15 Common PBL Mistakes | mistake #10: ignore your community

22 12 2014

I have the best job in the world. On a regular basis, I’m given the extraordinary fortune to talk with teachers who are embarking on a PBL journey with their students. To dig into the smaller, everyday details of how to make this type of learning environment work. To answer the tough questions about sustainability, rigor, behavior management and then take the questioner further…that’s like chocolate to me! I can’t get enough.

Over the years of starting my own PBL school and learning in a baptismal fire, I’ve been able to find a way to talk with new or reluctant teachers about their concerns. Additionally, there are things that excited, energetic teachers might want to consider as they take their first steps into the PBL fire as well.

In the next month or so, I’ll be publishing a regular series to include 15 common mistakes that educators make and some solutions they might consider. Here’s the next one in the series:

Mistake #10:
Fail to connect with the community, sharing why we’re doing this.

Problem: Our wider community has been watching our schools recently and have quite a bit to say about what we are or aren’t doing for their kids. Sometimes school leaders err on the side of keeping the peace by not communicating all changes, especially if we’re not 100% confident in the process. And as we’ve discussed already, PBL isn’t a simple strategy to just apply when needed. Eventually, our children are motivated and engaged in learning beyond what traditional classes have ever done. But in the process of unlearning old behaviors and relearning new realities, some families see that teachers aren’t teaching (at least how they’re used to seeing worksheets and lecture) and students, who may have never struggled before, are now struggling with some aspects of their learning.

Solution: We must talk early and often with families and the wider community about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Take families on tours (virtual or otherwise) to other schools that are implementing PBL. Help them realize that the world is different and the futures for their children are unlike anything that previous schooling systems have ever had to prepare students for. Be honest that it’s a significantly different approach to learning and things may be in flux for a while and we’d appreciate their gentle and honest feedback because their children, our students, deserve the best we can offer. These conversations will need to occur several times before school starts, then again several times throughout the year. And we truly need to listen and respond to the hearts of parents in our quest, regardless of the sharpness of their words.

Want to learn more about Project/Problem Based Learning and how to support it?


In 2006 with 12 years of traditional classroom experience and 2 days of formal PBL training in her pocket, Ginger Lewman started a middle school, grades 5-8, that was a 1:1 laptop and Project Based Learning environment. Five years later, the middle school had doubled in population twice and had expanded to include PBL in grades K-8. They were also in the process of opening a PBL high school the next fall. Ginger now works with school leaders in helping them learn how to support the PBL shift, and inspires their teachers to take the leap. Meanwhile, she also continues to co-teach with K-12 teachers in the training process, keeping her own teaching chops sharp and ready.  

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