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March 9, 2016
Creating a School or District Project Library

Project Based Learning is more than just what happens in the classroom. For PBL to thrive, school and district leaders need to support teachers, encourage innovation and celebrate success. One way to do that is to build a project library – a virtual location used to store and access exemplar projects created by local teachers. In addition to being a resource for sharing projects, the library is a way to honor and celebrate the high-quality work of PBL teachers. And, of course, having a supply of already-made, classroom-tested projects on hand can save teachers’ planning time and help ensure results.

The BIE website has a curated project library that houses project examples that can be used for inspiration and customized by teachers. We encourage all of our partner districts to also create a local project library.

As a BIE Systemic Partnership Coach, I support districts in implementing PBL district-wide. Our focus is always on how they can sustain the work once our partnership is over. I had the pleasure of working with Granbury Independent School District (GISD), a K-12 district near Dallas, TX for three years. As one way to sustain PBL at GISD, we created a project library during their second year of implementation. A project library contributes to the momentum and sustainability of PBL because it defines what PBL looks like in a school or district, and shows other teachers that it can be done successfully.


How Granbury created a project library
Here are the three steps the GISD PBL implementation team took, which can apply to any school or district:

Step 1: Establish the purpose of a project library.
Some districts will use a project library to support teachers who are new to PBL or to have a process through which all staff can develop common standards of language and practice. GISD hoped to leverage their bank of projects to show that PBL is not something for other schools or other students, but something that GISD is doing very successfully – in other words, to define what high quality PBL looks like at GISD. It’s also a way for the community to celebrate the hard work of teachers as PBL designers and implementers. With a project library, GISD teachers see what their peers are doing, find inspiration and say, I, too, can do this!

With quality and inspiration as motivation, the GISD team began the process of establishing a structure and process. GISD knew that if a new process was going to succeed, it would require buy-in at all levels of staff. The curriculum department brought together a group of stakeholders that included teachers, campus leaders, district staff and school Instructional specialists. This was valuable not only for making sure the project library was useful to all, but for messaging the requirements to all staff.

Step 2: Set up a process for creating and documenting projects.
In a nutshell, GISD took things they were already doing, and carefully incorporated PBL.

First, we considered how a project library would fit into their existing school/district culture. As we looked to define a process of vetting projects to determine exemplars, we considered a submission process, in which teachers would receive feedback and have to revise projects if they did not meet the definition of high quality PBL. The GISD PBL team was not comfortable with “rejecting” projects that did not meet expectations. This is not to say that they didn’t care about quality. On the contrary, their goal was to define high quality work through the project library. However, they did not want a teacher to go through all of the steps to submit a project only to be rejected at the end.

They were determined to find a process that was compatible with their district culture as a nurturing, supportive “family.” If there was going to be a rigorous vetting process, they would put enough scaffolding in place so the teacher would have to have a quality project by the end. The submission process was transformed into a supportive process that was embedded into teacher planning time.

In order to create a process that would help teachers feel supported rather than having another thing added to their plates, the representative stakeholder groups integrated the creation of exemplar projects into existing structures. The expectations they created for their teachers included guidelines as to how they would be supported. They already had established and protected time set aside for data analysis, collaboration, and reflection, such as common teacher planning time, early release days, staff and team meetings, and time with instructional specialists. They built dialogue about project design and implementation into these existing instructional conversations. They also customized BIE project planning forms, rather than creating additional forms, to include space for recording reflections and revisions teachers made during project implementation, to help guide others who might teach the project.

The expectations for teachers around planning, checkpoints, and support are set from the beginning. Starting from the PBL 101 workshop, GISD teachers hear about the timeline and vetting process that will support them as they implement a project:

Before the project, teachers:

  • plan their projects using planning tools and forms and the BIE project design rubric, then engage in a tuning protocol to get feedback and make adjustments.
  • send calendar invites to campus and district instructional support personnel, so they know when they can observe important moments in the project.

During the project, teachers:

  • engage in a reflective protocol with peers, to disucss its progress and troubleshoot.
  • collect student work samples.
  • annotate project documents with reflections and modifications that were made.

After the project, teachers:

  • engage in another reflective protocol with peers.
  • revise the project.

Important note: GISD teachers are expected to facilitate a project twice before submitting it to the district project library. This was a wise move, since the first time a project is conducted is always a “learning experience” and improvements can be made the second time around.

Step 3: Create a structure for storing and sharing projects. 
GISD chose to house their project library on the “staff only” page of the district website, but you could easily use a free tool like Google Docs or Google Site. The team decided who would build the site, upload content, receive submissions, and be responsible for maintenance over time. They also created a system to organize and tag projects that included a commenting feature and notified teachers when new projects were added. They created a digital “packet” that included a checklist of the actions teachers take to reflect throughout the project, as well as the accompanying documents where they recorded the project design, implementation notes, and revisions. This was shared and integrated into the PBL 101 training, so expectations were clear from the start.

Throughout my PBL journey with GISD, they made me feel like part of the Granbury family in Texas, even as a “Yankee” from New Jersey. That is just how their district treats people. In every part of PBL implementation, including the creation of a project library, we had to be mindful of the “family” culture that existed there. So in addition to other lessons learned here at BIE through our work with district partners, I would add that you must always consider the culture in everything you do. Just because one strategy worked in a neighboring district does not mean it will work for your teachers and leaders.

 

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