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by Sarah Shannon
Former BIE Director of District and School Leadership

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Topic tags: Gold Standard


April 27, 2016
A Spring Check-Up: Your Site-Based PBL Action Plan

by Sarah Shannon
Former BIE Director of District and School Leadership

It’s late April. Although your school year still has a month or two left, school administrators all over the United States are simultaneously ending one school year while planning for the next. So the time is ripe for school leaders to revisit their district and site-based mission, vision, and action plans. Too often these types of plans are created to check a box and then live on a shelf. For districts and schools committed to making real change and to moving PBL forward, these types of plans are living, breathing documents and are essential to their school’s success. 

Simon Sinek tells us that to inspire others, leaders need to be able to communicate their “Why.”  In the case of PBL, this means that the leaders - district, site-based, and teacher leaders - need to have a clear understanding of why PBL is imperative for their school and school district. Once the why is established, then a district or school can focus on the what and the how. The “Why” that has been established then drives the creation of a vision for PBL, resulting in a philosophical shift in teaching and learning to the project based learning approach. This type of change is huge and cannot occur without a thoughtfully crafted plan and a purposeful roll-out. 

When a school district begins to partner with BIE as a systemic client, the work begins immediately with implementation planning days. During implementation planning the BIE systemic partnership coach for the district supports the assessment of their current readiness levels and creation of their vision for PBL. The coach and district team then build a three-year PBL implementation plan (aligned to the district strategic plan) designed to bring about and create the conditions necessary to support sustainable systemic change. In addition to the work done at the district level, the site-based team (administrators and teacher leaders) also participate in a PBL Leadership Development Program. During the first three days of this workshop, participants develop their personal “Why?” for PBL and, as teams create their school’s PBL vision, analyze current school conditions and build their own PBL transition plans.

Creating a vision and building a plan, is not, however, enough to bring about real change. For real change to occur, site-based PBL teams need to message the need for PBL as well as the plan for implementation and support for teachers, students and parents. As the work unfolds, the plan must be constantly revisited. Site based teams should take time to review their vision and their plans, asking themselves the following questions:

  • What work has been done?
  • Was it successful? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • What did we hope to do but didn’t? Why didn’t we?
  • Are our next steps still our next steps? If not, how does our plan need to be revised?
  • Does our plan have gaps? If so, what are they and how do we account for them?
  • Do we have the right supports in place for the work to continue?
  • How do we communicate our progress so far and the work yet to be done?

Our PBL action plans are like the flowers that come up annually in the spring. They get a lot of attention once a year, but need to be tended to throughout the year. Take the time now, as you plan for next year, to review and revise. Continue to communicate your “Why PBL?” and celebrate the successes of this year, and look forward to the work to come. Let your plan speak for itself throughout the year and continue to drive your PBL work forward!


Do you have questions, comments, or tips how to create PBL action plans? Please enter them below.

For more information about BIE’s systemic services, click here.


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