Holland Elementary is a small K-6 school located in the heart of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The five classroom teachers here serve forty-two students, so they get to know their kids well. After visiting the King Middle in Maine to see project based teaching practices and project-based learning in action, the Holland teachers began to implement the model in their school.  

Project-based learning (PBL) allows students to work collaboratively in teams or independently to answer abstract questions and solve problems or design challenges that are authentic. An authentic unit is relevant to students’ lives, is realistic, or involves real-world tasks and processes. It meets a real need in the world beyond the classroom, or the products students create are used by real people. Inquiry is central in PBL classrooms. Project-based teaching involves carefully planned scaffolding (structure and modeling to help all students make progress towards the goal), coaching and assessment. Rather than content driving the curriculum, a project-based learning model is driven by student interest.

Principal Kelli Dean, a UVEI Principal Intern Program alumni, shared her thoughts on why the North Country Supervisory Union, especially Holland Elementary, has taken on PBL as an approach to teaching and learning.

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My job has allowed me the time and space for reflection, the opportunity to see lots of instruction, and to learn a lot about teaching. Among the many aspects of my own practice I’ve rethought, participation strategies are my a-ha! breakthrough.

It’s not easy to rethink existing teaching practices, let alone try or invent new ones. According to Edwin Land, an American scientist, inventor and co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation, innovation happens when there’s a “sudden cessation of stupidity.” That’s a difficult concept to accept. Who wants to believe that one’s thinking was ever stupid?  

But, if I’m honestly reflecting, I’m afraid that I utilized only a few participation strategies in my own instruction-- and, boy, does that seem stupid now!

There’s an amazing difference between the classroom in which a few students are wearing out rotator cuffs by waving hands in the air while the rest of the room sits silently, and a classroom where every student is engaged. In fact, according to a 2014 Grant Wiggins blog post, students are sitting passively and rarely speaking during most of their day.

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As a UVEI principal intern, Lenny Badeau had been teaching Humanities at the Milton Middle School (in Milton, VT) four years.  During his internship, he dedicated himself to breaking down the barriers that prevent teachers from learning from one another, using the Learning Walks protocol to stimulate an open culture and create collegial engagement in his school.  Now Lenny is a new principal.  This interview between Lenny and Nan Parsons, UVEI’s Associate Director for School Leadership, took place on September 15, 2016, just after his first day of school:

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Learning and growing as a leader, and having the chance to make positive impacts on the lives of my students, faculty and community.

What are you or have you been carrying into this role from your work at UVEI?

The three most important things I learned at UVEI are:  relationships, relationships, relationships

Building trust with the faculty, staff and the community is an uppermost priority.  I also want to work with everyone in the building on practices and solutions to common problems and identify potential leaders and innovators.

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