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?







Change is Good

Over the last few years, I have written many posts via Conversation Innovation. After much reflection, I’ve decided to begin anew. Most recently, I’ve been pushed by Mike Schmoker’s article, Why I’m Against Innovation in Education (don’t let the title throw you). In addition, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the impact of innovation done merely for the sake of innovation, on both teachers and students.  As Schmoker writes:

It’s time for education to make the leap to a more authentic professionalism—by giving innovation its due, but never letting it supplant or precede those practices that would produce “stunningly powerful consequences” in our schools and in the lives of students.

So, this change in my thinking is not about shunning innovation, but rather, emphasizing “adaptation” to empower teachers. In becoming adaptive, we will be ready to provide great teaching and learning for all students, both today and tomorrow. And, I’m wondering about the accuracy of this corollary: All those who are adaptive can innovate, but not all those who innovate are adaptive.

The Business Dictionary defines “adaptation” as the

[m]odification of a concept or object to make it applicable in situations different from originally anticipated.

Science Clarified offers that

adaptation is a term used to describe the ways in which organisms change over time in response to the changing demands of their environment.

Nonprofit Quarterly provides that the development of adaptive capacity enables one to have the

skill to take the initiative in making adjustments for improved performance, relevance, and impact. Fundamentally, it is the ability to respond to and instigate change.

Long term survival in education, and indeed, thriving, depends on adaptation. Being adaptive allows each teacher to have autonomy in the exercise of professional judgment for the students sitting in front of him or her. It is grass-roots work, based on best practices and intimate knowledge of each student. If there is no current best practice to produce “stunningly powerful consequences,” then it might mean implementing an innovative strategy or method that we believe will do so.

Going one step further, adaptation can create systemic organizational change. One possible framework for collaborative adaptation is an inquiry cycle. The continuous, cyclical nature of an inquiry process provides enough structure to guide new learning without stifling creativity or professional judgment. It allows teachers to improve their practice through reflection and collaborative analysis of evidence of student learning. In some instances, it may even provide students with opportunities to co-create their learning experiences.

In closing, I offer a final “definition” of adaptation in education, from the Thinking Collaborative. Being adaptive means

developing the resources and capacities of the organizations and of individuals to cohesively respond to the changing needs of students and society.

Join the conversation…what are your thoughts?