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by Andre Daughty

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September 18, 2017
6 Tips for Preventing PBL Burnout


Education is a rewarding profession. Observing students develop their philosophies, understanding and conclusions throughout a PBL project brings those warm and fuzzy “This is why I became a teacher” moments.

Ah yes! That’s the life!

On the other hand, being an educator is very challenging. Finding the time during planning periods and after school to create those rewarding conditions brings stressors to our lives. I can remember even saying to a colleague, “I really want to dig deep in this PBL project but I just don’t have the time to really do it.” Those uncomfortable feelings threatened my project. I remember fighting the stress like a Floyd Mayweather vs. Connor McGreggor fight, staying late at school helping student groups, arriving earlier than the norm assisting students who need extra support, and going home only to stay up late at night working even more. By the end of the project, the presentations were a success, the community loved it and everyone had that warm fuzzy moment. I also remember walking to my car dead tired with burn out wrapping his arms around me.

PBL provides stressful moments where we feel challenged and those moments motivate us towards greatness! It helps us push our students to reach those amazing final products, but sometimes that stress transforms into complete burn out.

I’ve definitely been there. Have you? What can you do to prevent PBL burnout? Here are a few ways:

Planning with Your Squad vs. Planning Alone
When you are planning a PBL alone, all of the weight and responsibility falls on one person. You. When you are planning with your colleagues, you can divvy up responsibilities, throw ideas off of each other, get better understanding, view the project from a different perspective and reduce stress altogether. As Helen Keller said, "Alone, we can do so little; together we can do so much."

Customizing/Adapting a Project vs. Designing from Scratch
I recall one educator who was stuck in a deep writer’s block trying to design a math project scratch. We discussed ways on how to approach his overarching idea and that didn’t help much.  He jokingly said, “I quit. I’m not doing this!” I sensed there was some truth to that joke. It is okay to customize and adapt a project already created. BIE, PBLU, West Virginia's State Department of Education, and Mike Gorman’s PBL Superhighway along with countless other resources can be a guide towards less stress. Reminder: Please make sure you weigh the projects with BIE’s Essential Project Design Elements. If any of the projects are missing an element, add to it to make it a Gold Standard PBL project!

Design Less Ambitious and Lengthy Projects
Every project does not have to be a multi-disciplinary eight-week “Redesigning the Constitution of the United States” and how it would relate to (fill in the blank) country or a semester long “passion project” taking up 90% of each day. You can design less ambitious projects still with authenticity and have students engaged.

Take a Break Between Projects
One teacher asked me during a workshop if it was ever okay to go back to teaching traditionally. She loved Spalding Spelling and was afraid that she wasn’t ever going to get to teach that again. It’s okay to give your students (and yourself) breathing room. One PBL expert does two PBL projects per semester. She uses PBL elements in her traditional teaching the rest of the time.

Use Your Community Experts
Stress happens when you are doing too much! If you are doing a project on weather, why not contact local meteorologists or students who are majoring in meteorology? They can help you! If you are analyzing marketing trends, why are you the only one teaching it? Reach out to your local experts throughout your project. They bring their experience and expertise to your students. Everyone benefits from it.

Give It Up and Turn It Loose
Perhaps one reason stress levels are high is because you have limited the voice and choice. By you doing everything, you are falling into the giver of all knowledge instead of the facilitator of learning. Here are a few resources on providing more voice and choice for students:

Burnout is definitely legit in a PBL environment. I’m sure there are more ideas to prevent burnout. What are some ones I missed? Let’s share them out and learn together.


Follow Andre Daughty on Twitter at @andredaughty


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