It is not easy to start a PBL classroom, and if someone has told you that it is, you might consider not listening to that person again.
First, teachers have to unlearn all the old ways we were taught to be a “good” teacher, and the decades of experience we had as students. We have to being to teach to all students, pushing each to work and learn as deeply as they can go; not simply aim and talk toward the middle range of kids, hoping the slower will catch up, that the faster will be patient, and that the disengaged will stop being lazy. That’s simply not good enough in a PBL classroom.
Secondly, we have to forgive ourselves when we make mistakes. That’s no easy task for teachers when we’ve been told so long that mistakes = bad learning and bad teaching. After making a mistake, it’s terribly difficult to forgive ourselves, because our failures are irradiated under the white-hot spotlight of someone doing something different while surrounded by over a century of tradition. Of “teacher knows best.”
Lastly, there is another battle that is much more hard-won, often more personal and even bloody. That’s the battle with colleagues who feel that, by doing something different, you’re attacking their professional dispositions. You can add administrators as the cavalry in the battle, who may not understand that your classroom looks different, sounds different, is different than the other classrooms across the hallway. And rounding out the blood-soaked battlefield, a teacher also faces parents who are focused so much on grades, test scores, GPA, and college entrance exams, even for their 4th graders.
These colleagues, administrators, and parents aren’t yet believers of what PBL can do for their children and in the midst of change, when a teacher who is trying hard to fight her own dragons, reaches out for help to her children’s closest allies, she may find herself facing opponents instead. They don’t intend to be but can’t help themselves. One friendly face of a colleague, a supportive word from a parent, or a comforting shield from an administrator can make all the difference in the world for the battle-scarred warrior teacher.
The above research article from Peggy A. Ertmer and Krista D. Simon in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning at Purdue University talks plainly about the challenges ahead for those teachers who believe in the real-life skills-building, authentic engagement, and a deeper understanding of content that PBL brings to our children today.
Keep your chins up, you educators, you knowledge warriors marching through the PBL crusade that is filled with brambles and snares. Look sharp, but know you are doing the RIGHT thing for yourself and for your children.
Cross-posted at LifePracticePBL.org