PBL for Teachers

“Teacher learning should be problem-based.”

About a year ago, I heard Tony Bryk say this in a room full of educators. It resonated at the time, but it wasn’t until today that I thought about it as PBL.

As an example, the Buck Institute for Education has identified “gold standard” PBL elements for students. What if we took them and applied them to teacher professional learning? It might look something like this:

1. Challenging Problem or Question (teacher teams frame a meaningful problem to solve or question to answer around student learning).

2. Sustained Inquiry (teacher teams engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information).

3. Authenticity (teacher teams operate in a school context that features a curriculum, assessment, or instruction need with real student impact).

4. Voice and Choice (teacher teams make decisions, from the questions they generate to the resources they use to find answers to their questions to the tasks and roles they take on as team members).

5. Reflection (teacher teams reflect on their learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry, the quality of their work, and how they overcame obstacles).

6. Critique & Revision (teacher teams give, receive, and use feedback to improve their process).

7. Sharing (teacher teams make their learning public by explaining, displaying, or presenting their process and current student learning outcomes to others beyond the collaborative team).

Indeed, a lot of this is already in place if your school is engaged in an inquiry cycle to improve student learning.

Taking this one step further, instructional leaders might adapt the gold standard teaching practices to support teachers:

  • Design & Plan (principals frame the learning from launch to culmination).
  • Align to Standards (principals ensure that the teacher team inquiries address key knowledge and skills around student learning).
  • Building the Culture (principals explicitly and implicitly promote teacher team independence and growth, open-ended inquiry, team spirit, and attention to quality).
  • Manage Activities (principals support teacher teams to organize tasks and schedules, set checkpoints and deadlines, find and use resources, and create processes).
  • Scaffold Teacher Learning (principals employ a variety of learning modules, tools, and strategies to support all teachers in reaching team goals).
  • Assess Teacher Learning (principals assess the knowledge, understanding, and skills, and include self- and peer-assessment of team and individual learning).
  • Engage & Coach (principals engage in learning alongside teacher teams and identify when teams need skill building, redirection, and encouragement).

I’ll end where I began — with the words of Tony Bryk: “Embrace the wisdom of crowds. We can accomplish more together than even the best of us can accomplish alone.” There is no need to re-create the wheel.

Join the conversation…does this resonate with you?







One thought on “PBL for Teachers

  1. I really like the idea of doing a PBL as a teacher team to solve a problem. I’m currently in PBL training and loving everything about it. I would love to get with a group of teachers that want to solve a similar problem and actually engaging in a PBL. I think that would also help me understand what a PBL should look like in the classroom, which is something that I’m struggling with right now.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s