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Success and the Eye of the Beholder

As the year comes to an end, I have begun meeting with educators from across the country who have gone through their first year trying to create a PBL classroom. There are many success stories that are well worth sharing, but there are also educators confronting predictable problems and trying to get projects or new routines off the ground. The stories are exceptionally important to hear because many folks assume incorrectly that project-based learning is some sort of several silver bullet that just works the first time you try it

Sorry folks, but it is not. It is a process, and like any other process or any other learning, it takes time to get it right and even more time to perfect it. That’s not saying that you won’t have success the first time you try doing project-based learning in your classroom you will, at least if you take the time to reflect properly. But there are also challenges that you’re going to into that may, your mind at least, overshadow your perceived successes.

When I was working for the YMCA in upstate New York, we called this phenomenon “forgetting to process the positive” Counselors, like teachers, understand that there is a great deal at stake in terms of their job. They work with young people, they’re helping to form lives, and as a result failure is not an option to many of them. If something doesn’t work or they failed to deliver, it’s not just your life job you’ve screwed up, its someone’s life. And like counselors, most teachers put up with the less desirable parts of the job for the chance to, inspire, foster independence and help create curious people. But something we have to recognize is that project-based learning, like being a great counselor or learning anything else takes time to perfect.

So as you reflect on your year, and you absolutely should be reflecting on your year, use this outline from the School Reform Initiative to focus in on the things you succeeded at;

  1. What you choose to focus on becomes your reality. If you focus only on what didn’t work, nothing will work.

  2. Recognize that in all groups, societies, or organizations, more things work than don’t.

  3. It is easier to focus on things that didn’t work than things that did.

Here is a simple success analysis protocol you can use to reflect upon your project with a group;

  1. Identify a success you had and describe it to your group. Be sure you can answer, “what made me share this as opposed to another success I’ve had?”

  2. Invite your group to ask clarifying questions so they understand your story.

  3. Invite the group to ask you reflective questions. This shouldn’t be a back and forth conversation, instead it should be a chance for the audience to point out their own observations about your story.

  4. Presenter reflects one last time on any new realizations they have had thanks to the questions from the group.

  5. Protocol ends with an open-ended conversation between the presenter and the audience.

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