TCHERS' VOICE / Differentiation

Helping Parents Understand How They Can Support Their Child in PBL

Building community connections is an ongoing challenge that almost every school faces; albeit time, trust, capital, knowledge, resources, language — there are so many barriers to building a bridge between the school and the surrounding community. One way that we can chip away at these barriers in an effort to build an improved support system for students in project-based learning (PBL), is to help parents understand their role in PBL. I daresay there is a connection between the traditional view of a passive learner in school having their vessel filled by the all-knowing teacher, with a disconnected parent who defers to the all-knowing teacher in the learning journey of their child.

Shifting the role of the learner requires us to shift the role of the parent. But we can't assume that this shift will happen without some explicit education, empathy building, and partnering between the teacher and the parent. As in any relationship, communication is critical to this process, ongoing nurturing of the relationship is important, and articulating the role within the partnership is also important. This post aims to provide you with a framework for thinking about the role of the parent as a partner in PBL, by providing three elements for you to help parents tend to as they develop alongside their child in the PBL process.

The PBL parent-teacher relationship requires a relationship where both parties serve as:

1. A Co-Developer of Sudent Agency

PBL provides so many opportunities for students to develop a growth mindset and have ownership over their learning and this can happen both at school and at home. Any adult that works with smaller humans will tell you that sometimes “it’s just easier to do it myself.” While it may be tempting for parents to try to solve problems that arise for their child in project work, it’s critical that you remind them to step back and ask their child the tough questions; this will likely require you to model those questions for them.

  • What is your role in this project?
  • What is the timeline and how are you managing your work?
  • What  project resources have been provided for you and have you exhausted those?

For more sample questions you can read this post that outlines a conversation between a parent and child.

Project-Based Learning Parent Profile

2. A Model of a Lifelong Learner

As the role of the teacher shifts in PBL, so does the role of the parent. No longer is the all-knowing teacher “delivering” content TO students, rather now they're taking more of a co-pilot role, learning alongside students in many situations. It is helpful to explain to parents that they too can model inquiry and display lifelong learning at home. This can look like parents doing informal research with their child (and this could be as simple as asking Siri or Alexa a question that comes up between them while discussing the project or even an unrelated topic), attending a local community event together and discussing something new they noticed or learned, or sharing a related media clip that they ran across on social media or at work that day that they found intriguing. Help parents remember the role they can play in building student inquiry by being a model of a learner themselves.

3. A Co-Creator of Project Connections

It’s important to communicate to parents that they're a living project resource. High quality project-based learning is grounded in real-world topics, which provides a wonderful opportunity for parents to engage with what their child is learning. You can invite parents to use a “connections lens” to read through your project emails and encourage them to think of a connection they may have through their networks — maybe an interesting guest speaker, a donor, or location for students to visit as field work for their project comes to mind.

Similarly, perhaps they can come in and give students feedback on a project draft, be an audience for rehearsal, or even do a demonstration for the class. Check out my last post for more ideas and resources for this. It’s important to keep reminding parents that PBL provides them ongoing opportunities to be involved and these ties can only strengthen what their child is learning through project work at school.

I realize that this may feel like yet another thing/person to tend to when you're already feeling the pulls from a classroom filled with diverse needs; however, tending to this relationship can truly help you in the long run and most importantly, help the children you tend to every day by building a support network for their PBL journey that will take them into their future.

Jenny Pieratt, Ph.D. and Teacherpreneur, is President of CraftED Curriculum — a leading provider of Professional Development for PBL in Southern California. She was a founding staff member at High Tech High North County, a former School Development Coach at New Tech Network, and National Faculty at BIE. You can learn more about her work at and follow her work on Instagram: @Crafted_jennypieratt Twitter: @craftEDcm and Facebook: Crafting Deeper Learning.

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