by Rhonda Hill
Director of District and School Leadership
The beauty of systemic partnerships between BIE and school systems is that at some point, they end. The sad thing about systemic partnerships between BIE and school systems is that at some point, they end. This is the boat I am in with the Texarkana Arkansas School District right now.
TASD and BIE have been partnered for two years, engaged in the strategic implementation of PBL through a federal Magnet Schools Grant. On June 30th, we had our last call and said our thank yous and good-byes. The overarching goal for this partnership was for PBL to provide a framework to bring rigor, relevance, authenticity and joy back to teaching and learning in TASD. As the PBL Leadership Team, three district level leaders, and I tied a bow on our work, we reflected one last time on our journey together. Here are some of my final thoughts and what TASD surely has to celebrate.
Building District Capacity to Lead
TASD created a PBL Steering Committee, their “Pilot Committee” who, for two years, met monthly. This committee is a vertical slice of the district, with teacher, principal, coach, and central office representation. It offers guidance to implementation problems of practice, advises the PBL Lead Team on how to leverage successes, helps keep the PBL Lead team accountable to the implementation timeline, and serves as messengers across the district and community on PBL success within the district. This team will continue to meet quarterly now that TASD will be steering their own implementation.
Texarkana developed two Workshop Facilitators through the BIE Workshop Facilitator Program, an apprenticeship focused on developing the capacity of district talent to deliver the PBL 101 Workshop for two years post the BIE partnership. These two worked side-by-side with BIE National Faculty and me to deepen their understanding of Gold Standard PBL.
In addition to being able to now facilitate their own PBL 101 Workshops, TASD also developed the capacity of 11 PBL coaches through the BIE online coaching course. This group is a combination of teachers, magnet coordinators, and central office staff who are poised to sustain the support of teachers as they continue on their own PBL journeys. Because these people perform varied roles as their “regular” jobs, the Pilot Committee recognized that there had to be some distinctions between the responsibilities that each of these coaches could fill, based on bandwidth and their ability to have out-of-classroom/building time. Based on that advice, take a look at how TASD outlined these roles of their district coaches.
Messaging and Communication
Even though they are a small district, TASD recognized the need, pretty early on, to get in front of the messaging that would be needed to help people understand PBL – what it is, what it isn’t, and really communicate that it was the way TASD wanted to do the business of teaching and learning. One of the first things we did together was facilitate learning that would enable campus leaders to know what PBL is. Then each leader created the vision for PBL that would guide implementation, and developed his or her campus’s “why” for PBL. And, because the leaders of this grant were so invested in this work (mad props to Matt Coleman and Jennifer Richert), Matt did one as well. Listen to his “Why PBL” for Texarkana here. This “why PBL” and the work that these PBL Leaders engaged in over the course of the two years guided the implementation of PBL across the district.
The PBL Lead Team also really wanted to do something that would make PBL feel like a part of the district culture. As they began to develop their own tools, activities, meeting agendas, and protocols to support deepening teacher practice, they decided that a TASD PBL logo would help to brand the materials – and what they created is shown at the top of this post. So now, teachers, students, parents, and leaders are seeing this logo everywhere!
Working out Loud
Cris Waldfogel and Sarah Shannon, facilitators of BIE’s PBL leadership work, continually stress the importance of deprivatized practice. This means learning from and growing with each other, being willing to be vulnerable to the feedback of your peers, and opening classroom and school doors to promote a culture of “we’re all in this together.”
In the spirit of that, in March 2016, after a year and a half of working to create the conditions that support PBL and build the capacity of teachers to design and implement PBL, we engaged in campus to campus learning walks. In preparation for the learning walks, each campus Lead Team had to identify an area of focus that would guide the “walkers” observations and subsequent feedback. Some of the shared focus questions were:
Once the focus questions were shared, teams were split up into different groups so that once they regrouped to reflect on the day, they had seen each PBL campus. The subsequent dialogue was really rich. Teacher Meredith Smith’s reflection captured the value of deprivatized practice: “It felt awesome to be a part of this process. Some days this feels really hard. But our kids deserve this. Today showed me that we are all working really hard and that we’re on the right track.”
In May, TASD Lead Teams culminated the Lead Series with a Learning Fair where each campus shared the story of their PBL journey, complete with the successes and challenges from their two years of work. They took the time to celebrate with each other and met in teams to talk about trends in need and help each other solve problems of practice associated with implementation. For example, they wanted to see more evidence of PBL as a part of daily instructional culture and to continue to reinforce that PBL isn’t one more thing but the thing. Through this process and dialogue, they demonstrated their commitment to leading PBL and their knowledge that they can learn from and rely on each other along the way.
So, as you can see, TASD has a lot to feel proud of. Two years ago, we were brand new to each other and they were trying to figure this PBL thing out. Now, they are fully poised to be able to carry their own PBL torch. That’s not to say that our paths won’t continue to cross as we dip back in and out of supporting their leaders and teachers down the road and the district continues to find new ways to ensure PBL success, but in the meantime, go get ‘em Hogs! (And thank you for letting me be a part of the great work along the way!)
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