Shifting Professional Learning: from NCLB to PBL

Dear administrators, curriculum directors, and other professional learning decision-makers, 

Here’s the deal:

CommonCore is here. It is going to require your teachers to do something different from what they’ve been doing for the past 12 years. Because we’re no longer in the era of No Child Left Behind, multiple-choice testing, and test-prep activities, that “different” will need to look a whole lot like, or actually be, Project Based Learning. You see, the Common Core State Standards are shifting the focus from memorize-repeat to actually demonstrating learning. Or learning by doing, which is Project Based Learning. Making this shift will not simply be a slight adjustment in how your teachers arrange their lesson plans or line up the seating in their classrooms. It requires a shift of practice, of belief, of core intent of how we will be doing education.

Learning by Doing

Learning by Doing (Photo credit: BrianCSmith)

I’m guessing you’ve worked really hard and have probably done a a pretty great job over the past 12 years of NCLB implementation. You  have been working hard to get your teachers to teach in a way that helped your kids and your school reach or exceed AYP goals. And quite honestly to your credit, according to scores, our nation’s kids have raised their base knowledge from the decades before. We have more kids reading. We have more kids able to do basic math facts. We all have worked very hard instituting that way of teaching, learning and implementing best how we were told it was supposed to work. We helped kids figure out how to navigate the pitfalls of multiple choice tests…of how to choose C when we’re in doubt of a correct response. And our teachers have spent the past 12 years internalizing that approach to education…that is, if we’ve done our jobs well…and if you still have a job, I’m guessing you did your job well.

Well here it is. CommonCore is upon us and is asking us to do something radically different. Those among us who have studied the CommonCore deeply can see the light on the horizon and we understand that it’s a very different way of doing business. That the CommonCore will require a shift in how we operate. And those of us who are truly astute have seen the shadows on wall and those shadows are spelling out P.B.L. : Project Based Learning. Learning by doing.

And as with all shifts, this is going to require some professional learning. Radically different professional learning. Because being a teacher with years of experience in the NCLB/AYP era isn’t automatically going to transfer to being expert PBL practitioners. It just isn’t. Arrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic however you want. That ship is still going down. With this NCLB to CommonCore shift, we’re going to have to do something different with professional learning strategy.

Don’t get me wrong.

I do understand that school budgets are tight. I do understand that there is a lot of information out there online about Project Based Learning. I know you’re trying to help your teachers shift, while still being pinched in an ever-increasingly shrinking budget. You’ve done this in the past. You’ve studied the books, created your presentations and have taken the strategies to your staff.

But this is different.

You need someone who’s been there, who’s done that. Your teachers need someone who can help with the practitioner’s level of PBL learning. To know what to do beyond the checklist. Because learning is not about a “step 1, 2, 3,” anymore. Your teachers need someone who’s been in a PBL environment to help bridge your teachers across the divide of “teaching” to “learning.” And yes, I’m well aware that there aren’t many of those educators out there. But your teachers need them and their practical expertise, because teachers teach in the way that that they are taught. They have to experience learning by doing.

You certainly can read about PBL and know about it. But kind of like learning to drive a car and actually driving a car, the written word and practical application most times just don’t jive. Remember learning how to drive a car with a manual transmission? Just reading about how to implement PBL isn’t going to cut it. It’s about learning by doing, right?

Because it’s not about sitting in a chair for a set number of hours any more for either the students or the teachers. Classroom practice has to shift. Professional learning has to shift. Learning about doing does not equal learning by doing. The money you invest in your teachers’ learning can be spent with very good curriculum presentations with little to no experience from a practitioner’s point of view, or you can invest a little more working with someone who can answer your staff’s tough questions because they’ve been there and faced those exact problems before. Which will get your teachers there more successfully? Which is the wiser investment of the district’s precious small budget?

So what are you doing? How are you supporting your teachers in this shift? Are you asking them to learn about learning? Or are they actually learning?

Are you looking for someone who can help you out at that practitioner level? I might know someone.

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Written by GingerLewman

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