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November 10, 2017
How to Engage Your Stakeholders in Reimagining School

by John Larmer
Editor in Chief

Suzie Boss has written more books about Project Based Learning than anyone, all of them original and very good. She has become a genuine, preeminent expert. I have worked with her on three books now and consider her one of my closest colleagues, always a pleasure to work with. Her curious mind and writing chops always contribute something more to the field, from the use of technology in PBL, to service learning and PBL, to teaching 21st century success skills in PBL. And she’s especially talented in finding and eloquently telling stories of students, teachers, and other educators, which I have highly valued in our collaborations.

Here’s a list of Suzie Boss’ PBL-related books (so far):

Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, 2nd Edition (with Jane Krauss; ISTE, 2014)  

Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World (Solution Tree, 2012)

Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry (with Jane Krauss; Corwin, 2013)

PBL for 21st Century Success: Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity (Buck Institute for Education, 2013)

Real-World Projects: How do I design relevant and engaging learning experiences? (ASCD Arias Series, 2015)

Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning (with John Larmer and John Mergendoller; ASCD/Buck Institute for Education, 2015)

Implementing Project-Based Learning (Solution Tree, 2015)

The Power of a Plant: A Teacher's Odyssey to Grow Healthy Minds (with Stephen Ritz; Rodale, 2017)


A New Book

Suzi’s latest book is All Together Now: How to Engage Your Stakeholders in Reimagining School (Corwin, 2017). It speaks powerfully to educators who understand that our schools are in need of transformation for 21st century learning, and gives them strategies, tools, and examples to help make it happen at the local level.

In the foreword, Ken Kay of EdLeader21 (who heads BIE’s board of directors) lays out the need for this book: “Federal and state policy makers have been wracked by steep ideological divisions, confused by differing visions of the purpose of education, and obsessed with punitive accountability measures and outdated standards. It now falls on local education leaders and their stakeholders to lead our nation’s schools beyond our country’s politicized and systematic intransigence.”

The book has four parts. In part one, “The Why,” Suzie recaps recent global efforts to transform education. It’s a familiar list that includes PBL, blended learning, design thinking, maker education, the 4Cs, deeper learning, etc. etc. but acknowledges the slowness of all these to make enough of a shift in mainstream education. Next come stories of hope, where educators have initiated conversations in their communities about the need for change: in Pittsburg PA, Iowa, and Dallas TX. I like the list of “conversation catalysts”: film screenings (notably of Most Likely to Succeed), book studies (with recommendations), shadowing a student, social media conversations, and community events.

Effective Strategies
In part two, “The How,” Suzie discusses how school leaders can manage a change effort, beginning with an inclusive process to create a new vision for school. The next several chapters focus on engaging particular groups of stakeholders: teachers, students, families, and other members of local communities. Here’s a sampling of the effective strategies readers of this book will find:

  • Provide teachers with long-term, collaborative, job-embedded professional development.
  • Amplify student voice by engaging them in school decision-making, including them in professional development, and using more student-centered classroom practices, including student-led assessment.
  • Host a family engagement design challenge day, and if participants speak different languages, ask them to converse in their own languages groups while educators “listen in” with translators on headphones.
  • Think of the “community as curriculum” by partnering with local organizations and government to focus students (and their PBL projects) on tackling local issues and solving problems.

In part three, the book moves into “The What-Ifs”—what to do to maintain momentum in a change initiative when pushback or detours arise. Here Suzie emphasizes the need for a clear process that establishes a series of agreed-upon steps, tracks progress toward milestones, and includes frequent communication with stakeholders. I especially like the section on anticipating “yeah, buts” and “what-ifs” such as, “We’ve tried this before; We don’t have time for one more thing; What if parents push back? It won’t work here.”

The Importance of Storytelling
In the final part four, “The Future Story,” Suzie explains how digital tools can be employed—by both educators and students—to tell compelling stories of classroom change. Two of the examples given are from friends and colleagues of BIE: Eric Williams, superintendent of Loudon County Public Schools, Virginia, and Aaron Brengard, principal of Katherine Smith Elementary School in San Jose, California. Eric regularly uses Twitter to remind stakeholders of the district’s progress in reaching their shared vision for change and report on great PBL projects he sees happening in schools. Aaron conducted a social media campaign called #75daysofdata, sharing examples of community problem solving, collaboration, and academic achievement that are resulting from the school’s shift to PBL.

As I hope you can tell, All Together Now is a pretty complete guide to changing schools at the grassroots level in a PBL-friendly direction. The examples and tools give educators a clear road map. And the stories are inspiring, too.

In addition to her writing, Suzie travels the world consulting, making presentations and keynotes, from India to Switzerland to South Korea, and to U.S. conferences such as ISTE and ASCD—and BIE’s PBL Institutes. Catch her if you can.

Next Book: for the Buck
Suzie's next book will be one for the Buck Institute, about our Gold Standard Project Based Teaching Practices. It’s now in the editing phase and will be published in summer 2018. I’m chipping in a few bits and pieces, but most of the clear examples and graceful prose are from Suzie. She tapped the wisdom and experience of the BIE National Faculty, too, so I’m grateful to them for sharing their stories. I’ll be presenting on the book’s topic at the ASCD conference in Boston in March 2018, and showing a video or two from a series that we’ve been producing on the teaching practices, which is also to be released in 2018. Unfortunately Suzie won’t be able to join me for that, since she’ll be, once again, sharing her expertise somewhere else in the world at that time—but we do plan on doing a session next summer at the ISTE conference.


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