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by Megan Parry
Curriculum and Program Manager

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Topic tags: Gold Standard


March 16, 2016
Making the shift to PBL in your district? Bring friends!

by Megan Parry
Curriculum and Program Manager


I’ve moved a lot.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve lived and worked in seven states and two countries. I long for the days when I could move everything I owned in my car. Ever since those days, I’ve employed one key strategy when moving: bring friends. I make sure I’ve got a variety of people who can help with the range of necessary tasks – people who can:
● do the heavy lifting
● figure out how to arrange the dishes in my new kitchen
● decide where the artwork should go on the walls
● go get the coffee and breakfast tacos (when in the southwest)

In any situation where you’re looking to make a big move, bringing friends always makes the work better. This is true of Project Based Learning implementation too.

Making the “move” to systemic implementation of PBL
BIE’s Systemic Partnership Coaches help school districts bring together a team of friends – typically called the PBL Steering Committee – that supports the move to PBL by:
● building buy-in across the district
● modeling shared leadership practices
● sharing the workload by handling specialized tasks

Most important, the Steering Committee ensures multiple voices and perspectives are represented to help do the heavy lifting and the detail work that is required to transform teaching and learning.

Here are a few examples of key roles and actions of the PBL Steering Committee from some of our district partners.

Monitor implementation: Bassett USD
In their most recent steering committee meeting, Bassett Unified School District, in the greater Los Angeles area, took time to reflect on their progress so far, taking stock of their current work and determining priority action steps to support the continued “move” to high quality PBL implementation. With almost a year under their belt, the steering committee examined the implementation plan to determine what tasks were completed and what was successful about those tasks to derive lessons learned. For those tasks that were not complete, the committee considered why they weren’t, whether those tasks are still a priority, and if there additional supports needed to make them happen moving forward. Through the rest of this year and into the fall, this team now has their next steps mapped out. Bringing friends to this kind of work is key because including multiple voices and perspectives ensures that important steps are not missed – for example, to communicate with parents, or build relationships with local businesses so they can get involved in projects.

Create structures to support teacher and leader learning: Hutto ISD
Hutto Independent School District, in the greater Austin, TX area, is in the process of moving one of their priority tasks forward: developing a project library for teachers to share projects across the district. This is a big task requiring lots of thinking to develop a plan and implement it. Through several meetings and rounds of discussions, the steering committee determined the purpose and vision for the library. They considered the question, Is the goal to have a bank of ideas for other teachers to use in their project planning process, or to identify “Gold Standard” projects as exemplars? From here they will determine the process for collecting and vetting projects, and figure out the technology and logistics of how and where to store projects. And finally, the team will develop a plan to support teachers in using the project library to develop and implement high quality projects. Given the complex nature of this task, having a big group of friends with a variety of skills – from technology to messaging to curriculum development – makes the work go more smoothly.

Use data to plan communication with all stakeholders: El Rancho USD
El Rancho Unified School District, also in the greater LA area, is using data to determine the communication needs of its stakeholders. With a nearly all of their teachers trained in PBL, El Rancho is now working to ensure the practice takes root and becomes the way teaching and learning happens in the district. Making sure teachers, school leaders, the school board, parents, and the broader community know and understand the why, what and how of PBL is their goal. The steering committee developed a survey to assess where these stakeholders are in their understanding of PBL. After thoughtful analysis to make observations and draw inferences, the team will determine their communications strategy – exactly what to communicate to whom and how. Since different stakeholder groups need to hear different things about the PBL, having a diverse steering committee makes it easier to divide and conquer and give each other feedback along the way.

Making a big move yourself?
Here are three key things to consider when assembling a team of friends to help with a PBL implementation effort.

1. Think strategically about membership. It’s important to have a broad representation of stakeholders from across the district. We encourage BIE partners to consider including:

  • teachers from various grade levels, content areas, and years of experience
  • school site leaders: principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, counselors, etc.
  • district staff from curriculum, instruction, assessment, technology, etc.

2. Determine clear roles and responsibilities. People are usually willing to help if they know and understand what you want them to do. Make sure these friends have key, specific responsibilities in the move. In addition to the examples above, steering committees can be helpful by:

  • creating messaging tools and resources
  • identifying and developing capacity building strategies
  • celebrating success

3. Meet regularly and have an agenda. Meeting on an ongoing basis is important to keep the work of PBL implementation moving forward. Go too long between meetings and people will forget what they were working on, slowing momentum. Sharing agendas in advance and notes after meetings will help bridge the gap and keep people feeling connected to the work.


For information about BIE professional development services click here

Do you have examples of how a team of friends helps with PBL implementation? Questions or comments? Please enter them below.


  • This post could not have come at a better time. I’m on the verge of getting an elementary school themed as a PBL site in my district. The partners are being pulled together. The planning is just beginning. We’ve got roughly a 2 year time frame before opening. I will share this with the stakeholders. Thank you for sharing the wisdom and supporting the work.

    jmbentley on March 16, 2016 
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    • jmbently, where are you located? I’m in the process of leading the planning for a school also themed in PBL and personalized learning. The district’s plan is for the school to open in August 2017. I would love to share ideas.

      sclarkstl on March 17, 2016 
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