by Steffany Batik, Principal, New Tech High @ Coppell
When I was first introduced to Project Based Learning it was as an offshoot to a much larger training that was provided to teachers in my (previous) district. I was in a group of classroom teachers who sought out the challenge of being a 1-to-1 iPad classroom in a school system that had previously not had this level of technology integration. The training was offered in such a way that the primary mechanism for teacher behavior change was through sparking interest and curiosity among educators. The goal being that we would feel comfortable stepping out on a limb and taking risks if we saw that there were other ways of doing things. The introduction went like a lot of professional development in a lot of places:
While this graphic has been extremely helpful and the network has had a number of resources that I have been able to access as I have been on this journey as a campus principal, I have found that my understanding of implementing successful and rigorous PBL has been incomplete. Thus, in the true nature of Project Based Learning, I have assigned myself the project of implementing a successful project for my staff.
Any teacher on my campus will tell you that the successful launch of a project is quickly followed by establishing with learners what they know about the topic/project and what they need to know. For me, I have a basic knowledge of the components of PBL. I even have many exemplars of individual components of PBL as I have engaged in walkthroughs, observations, and attended critical friends sessions with my facilitators. What I do not have is the experience of developing a successful project from start to finish. Is it important for a campus principal to have prior experience in every best practice that a campus implements? If the answer to that question were a yes, then there are very few principals who could continue to meet that demand as they get further out of the classroom based on their years in administration. That said, the campus principal is still the lead educator on the campus and of course, the lead learner. Because of this, I am using my campus instructional coaches to help shape that experience for me.
In terms of creating a successful project for my staff, I begin with the “standards”: what is it that I want my staff to know and to be able to do? From there, how do I design meaningful learning experiences for my staff to accomplish those standards? As I embarked on the process of following a PBL design template, I found that I had a lot of questions about the nuances of implementing a successful PBL. As in the classroom, when a learner finds that they have information that they don’t know or they have a skill that they need to develop, I sought out the experts to help me gain this information or experience. For me, the experts are my campus instructional coaches. I am fortunate to have five educators on my campus that are designated as our instructional coaches and that I can go to and essentially ask them for a “workshop” when I find that my understanding of PBL is incomplete. After completing my workshop experience, I am able to apply the new learning to the specific context of my larger, campus-wide PBL.
As we continue to progress through this journey, I hope to share more about the identified goals and challenges that we are tackling, as well as the solutions and experiences that we are designing for our staff.