PBL System Planning at a District Level

In our PBL workshops, PBLWorks challenges teachers to build ONE great project. But what we really hope is that these individual teachers become part of a school system reshaped by site and district leaders to better enable successful implementation of this project and many more to come. How do we develop our systems so teachers feel ready and supported in implementing these projects?

Before we dive into a new initiative, we want to take a hard look to see all the things it will take to create alignment and support for this sort of initiative across classrooms and across schools.

We need to begin with a solid implementation plan that is tactical and grounded in action around PBL. What will make this plan unique is a focus on building internal capacity and long-term sustainability. We want to build slow to go fast in the long run. How can we build implementation plans that create conditions that ensure that after we make our investments in training, will we have built something that will last, perhaps even beyond the current leadership?

At PBLWorks we use a model we call the four D approach: Design, Develop, Deploy and Determine.

Design means we bring the central office management team together with school site and teacher leaders, so you have a blended team capable of creating the plan that will guide the systemic shift we want. We have to allow time for this – a three to five year timeline is needed to really get the system aligned in ways that support the type of instructional paradigm shift PBL represents.

We work with management teams to build a vision for PBL and well-articulated goals for the students, staff and community. Ideally, PBL is fitting in to a broader vision for 21st Century learning. Next, we work to figure out the implementation expectations – how many projects per year? Within one subject or across content areas? Having these expectations spelled out lowers teacher anxiety and gives tangible goals to leaders who have to monitor the implementation. We develop a professional learning timeline for the system that addresses the needs of central office, site leaders, coaches and teachers. We also look for ways that other parts of the District system can support the process. What are one or two actions finance, communications and human resources could take to help? We do not want this all to rest within curriculum and instruction.

Develop is all about providing opportunities to build internal leadership capacity. Districts often skip the development of the leadership capacity and go right to teacher professional development across their systems. We ask districts to first build up their leaders’ understanding of PBL since they are expected to monitor the initiative, provide feedback, and determine its impact on student achievement. Developing leadership capacity also means developing teacher leaders and some internal success models before we go district wide with the initiative. We have a district toolkit– a readiness survey to help figure out which schools will take the lead who could serve as our early adopter cohort and initial change agents. Early adopter principals and teachers can help create a demand for PBL in the system at large. We also have PBL school and district implementation rubrics, so we can evaluate our work as we become proficient in PBL.

The Deploy component is where we execute our plan for training and sustained support. There are several levels of support – the classroom, site and district, and there are things we can do at each of these levels to strengthen the implementation. Instructional coaching is a critical element that must be developed if we expect teachers to implement and learn the approach.

Our last D is Determine quality and effectiveness. We want to set some clear benchmarks for success, and stop to reflect on how well the work is unfolding. The PBL implementation plan can be taken through quick cycles of evaluation in order to determine whether or not the district is meeting their goals as they operationalize their action items. Through this ongoing D - determine- the flexible plan can be adjusted based on our learning and evidence from the classrooms and schools that have been trained.

We have been following this model with leaders in Chesterfield County, Virginia, and have developed a tactical implementation plan that lays out how, over the next seven years, we will develop a strong tradition of in-depth high quality projects in their schools. The District’s plan culminates in the year 2020 with a student-led PBL conference. This sort of success is going to take time to build, but with solid plans, time to reflect, and sincere effort, we are on that road.



PBL System

This webinar introduces school system leaders to PBLWorks "4D" approach to implementing and sustaining a PBL initiative in their district. To strategically build capacity and create optimal conditions for PBL as an instructional reform across schools, districts design an implementation plan, develop leadership capacity, deploy training and sustained support, and determine quality and effectiveness. Leaders from Chesterfield County Public Schools share their experiences in using the approach to launch a large-scale PBL effort.