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“Why are some teachers willing to change?

October 1, 2010

Bruce Bonney was so intrigued by Bob Lenz’ article on Project-Based Learning that he posted a comment on his blog. You can read it there or I have posted it below.

Why are some teachers willing to change?

I concur fully with the comments of Rick Glass. My experience both in the classroom and as a consultant parallels his. Having observed scores of classrooms and worked with hundreds of teachers on three continents over the years, I’ve come to the following conclusion:
Research and convincing data seem to have very little to do with an individual teacher’s willingness to voluntarily change their classroom practice.

Following are some factors I do think influence a teacher’s willingness to try PBL:

1) Personal confidence. In my experience, teachers who are comfortable with themselves as an adult seem more willing to take the risk of doing things differently. At peace with themselves, they don’t seem to need the constant approval of their students or colleagues quite as much as others. They accept the fact that they will not always be “right.” They seem more emotionally able to handle the miscues that always come with new learning. They understand that even though they are older, the “learning curve” applies to them just like it does to their students.

2) Professional repertoire. Teachers who have tried many different strategies in their classroom develop a repertoire that allows them to go to a Plan B or C if Plan A doesn’t seem to be working. PBL can be messy and the classroom environment seemingly chaotic. Teachers with repertoire – including a mastery of their content area – can afford to “go with the flow” of student interest and enthusiasm because they know they have the means to harness student energy without squashing it. They know how to “herd the chickens” and ultimately direct student energy toward the most important/essential outcomes.

3) Temperament. Some folks have the DNA of a salmon in them. My mother called it “spunk”! They enjoy the challenge and adventure of doing something different, new, & unpredictable. Some of the most gifted PBL teachers I have encountered who otherwise appear totally calm, collected, & cerebral have quietly admitted to me that they feel a “rush” when their kids succeed using PBL. Though exhausting at times, it is exhilarating to swim – even struggle – against the current of tradition and show that a different approach works.

4) A benign teaching environment. It is asking a lot in some schools to expect the system to openly support and encourage PBL. The culture of the school does not permit it. However, many individual PBL teachers do very well so long as the system does not actively seek to thwart their efforts. It is wonderful to work and grow in a supportive & collaborative professional learning community – no question. But that kind of environment is not absolutely essential for PBL to blossom. A teacher determined to implement PBL strategies can usually find a way to do so as long as they are given the space to try.

All of the forgoing comments are based on my personal observations and reflection over 40 years. I make no claim that I can “prove” any of these on the basis of research – Just some insights to share.

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