HOW and WHY we’re incorporating the Learner-Perspective into professional development

Over a year ago, I met Charity Allen (President of PBL Consulting) for lunch. During this lunch conversation, she asked me tons of questions about Project Based Learning and Deeper Learning, my life trajectory, my family, and everything in between. After I had passionately talked (there may have been tears) about how impactful my experience at a PBL school had been for me and my family, Charity pitched what she called an “embryonic and possibly audacious idea.”

She told me about how she had been helping schools and teachers rethink traditional methods of instruction and transition into more innovative and engaging ways to prepare kids to be successful adults, but that in the work she was doing, there was something missing. She said, “I think that something is you and students like you.”

This is how I became PBLC’s first Learner Perspective Coach (LPC). Charity brought me, and later other LPC’s, on to join a team of educators with extensive experience facilitating Deeper Learning experiences with and for their students. The way this works out is frequently, when PBLC is contracted to come in and work with a district or a school, an LPC is paired with one of these experienced teachers and acts as a co-facilitator. We field questions, collaborate with teachers on engaging project ideas, and frame learning experiences and projects from the learner perspective.

Why does this matter? Why do we need students in professional development sessions, even when they aren’t credentialed, and many of them don’t have plans to become educators?

In short, we do it in order to develop engaging project-based experiences, we need students who have experienced rich learning in these environments to collaborate and provide feedback from their perspectives!

My own story: I couldn’t have answered this question without seven years as an engaged, challenged, high-achieving student in a Deeper Learning environment. Before those seven years, school was failing me, and I was failing it right back. I didn’t care about what I was learning, and frankly, I was beyond bored. So, the A’s and B’s I could have been getting were C’s and D’s because I was too busy misbehaving in my boredom to care about doing school work. That said, during the seven years I was lucky enough to be in an engaging and innovative educational environment, I was able to push myself, to explore my passions, and to have a say in what I was learning and how I was learning it. I had teachers who were willing to be brave and share ownership of the classroom with us, and who encouraged and pushed us to get outside of the boxes traditional education had put us in. Now, I get to work with teachers who are courageous enough to push the envelope of what is possible with students in (and out!) of their classrooms.

FOUR Ways Learner Perspective Coach (LPCs) Are Making A Difference

  1. LPCs are great brainstorming partners.

LPC’s frequently brainstorm with teachers to help them self-edit and curate their ideas. One of my favorite teacher interactions I’ve had as an LPC was with a teacher in a Southern California school who was struggling to marry context and content. She was teaching high risk students, most of whom were marginalized in various ways. Her draft project context was that she wanted them to create support networks for each other to make the school a stronger community, but she wasn’t sure how she could meet her social studies standards within the project context. I was able to sit with her and help her brainstorm a research and history component with an engaging tangible outcome (performance task aligned to standards) that incorporated student voice & choice, as well as skills like making and supporting a claim, public speaking, evaluating historical and present day sources. We even came up with a community connection that allowed those students the space and freedom to create the support community they envisioned while connecting them to existing organizations in the community that were already doing work locally for various marginalized folks. This was one of my favorite interactions because I was used as a springboard, not the idea machine. It’s profoundly fulfilling to see a teacher become more passionate and driven about their project based on a revelation they had during a conversation with me, with another LPC, or PBLC facilitator.

2. LPCs provide guidance from the learner’ perspective.

Finally, Learner Perspective Coaches are vital to helping teachers design and develop engaging Project Based Experiences because the learner perspective gives them insight on their learners’ perspectives. As teacher-designers of those experiences, it’s almost impossible to create buy-in unless your students care about what they’re learning and the work they’re doing.

3. LPC’s have a wealth of knowledge on logistical and implementation questions and can share past successes and failures with projects

In my seven years as a learner in a Project Based Learning environment, I have completed 20+ projects! So, I’ve been around the block a few times with project logistics, patterns around project design/implementation strengths, challenges and more! Frequently, when a teacher uses me as a sounding board for a project idea, chances are I’ve done something like it or I’ve seen something like it after 7 years of immersion in PBL. Certainly, every teacher will learn from experience, but a few friendly nuggets of advice can go a long way to stronger early projects!

4. LPCs remind teachers of the potential their students have and the immense amount students are capable of.

John Hattie’s research shows that collective teacher efficacy has an extraordinary statistical effect size on student performance. LPCs are there to encourage teachers as we are living, breathing proof that taking the leap of faith into innovative education will produce competent, empathetic, self-sufficient and successful individuals who will go out and have deep, lasting impacts on the world for the better. We’re there because learner engagement is vital to actual, real, long lasting learning and living a purpose-driven life. We want to help them understand what their learners are capable of so that their beliefs can evolve….which, well, increases efficacy!

Get to know Jess and our other LPCs by clicking here!

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