Light bulb moments. Mindshifts. Where time stands still and clarity settles in. It's an awareness that leads to deeper levels of learning and transformation. This is what author Peter Senge calls "Presencing" in his book "Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future." (great book) These are the moments I live for, because I know they lead to my own transformation. In this case, it produced a shift in my coaching mindset.
During 2014-15 we were a first year PBL school. Our goal starting in the second quarter was to implement one PBL project per quarter. So I lead the teacher team with a focus on designing projects. During second quarter we brainstormed, mapped, tuned, and implemented. Our first project products were a mess, epic failures actually. From what I saw it was obvious we needed more reflection and checkpoints. During third quarter we focused on using a Tuning Protocol with more frequency and also inserting more formative checkpoints for better products. Our team started to see growth and improvement, but we still weren't getting the products we wanted. Fourth quarter our team focused on using more "voice & choice" to increase motivation and several teachers started seeing success, but products were still mediocre and I was a bit frustrated.
In April I attended the Buck Institute for Education's PBL coaches workshop in Atlanta Georgia. It was on the first day that we discussed Gold Standard Project Based Teaching Practices and how they "expand on what it means to implement PBL well, beyond designing the projects." (Larmer, John BIE 2015) The moment I heard this mental brakes were applied and I had to ask myself "Wait, what did I miss? To do PBL well what's beyond project design? All year I had focused coaching project design and like I said projects were mediocre at best. So what was I missing? A fellow coach sitting next to me spoke next. She turned to me and said,
"The learning outcome is not in the product, it's in the process."
It was that moment I recognized that my focus as a coach was all wrong. I had put too much emphasis on student products and none on the learning process. I immediately went back to school and shared my reflections with Ms. Downey the Biology teacher. Our conversation just so happened to coincide with the end of her project, and just in time to capture her students reflections. She prompted her students to reflect on the process and then we used the reflections to observe the learning that took place. We were pleasantly surprised by their comments.. The following were taken directly from their written reflections.
"I learned to actually ask for feedback during the project to kinda get some ideas on how to make it better."
"Next time we present I want to be more organized"
"I really like the creative freedom"
"I feel like I learned a lot of content during the creation/planning of the project. "
"I should have gone over my lines more for our skit because now that I am watching our video of our guidance counselor session, it looks like I am just reading from my skit most of the time."
"I learned a lot from this project, maybe not content wise, but for future presentations. I know now that I have to own what I do."
Looking at these with the teacher reiterated what I had learned. Learning is in the process not the product. It was a ginormous lesson and one worth working all year to learn. I am reminded too that even though the learning is in the process the product is still important and should be measured against a list of criteria. We just can't forget about what Suzie Boss calls the "messy middle" in her book "Real World Projects." It's messy for a reason, but it's the place,when PBL is done well that the real learning occurs.
Teacher, leader, curious observer, explorer of the world and everything in it, passionate about new experiences, and making connections with people.