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7 tips for developing PBL leaders

Leading project-based teams starts with owning your development. Here’s where to begin.

3 min read


7 tips for developing PBL leaders


There are several roles, skills, and mindsets needed for leadership in project-based environment. In order to help others pursue deeper learning, embrace ever-changing technology, and work for the common good, leaders need to assume several roles: vision builders, design thinkers, change managers, smart innovators, instructional leaders, advocates, and community catalysts, to name a few.

In order to develop the skills required for such roles, leaders ought to take the initiative to develop their own learning. Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Visit good schools. Visiting schools helps to build context, increase exposure, and open up options.
  2. Gain work exposure. Seeking out a variety of organizations in the public and private sectors—along with serving in job shadows and internships—offers opportunities for leaders to connect with a community, build a network, and engage in work-based projects.
  3. Seek challenging assignments and projects. Spearheading projects may be one of the best ways for leaders to prepare for a project-based world. Possibilities are endless; examples include facilitating an improvement-planning process or leading an innovation pilot.
  4. Practice community-building. Leading or participating in community-building processes is a great training ground for all leaders as they seek to engage multiple stakeholders to forge agreements and partnerships.
  5. Keep good company. Leaders are wise to seek out mentorships, attend conferences, and reach out to other leaders.
  6. Gain certification. Seeking certification and degrees in programs that value project-based learning and maximize “real-world learning” is important to ensure relevant learning.
  7. Show what you know. Documenting professional experiences and credentials in a variety of ways is really important. Leaders need a public profile (LinkedIn), a resume, and a personal learning plan. Credentialing categories include team leadership, school leadership, and system leadership.

Most importantly, individuals who take ownership of and pursue their own development are those who will be best equipped for a project-based world.

Tom Vander Ark is author of Getting SmartSmart Cities, and Smart Parents. He is CEO of Getting Smart, a learning design firm, and a partner at Learn Capital, an education venture fund. Tom advocates for innovations that customize and motivate learning and extend access. Previously he served as the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Tom served as a public-school superintendent in Washington State and has extensive private-sector experience. Tom is Board Chair of Charter Board Partners, Director for 4.0 Schools, Bloomboard, Digital Learning Institute, eduInnovation, and Imagination Foundation, and serves on several other non-profit boards. Follow him on Twitter at @tvanderark.

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