done. It’s more of a mindset coupled with a set of instructional and leadership practices that center leaders, teachers, and students as learners.

Based on our Leadership Theory of Action for PBL, we have compiled a list of suggestions and ideas for consideration as you prepare to launch Project Based Learning in your school.

Theory of Action Graphic
Invest in yourself in understanding why this is the right work for your school. Build your own understanding of what PBL is and isn’t and how it can help you achieve your vision for ALL students.  Remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. In our experience, this is one of the best gifts you can give your teachers.  Your knowledge and understanding will set the stage for deep and sustained implementation of PBL so that EVERY student can experience at least two high-quality projects every year. Rather than viewing these suggestions as a series of linear steps, we encourage you to be selective and modify the ideas below based on your unique school context.  You know your learners, teachers, and community better than anyone else and will have the best sense of what has been done before, what will inspire, and what will be over the top.

  • Ensure your school-wide outcomes/portrait of a graduate includes Deeper Learning competencies. Have conversations with key stakeholders to either create or recommit to these competencies.

  • Establish a PBL Leadership Team responsible for the school-wide implementation of PBL and consider sending the team (including yourself) to a PBL Leadership Workshop to create an initial PBL implementation plan.

  • Develop a cadre of “PBL Champion” teachers willing to lead the PBL initiative within your school. Ensure that they receive Gold Standard PBL training as soon as possible to start implementing and creating proof points.

  • Understand your current reality better by scheduling a PBL Classroom Walkthrough or engaging in our version of the Shadow a Student Protocol.

  • Consider how PBL builds upon prior initiatives and connects to other current initiatives.  Most school “plates” are already very full. What is coming off the “plate” to make time and space for PBL?

  • Leverage teachers who are doing PBL already by having those teachers share their experiences.  

  • Complete a book study with teachers using one of our PBL handbooks.

  • Visit a nearby school already doing PBL so teachers can see it in action.

Ready to get started?

  • Join one of our School Leader Networks to connect with like-minded leaders at all stages of the PBL journey. Learn more here.

  • Take one of our Open Online PBL Leadership Workshops with your PBL Leadership team. These are offered throughout the year and at our annual PBL World Conference.

Want to learn about other options? Reach out to David Badillo at [email protected] by email.

Lisa Mireles, Senior Director of Design & Innovation
Cris Waldfogel, Senior Director of Professional Learning & Leadership