When introducing project-based learning to staff, parents, and students, I’ve witnessed nearly every school leader make the same mistake:

They don’t CONNECT it to anything the school already believes.

And so, rather than be seen as an approach to magnify what everyone already believes; it’s viewed as another thing that nobody has time for.

A threat.
Another initiative.
More work.

It’s met with stiff resistance from all potential stakeholders.

And fails before it was even given the chance to fly.

Next Fall, I want to ensure you don’t make the same mistake.

Don’t start with project-based learning.
Start with a graduate profile.

A graduate profile is the best way to build consensus around what all stakeholders- staff, students, teachers and parents already believe.

Here is the graduate profile we created for Futures Academy; the wall to wall project-based learning program that helped build passionate, globally minded citizens.

It was the starting point not just for introducing PBL; but for every slide deck, every proposed initiative, every funding request, and every new learning experience we co-designed.

It was our collective ‘North Star,’ keeping us focused on the kind of learners we were hoping to build.

Do you have a ‘North Star?’

I hope it’s not the watered- down mission statement written for your school 20 years ago.

It’s ok if you don’t have one yet.

Over this Summer holiday, while you have some time to recharge and reflect, I challenge you to create one.

Start by gathering some colleagues or other stakeholders from your school.

Grab a huge piece of chart paper, and place the picture of a graduate in the center. Draw three dividing lines, or three large quadrants surrounding the graduate and write these three questions (one per quadrant):

  1. How do our graduates think/act?
  2. What are they able to do?
  3. What do they know?

Distribute post-it notes to your team of stakeholders, set the clock for 10 minutes, and begin brainstorming answers.

After completing the brainstorm, ask each participant to read their post-its aloud and place them in the respective quadrants. Group similar post-its together in categories, and draft a statement that reflects it.

ie. Graduates will know how to identify problems in their communities, and collect qualitative and quantitative data to help solve them.

The last step is to create a simple and succinct visual that illustrates your core ideas. Need inspiration? Here is a page full of them.

NOW you will be ready to introduce project-based learning. And as you introduce its core tenets, reference the aspirational graduate profile you just created. 😉

Chances are, PBL will land a lot better.

P.S. If I still have attention, I am seeking one more school to add to the list of schools I am serving next year. I can help your school build a succinct graduate profile; design learning experiences that allow for it; and transform isolated silos of passive learning, into trans-disciplinary wonder-spaces of active engagement.

Just hit ‘reply’ to start the conversation.