Building Projects #1: What do you stand for?

I’ve encountered many different opinions about where to start in project based learning curriculum and classroom design. Many times, the advice is to start with the standards and/or learning objectives (which yes are very important and we’ll get to those!),  student goals/interests (these are so important too…I assure you these are essential as well!), or current events (which are also up there in the get to these soon!). I’d like to say that the best place to start is one of these three… but that’s not where I start so I’m not going to urge you to do that.

I start with my own values. I’m not suggesting that we start with our own interests – so I’m not suggesting that I think “I love running, so I should design a project about running”. We shouldn’t design a project that is supposed to pull us and our students through for weeks off of a teacher’s interest. I’m talking about core values – the big ones. Values are bigger than interests and bigger than beliefs.

High quality teachers make a profound difference for high quality student outcomes. Teachers matter, and how teachers teach matters. An engaged and motivated teacher is more willing to engage in continued professional learning (see page 19, “General Trends” for more information on teacher motivation to engage in PD) as they progress through their career, as it appeals to their sense of intrinsic rewards, and enables teachers to embed their existing belief system into their teaching practice in a positive way. A motivated, engaged teacher is (or becomes, with the experience and education they are motivated to pursue) a high quality teacher.

I do want to note that a motivated, engaged teacher can become the opposite if they feel they aren’t able to succeed  – that is teacher self-efficacy matters too. Teachers who are learning new methodology (such as PBL), working with a shift in student population, or are new to the profession need special support and encouraging guidance from administrators and peers.  Professional mentors matter. That’s another blog post.

An exercise to try is to write down 10 values that are most important to you (or circling from a list like this one). Then cross off 4. Then 3 more, and you’re left with your top 3. It’s also a great exercise to do with students, and can be a team builder when building community in your classroom. To really get into it, listen to Most Nights (above) before this exercise.

I personally almost always start from one of the following values:

  • Social Justice
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Wellness

Core values aren’t subject specific. They are simple and meaningful to you as an important human being on Earth. Revisiting my own core values each time I design, revise or launch a project provides a direct link between my core values and the effectiveness of my teaching, and that’s motivating.

What do you stand for?

C. (2005, November 1). Teacher quality and student achievement: Research review. (This document was prepared by Policy Studies Associates (PSA). PSA, based in Washington, D.C, is a research and evaluation consulting firm specializing in education and youth development. Its clients include federal, state, and local government agencies, foundations, and other organizations.)

Schieb, L. J., & Karabenick, S. A. (2011). Teacher Motivation and Professional Development: A Guide to Resources. Math and Science Partnership – Motivation Assessment Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.