The Five Roles of the PBL Teacher: Rethinking the Guide on the Side | Thom Markham | 6 Min Read

July 7, 2021 & May 24, 2023

The idea that a teacher today is a ‘guide on the side’ is now hardwired into nearly every conversation about the future of teaching and learning. Teachers don’t deliver information any longer; they act as co-constructivists and facilitators, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with students.

This is particularly true for PBL teachers, whose job description includes coaching and facilitation. But it’s time to raise objections to this narrative. First, it’s disingenuous. PBL teachers often stand at the front of the room. They teach, using traditional tools and tapping their repository of information to share with students. They lecture. Yes, even sometimes too long. But students may need the information to proceed, and it’s hard to know how much or when.

But my objection is aimed more at education’s habit of settling for shiny new terms when facts demand a deeper commitment to truth-telling. And here’s a fact: The job of a PBL teacher is challenging because teaching is a complex profession. It’s time to capture and recognize that fact.

It’s also time to build out the particular skills required for success as a PBL teacher. The job of designing projects, personalizing instruction, teaching and assessing…

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Thom Markham

Thom Markham is an educator, regenerative psychologist, and global entrepreneur. Thom pioneered the worldwide buildout of project-based learning and human development programs for youth and is the author of Redefining Smart: Awakening Students’ Power to Reimagine Their World. Currently, his work is focused on turning schools green through deep sustainability. He shares his ideas in Rx for the Planet, with Dr. Thom, a newsletter designed to prod human thinking beyond convention and assumption.