7 Valuable Community Partners for Successful Project-Based Learning
Successful project-based learning has many foundational elements. It (1) addresses real-world problems or challenges, (2) takes the learners’ work public, (3) creates options for voice and choice, (4) implements critique and revision and (5) is authentic. In a tech-infused, globalized and automated world, there is one way to address all of these PBL elements. It’s by connecting with people. Partners can increase the quality and reach of any project. Here are seven types of valuable PBL partners:
Naturally, we need to begin with the most obvious and immediate people in any class or school. These are the learners’ peers. They can provide the first feedback to help learners revise and improve their work. In addition, older or more experienced learners can coach, advise and partner with younger learners. Learners can also serve various roles, taking greater responsibility for the strategic work in the classrooms. For example, a learner may be the media coordinator, social media coordinator or project coordinator for a classroom or project. In these ways, students can bring their expertise and experience forward for the greater good, while also enhancing their skills and portfolios.
2. Staff Peers
Projects are a great opportunity to involve site leaders, instructional coaches, other facilitators and classified staff. Think about inviting an administrator in for feedback, expertise and project management. This will help learners see their administrator as a partner in learning, while also giving administrators a chance to be deeply involved in the instruction. As we put together panels to hear presentations and/or critique learner work, think about how valuable the classified staff can be. In many cases, they already have close relationships with the learners. However, now the learners will see them differently and realize they too are professionals with lots to offer. Classified staff will get to understand the instruction and facilitators better, evoking more empathy and ideas of ways to support. Projects should be experienced as school-wide and community-based endeavors.
3. Local Leaders
All of our learners need to connect to community and mentors outside of school. Local leaders, such as city council members, county supervisors, mayor and school board, represent a good place to begin that important connection. Elected officials represent constituents including the learners, staff and community of a school. Therefore, educators should feel welcome to involve them in their students’ learning experience. They can bring expertise, resources, project ideas, mentoring and even serve on panels to evaluate learner work.
4. Business Professionals
Local professionals have so much to offer for work in the area of PBL. As with our elected officials, local professionals usually serve people from our school communities. As such, they will likely be interested in making meaningful connections with our learners and their families. That’s especially true if a class has a project related in some way to their business, industry or expertise. Business professionals may be able to offer expertise to be used throughout project work. They may be able to participate in offering feedback, critique, evaluation and assessment. Additionally, they might have projects or work that can give our learners professional experience. Or they may have challenges that could become driving questions for projects in our classrooms. Learners benefit from being exposed to general entrepreneurial skills, including how to make an effective pitch or write a business plan. Local business partners also represent potential employers for our learners in the future, and we can model that “every day is our résumé” to all our learners.
5. Nonprofit Partners
Virtually every community has local nonprofit organizations perfectly poised for our students to partner with in many ways. And if our local community doesn’t, we can connect with regional, national and even international nonprofit partners online. These nonprofit organizations can support our projects and learners in many ways. Because they are engaged and focused on addressing real-world needs, our learners can join their teams to enhance their project-based learning. Nonprofits often don’t have large budgets and will welcome students to contribute to the larger mission by assisting with public service announcements, videos, campaigns, event support and more.
6. Higher Education
Many communities are homes to higher education institutions, such as public universities, community colleges, technical schools or private colleges. These institutions employ faculty who are not only instructors but experts in their fields. They would fit naturally into the project-learning process in the capacities of advisors, experts, panel members or guest speakers. Many are also involved in research and addressing real-world problems. Therefore, they may be able to inspire projects and introduce challenges for our students to solve as well.
This final partner possibility is unique and powerful. These are partners who agree to have students work on projects that benefit the client in some way. Maybe a local businessperson could use help in producing ads, marketing pieces, updated products, new services or customer survey data. Maybe a volunteer group in the community could use tech support, social media content creation, videos, graphics, PSAs or campaigns. Client partners create the authentic opportunity for our students to produce work that serves and benefits others.
In an era where we often think of resources in the form of technology, equipment or available funding, we need to demonstrate to our learners that the most valuable resource we will always have is one another.