This is the sixth and final post in a series where I flesh out why the ideal traits of a PBL teacher are important. Check out the links to the rest of the series below the post.
Traditionally teaching has been an isolated occupation. Most teachers work independently and “shut their door and teach.” They are in charge of their students in their classrooms, focused on their content. With PBL, part of the shift for teachers is away from the idea that their primary job is content delivery, towards a holistic development of children including socio-emotional skills and success skills like collaboration
PBL requires more collaboration for teachers as well as students. Teachers must find authentic problems in their community. This often requires reaching out and networking with people, traditionally more of a business practice than an educational one. Making cold calls or going to social networking events may be new experiences for many educators, but great projects can be found by reaching out and working with your community.
A great example of this is Schoolcraft Community Schools. My friend, Matt McCullough has developed an approach where he asks local businesses for problems that their students can solve. Most business people attended traditional schools and are not very familiar with PBL and are unsure how to collaborate. Matt has developed a process in which he helps businesses find appropriate issues that students can partner on. This requires contacting and meeting with many organizations in the community and taking the time to assess their needs that students can help.
Many teachers start out doing PBL on their own, in one subject area. They soon discover that the PBL framework is a natural vehicle for cross-curricular, integrated projects. The authentic problems in the “real world” are rarely siloed into pure math, science, or social studies, but mix disciplines and content areas. So what I think of as the next level of PBL involves an integrated project with multiple teachers from various content areas. These project are often the most authentic and motivating for students.
Integrated projects can be logistically challenging and require a serious time commitment from teachers, a willingnesses to compromise, and dedication to work together. It takes flexibility of both teaching styles and curriculum scope and sequence to get content areas to “match.” Trust me though, it is so worth it. When I have worked on collaborative staffs we have had the best projects such as the Poverty Project or painting our school to leave a legacy for future generations.
Collaboration takes patience, time, and effort, but the payoff is worth it! When teachers connect to local experts in the community they are modeling that they are learners too by seeking advice. By working with colleagues to design epic, integrated projects, teachers are modeling for students what successful groups look like. Collaboration is a key success skill needed in our modern world and we should demonstrate it often for students if we expect them to learn the skill for themselves!
Links to the rest of the series on Ideal Traits of a PBL Teacher: