by John Larmer
Editor in Chief
I just drove down from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, on a winding highway where the sunset glow on the rock-lined canyon matched the glow I felt after our biannual “Summit” with our National Faculty members.
We stayed at the sprawling YMCA camp in Estes Park (elevation 7500 feet) northwest of Boulder, surrounded by snowy peaks – and dozens of elk that wander the grounds. As I was leaving this idyllic spot I found myself driving under a double rainbow, surely a sign of good fortune. In the photo below you can see where the rainbow ended – at the lodge where our meeting took place. The pot of gold was the wealth of good thinking and comradeship we shared there.
I’ve been privileged to be a part of some pretty wonderful groups of educators in my career: the Coalition of Essential Schools National Faculty, the Annenberg-funded Bay Area School Reform Collaborative, and the staff at Oceana High School where I taught. But the BIE National Faculty is especially fabulous and I cannot imagine ever being part of a better team.
Our NF, as we call them, now number over 80. Many of them are K-12 teachers, or have recently left the classroom to become instructional coaches or take some other leadership role at their school or district. Some are school or district administrators, and a few are now independent consultants. All have experience in implementing PBL. We’ve been posting profiles of these folks on our blog (search "profiles") since July, and if you’ve seen those you can tell they are a talented, dedicated bunch. They facilitate our PBL 101 workshops and make follow-up visits to schools to coach them and conduct PBL 201 workshops on various in-depth topics.
What We Did on the Mountain
The Summit meetings are a combination of professional development for the NF, opportunities to contribute to BIE’s thinking about PBL, share tools and strategies, and have fun. (Lots of fun.) The fall Summit is a welcome time for reflection after a busy summer on the road conducting PBL 101 workshops. This was our 14th Summit; the first had only half a dozen participants, so it’s a testament to the power of PBL that the team has grown so much, so quickly.
This time, we asked the NF to help BIE think about our new, still-forming strategic plan – since we practice critique and revision just as students do in Gold Standard PBL. I can’t get too into the weeds here, but our plan’s basic goal is to broaden and deepen the use of high-quality PBL, so that it becomes a regular practice in greater and greater numbers of classrooms across the U.S. and in other countries. Equally important is our equity goal; we are working to make sure all students, no matter where they live or what their background, have access to high-quality PBL.
BIE is very aware of the complexity of the issue of equity in education. It’s fraught with political implications and requires us to address deep beliefs about students and learning held by ourselves and other educators. Our National Faculty is not afraid to raise these issues and push us further. One example of an activity we did: in breakout groups we asked them to generate ideas for how equity plays out in each of the Project Based Teaching Practices in Gold Standard PBL. Here are three examples of questions asked after the rich discussions we had:
The Summit was planned and led by a team of BIE staff. Our recently-hired National Faculty manager Becky Hausammann did a great job in her debut performance (loved the song-fest!), carrying on the tradition of skilled and charming facilitation established by Rody Boonchouy and Gina Olabuenaga. Also charming in his first time facilitating at a Summit was our new chief program officer, Brandon Wiley. Other top-notch facilitation was provided by staffers Meg Parry, Cris Waldfogel, Rhonda Hill, Stanley Richards, and Sarah Field. And the whole shebang could not have happened without Catherine Meharchand’s event-planning chops, attention to detail, and thoughtful hospitality touches.
We always leave these Summits eager to stay in touch and looking forward to the next one – and those times when our paths cross in between, as we continue our PBL journey together. Go team!
For information about BIE’s professional development services, click here.
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