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September 29, 2016
Meet BIE’s New Chief Program Officer: Brandon Wiley

by John Larmer
Editor in Chief

The Buck Institute for Education has been growing a lot recently, what with the upsurge in demand for PBL and our desire to help teachers and schools provide all students with access to it. We’re also nearing the end of a strategic planning process. As a result, we are adding staff at all levels, and to oversee the program side of our outfit, we’re very happy to announce the hiring of Dr. Brandon Wiley as our Chief Program Officer.

You can find a short bio about Brandon here on our staff page. Here are some highlights, and a few more stories from when I interviewed him recently.

Teaching and Leadership Background
Brandon began his career in education in Lake Shore Central Schools, a rural suburb of Buffalo, NY, teaching 3rd, 4th, and 6th grade. He “did projects” in his classroom, mainly the simulations and role-play–based lessons from Interact. Looking back, he was dissatisfied because he was not convinced these activities were rigorous enough and aligned to standards. They were fun and engaging, but the output was not at the level it could have been – he would liked to have had more confidence in using them, but at the time he “didn’t have the structures and mindset” that BIE’s model of PBL provides.

Moving on from the classroom, Brandon became a social studies staff developer, traveling around 18 districts for the Erie 1 BOCES in upstate New York. He was then hired as the Director of Staff Development and K-12 Social Studies for the West Seneca K-12 district near Buffalo, NY, later becoming Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. As an outgrowth of a district curriculum mapping initiative, Brandon became even more convinced that quality pedagogy at all grade levels meant that “we needed to bring PBL to all kids.”

Global Competence and Its Connection to PBL
Before coming to BIE, Brandon was the Executive Director of the Asia Society's International Studies Schools Network of public and charter schools, which emphasized global competence, mastery-based learning, and PBL. Here’s Brandon on the importance of global competency (as it is defined by Asia Society) and its connection to PBL.

“We have a great deal of evidence that shows that students' develop their global competence, most deeply and quickly when they can apply their learning through project-based experiences. The fusion of PBL and global competence is a natural and critical priority we need to help school actualize. Global competence isn't important for just some kids, it's critical for all kids. Global learning provides the context and authentic application of the learning. PBL allows us to utilize the world outside of the school to serve as the classroom.”

The Asia Society’s schools infused globally significant issues into the curriculum by making real-world connections in projects that asked students to take action. For example, in one school in Texas students did a project about the “many faces” of immigration. Through interviews and other investigation, students learned various community perspectives, including those of immigrants and law enforcement. They learned about public policy-making, and made recommendations to the city council about how to make their community more welcoming to immigrants.

His Role at BIE
Brandon says:
“BIE's vision that all students, no matter where they live or what their background, will have access to quality Project Based Learning to deepen their learning and achieve greater success in all aspects of their life, perfectly aligns with my personal and professional passions. This new role capitalizes on my various experiences as a teacher, leader, researcher, and consultant. I hope to build on my past experience building networks and partnerships to position BIE as the globally recognized leader in supporting teachers and leaders in the development and implementation of PBL. 

“In our effort to ensure students everywhere have access to quality PBL, we will be working hard to offer multiple entry points for teachers and leaders to learn about PBL, including new, flexible in-person learning opportunities, as well as more robust online and digital support. While these efforts will be primarily focused in the United States, we recognize that there's a growing demand for PBL worldwide and BIE hopes to position itself as the recognized global leader in providing these quality resources, services and thought related to PBL. My work will involve the evaluation and potential redesign of BIE's service offerings to reach even greater student outcomes through our work with districts, schools, and individual teachers. Another major priority for my role is to help build a stronger evidence/research base around the impact of quality PBL on student learning.”

Challenges Districts Face with PBL
Implementing PBL across a system is not easy, says Brandon. He sees three major challenges:

  • Lack of coherent vision for how PBL can help achieve student outcomes. Districts need to create a clear graduate profile of what success looks like, then make the case for how PBL is a means to that end – it’s not one more thing, but the main thing.
  • Teachers have not themselves learned with the PBL approach. They need to experience what it is like to be learners in that model. They also face the pressures of testing, which districts need to mitigate.
  • The critical role of leadership; school and district leaders need to understand what quality PBL is, and support teachers’ needs when designing projects by providing time and structures for collaboration.

Brandon looks forward to helping BIE addressing these issues with its school and district partners.

As a concluding thought in my interview with Brandon, he noted that “PBL helps teach students life skills” and paraphrased a quote that applies to PBL from someone we both respect, Bena Kallick: “It’s about a test of life, not a lifetime of tests.”


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