Obstacles and Solutions

Building a strong PBE program in your school and community takes time, persistence, and a dose of creative thinking. But before you say, “I can’t do it,” listen to the voice of experience! Veteran teachers have identified the most common obstacles to success and suggested ways to tackle each one.

Click each obstacle below to see some possible solutions.

Place-based education is a new idea and it lacks administrative support.


Build a foundation of knowledge with key administrators

  • Give administrators and school board members packets of information that include a white paper, PEER evaluations with quotes and facts that prove program success.
  • Invite experienced place-based practitioners to the school to meet with administrators.

Enlist parent support

  • Hold outdoor community events for parents and students.
  • Produce an exhibit about a PBE project to share with your community.
  • Offer many different ways for parents to become active participants.
  • Network with parent/teacher associations to find parent allies.
  • Build a presence on the school website, then ask parents to help write a quarterly e-newsletter.

Expand faculty and co-worker involvement

  • Host a project brainstorming party at your home for co-workers
  • Grow the team: consider the assets of the entire faculty to find the specific skill sets needed for your project.
  • Build involvement around specific projects one teacher at a time rather than trying to build broad support at a staff meeting where everyone wants to move on to their own agenda.
  • Ask for help early in the planning phase rather than only in the implementation phase. Planning advice and support is cheap, a relatively easy way to become involved, and it builds buy-in early.
  • Make liberal use of the bulletin boards.
  • Sell project relevancy: these are “cool” project opportunities that result in real community change, so “be there or be square.”
  • Ask participating faculty what you can do for them: reciprocity can lead to integrated curricula.

Provide faculty with opportunities for professional development specific to PBE

  • Call in the PD providers –PBE professionals are flexible and networked
  • Provide opportunities for peer to peer sharing
  • Develop a guest lecturer program – natural resource professionals trained to teach class for a block/period (instead of typical subs) so teacher can leave for PD

Build community support

  • Describe your project and approach in the town report: make an announcement about it and recognize involved citizens at town meeting.
  • Use local media to generate buzz about your project and to recognize community funders.
  • Send out press releases and notify local papers when there’s a community project involving students. In all media presentations, show how your project links school students to efforts to improve the social, economic and environmental health of the community.
  • Involve all segments of the community – natives, newcomers, lower-income households, etc.
  • Ask locals—including the taciturn old-timers!—what they think are the biggest problems facing their community then ask them how you and your students might help solve it. Provide lemonade and cookies.
  • Take on an oral history project and put the interview on the local access channel.

Build student leadership

  • Try to identify a thread that links student interests to the outdoors.
  • Create a classroom based on safety and risk-taking.
  • Choose a problem students are really interested in: their interest is the starting point of discovery.
  • Find a connection or “hook” that helps students understand how the project will effect them, their families, neighbors and friends.
  • Remember that your energy is contagious (good or bad), so take care of yourself.
  • Work across curriculum so students see connections.

There isn’t enough time for place-based education projects


Start small

  • Take on a small discreet service learning project in a neighbor close to school
  • Do not try to change the school schedule first to accommodate your PBE project; it’s very hard to do. Work within the existing schedule then use the results of your project as evidence that you need more time or need a schedule change.
  • Make a list, prioritize, then do one high priority project at a time.

Plan ahead

  • Apply for coordinated course times.
  • Schedule field trip days far in advance so teachers know students will be gone.
  • At the beginning of the term set aside a bi-weekly field trip day by department for community projects.

Work in teacher planning and preparation time

  • Plan a PBE planning party in summer at the local swimming hole and include co-workers. Take notes!
  • Make PBE projects student-driven: pick something that students can plan with minimum guidance.
  • Create a position to facilitate planning, integration and community coordination of PBE and other experiential education projects.
  • Budget money for a common teacher planning time in the summer.
  • Build release time into grants to fund subs for planning time.
  • Collaborate with parents and other community people for planning support.

Allow time to coordinate with community members

  • Use regular school open house events to inform and involve the community.
  • Multi-task! For example, talk with parents on the sidelines at a sports game.
  • Create a volunteer position for a parent to be your community liaison and coordinator.

Work to reform class schedules

  • Be sensitive to other demands on student time—like sports.
  • Create a long block early in the morning or right before lunch so that you can extend your class time without stepping on toes.
  • Find the disciplines in the school (e.g., ecology) where you can most easily demonstrate an interdisciplinary approach.