Last year at the Learning Forward PA Annual Conference, we had the great pleasure of learning from A.J Juliani about Project Based Learning. I work for PBLWorks, an organization dedicated to ensuring that all kids, no matter their background or where they live, have access to high quality learning experiences through Project Based Learning. We just concluded our 8th Annual PBL World conference, an event that brings together over 1400 educators from 13 countries who are all looking to deepen their own learning around what PBL is and how to design, coach or lead the shift to PBL in their buildings. It is a week full of amazing keynote speakers (this year we had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Pedro Noguera and Ron Berger), deep thinking and maybe most of all, meaningful connections and relationship building with people from across the world who are all working hard to achieve one thing; equitable outcomes for students and who all believe in PBL as a driver for equity. As Dr. Noguera put it, “If you are doing PBL, you are doing equity work.”
This got me thinking about this upcoming Learning Forward PA’s annual Day of Learning and our theme on Social Emotional Learning and how really, PBL and SEL truly do go hand in hand. PBL, when done well, always speaks to the social and emotional learning needs of students because at the center of every well designed project is a deep understanding of our students; their passions, their needs, their curiosities. Teachers are so much to their students. So much more than just a person in the front of the room each day. To some students, our teachers represent safety. Our teachers represent care and kindness and love. Our teachers may be the adult that a kid sees most in their day to day. Our teachers are the constant in our students' lives and this is important for all kids for sure, but it is especially important for students who are part of a historically marginalized population of students, or those who have experienced trauma, or are housing or food insecure, or …..the list goes on and on.
When I see teachers I see them as designers of student learning experiences. As architects of their classrooms. As light. As hope. As hugs. As perhaps the one adult that could truly change the trajectory of a student’s life.
I am very excited that this year, we’ll be learning from the SEL experts at Character Strong to sharpen our saw and add tools to our educator toolkits on how to make sure that the culture we are creating in our schools and classrooms is one in which every student feels known, seen and valued. Students' basic needs must be met before they can learn deeply. We know this. Research has time and time again told us the story of how this is foundational to students being able to truly engage with their learning. Through the new learning we’ll engage in with our Character Strong friends, I’m excited to see where it takes my PBL practice! Hope to see you there!
--Written by Rhonda Hill (Learning Forward PA Board Member)
Director of District and School Leadership at the Bucks Institute for Education at PBLWorks