08/28/2012 11:35 am ET Updated Oct 28, 2012

Back to the Classroom -- Part Two: Teachers 'Wear' Their Student Hats

In June I posted "Taking a Classroom Leap of Faith: Teacher Embraces New Roles." Writing about the notion that summer "vacation" for teachers is often a time they immerse themselves in new approaches to teaching and learning, I spotlighted Jennifer Isbell, a teacher from Central Coast New Tech High, who was using her summer to collaborate as she prepared to be a founding teacher at this new public high school, which opened its doors last week.

Blog comments focused on Project-Based Learning (PBL). Today's blog is to explore new approaches to teaching by recounting Jennifer's summer experiences at the New Tech Network New School Training (NST). When Jennifer was asked to reflect on this intense week of training, her first response was that New Tech staff "practiced what they preached." She talked about participating in countless other trainings and "wished" that the New Tech training -- which focused on pillars necessary to support systemic change -- had come first. "Learning how to build school culture and how to implement a successful PBL project in the classroom is critical," she explained.

As Jennifer discovered, a key design principle is to create "student-centered" schools that focus on student-driven, deeper learning. Jennifer is excited to join with her colleagues to build a learning environment dedicated to meeting student needs, developing self-aware learners and preparing students to graduate with knowledge and skills necessary for college and career.

Jennifer said, "It's one thing to theoretically talk about PBL, but it's another thing to experience it." As Jennifer discovered at NST, with student-centered learning, the teacher is a learning agent -- or facilitator -- where students are active, responsible participants in the learning process.

From Jennifer's vantage point, the conference allowed teachers to experience learning through a PBL lens. "I wore my student hat during this week," explained Jennifer. "I participated as if I was one of the students."

What stood out most to Jennifer is the contrast between a PBL-based conference and a conventional one. "I've participated in other conferences where the lecturer talked and we took notes," she said. "At other conferences, attendees had their heads buried in their laptops." At NST, attendees were "Present" and accounted for, she explained. "I was completely immersed in the project, and learned how to open and run a successful New Tech school."

This challenge -- to provide tools and adult learning experiences that allow us to change the DNA of a school -- gets at the heart of what it will take to re-imagine teaching and learning. Oh, and one more thing, there is nothing that matches the energy of thousands of teachers and administrators aligned on the "why" change education. It's our honor to help facilitate the "what" and "how." Our thanks to Simon Sinek for the metaphor!