3 Steps to Launching PBL at Your School

Starting anything new can be a daunting task, particularly for a school site administrator. But when starting a new instructional focus that requires training, buy-in, follow-through, and follow-up, well now that can be even more challenging.  This is what I found to be the case as my school site embarked on implementing Project/Problem-Based Learning this school year. 

It wasn’t so much the idea of starting something new, as it was laying the foundation and ensuring that all of the pieces were in place. It was important that this venture was not just a one and done but, that it became part of the school’s culture. We wanted our work to be sustainable beyond the one-day project and beyond the one-year training actually, beyond our tenure. 

3 Steps to Launching PBL at Your School:  

Step 1 – Get Ready

Prepare yourself first by doing a bit of research.  Will incorporating Project Based Learning (PBL) into your school’s program benefit your students and your school community?  Since PBL is the wave of “now” and the future with respect to student engagement, learning, and understanding the answer is most likely a resounding yes. Project and Problem-Based Learning is a way to engage students in the learning process but more importantly a way to have students incorporate the 21st-century skills of collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity among others by connecting with industry sector leaders to solve real problems and implement solutions that impact our lives.

As part of the ‘get ready’ process, you will need to be certain that you know and understand the difference between having students simply complete a project and having them work on a project/problem-based learning task.  This is crucial if you are to help your staff understand the benefit and movement along the continuum and help change the instructional culture.

Step 2 – Get Set

The next step is to begin training yourself and your staff.  This is crucial as there may be some confusion between Project versus Problem-Based Learning and the varied terms by which they are identified.  After reading the first article by John Larmer, formerly of the Buck Institute, you will find that be any other name a rose is still a rose. Training can initially begin with reading a few good articles on PBL such as Project-Based Learning vs. Problem-Based Learning vs. X-BL as well as Project Based Learning for the 21st Century and New Study Shows PBL Impact on Student Achievement. Reading articles on PBL are great but, we also read a great article on collective efficacy so that we understood that it was our collective efforts that would drive the change for us to move forward in a positive manner.  Also, lean on the experts in your district.  There are a variety of resources available including specialists that should be willing to present to faculty and staff about PBL and its instructional benefits to teachers and students as well as conduct demo lessons that will help you with Step 3.  Remember, support is key and you should draw on whatever resources are at your disposal. 

While all of these thoughts, ideas, and strategies for implementation are amazing, you may encounter some resistance as did some of my colleagues.  The resistance did not come from an unwillingness to change but rather timing.  You will need to determine if this is the appropriate time for this change to occur on your campus.  As site administrators, we must always take the pulse of our educators.   What is happening on your site, and what changes are already occurring? Is your school undergoing the accreditation process, in California, this is through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)?  Are teachers already involved in training on other district or site initiatives?  

Step 3 – Launch

Once you have done your research and determined that the time is now, you are ready to LAUNCH!  

About the author:

Simone Charles is currently a principal in Los Angeles, CA and has been an educator for 30 years serving students of diverse backgrounds in urban schools.  As an educator, Ms. Charles’ dedication to the profession and the students she serves has led to her being recognized as a teacher of the year and administrator of the year as well as one of Councilman Curren Price’s SHEROs in the city of Los Angeles for her work with students in urban schools.


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