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.

Many teachers are not comfortable in outdoor classroom settings


Entice people outside in winter

  • Create a winter, community-day festival with food and hot cider.
  • Develop a Quest based on the winter landscape.
  • Have volunteers run small family groups on snowshoe treks with a bonfire at the end!
  • Read Bernd Heinrich’s Winter World in an educator book group and explore outing possibilities.

Streamline logistics for getting kids outside in small groups

  • Give long advance notice to parents so they can save the date for volunteering.
  • Involve students in logistics: put them in charge of organizing themselves and their parents.
  • Involve local college students in projects as service-learning opportunities (most colleges have a community outreach office that helps place interested students connect with local organizations and schools). 
  • Organize class into groups or task forces, giving each group specific responsibilities once you get out in the field. 

Simplify and economize around transportation needs

  • Start by going to places you can walk to.
  • Get parent volunteers to drive.
  • Travel by bicycle to extend your range.

Develop projects and units where nature and culture blend 

  • Extend growing season with a student-designed and student-built greenhouse.
  • Apply for a grant for a summer intern to maintain the school garden.
  • Plug in to existing college or community resource monitoring projects (water, stream, air quality, habitat mapping, tracking studies, wetlands, bikepaths and trails, etc.)
  • Avoid mismatched school year and growing seasons by focusing on fall crops: grapes, apples, pumpkins, or spring regenerations in nature.
  • Focus on wild foraging. Find out what spring and fall food and fiber crops students can gather and use.


Community associations and other groups are not aware of the possibilities


Identify and build community partnerships

  • Ask chamber of commerce or business councils to ask members if they would like to help with schools. Then have chamber or council publish the list.
  • Have local newspaper print a wish list for school.

Identify projects that address real community needs

  • Talk to community organizations. What projects/ issues do they need help with?
  • Introduce the PBE project idea to the public through a PTO mailing soliciting opinions and views.
  • Quietly ask community board members where they need help. Conservation commissions, granges, recreation groups, libraries, historical societies, other schools, rescue services, or retirement homes are just some places to start.
  • Survey community residents, perhaps at a town meeting, as to projects that need to be tackled, and offer the services of your students. Accept bids and pick a project.

Work with landowners/farmers whose land is affected by a proposed project (trails, wetlands restorations, erosion control, tree planting, etc.)

  • Have students write a letter to farmer introducing their interest in learning more about land, farming, and the needs of farmers.
  • Before choosing a project that interests and benefits the landowner and community, have students meet with professional agricultural extension experts and farmers to learn about the conditions and needs of area farmers.
  • Contact conservation districts: they work closely with farmers and may know of farmers who would be willing to work with students.
  • Work through the local grange.
  • Develop a model agreement that allows students to understand how to treat land respectfully and that clearly lays out the land stewardship, economic and social objectives of both the farmers and students.

In schools, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.


Bridge curriculum gaps

  • Partner with other grades or classes that share a common curricular interest.
  • Showcase successes from other schools who have used similar programs.
  • Meet with other educators as a team to find common ground where teachers can work toward shared objectives while maintaining individual teaching style.
  • Provide data on forest inventory and develop economic and math curricular ideas – doesn’t have to be coordinated in same year.
  • Hold one department meeting a month that focuses on integrating interdisciplinary groups.
  • Divide up big community projects into manageable units and divvy them between classes.

Take a school union-wide approach

  • Try to connect to one community first, then branch out to others.
  • Expand your definition of community.
  • Create task forces: students from each sending town are in charge of creating community connections
  • Study other towns. Build an appreciation and understanding of other towns as different from your own but special in their own right

It’s not clear to teachers and administrators how PBE addresses educational standards.


Address grade level expectations / standards

  • Research GLE and highlight them 
  • Integrate into regular curriculum (sustainability)
  • Understand that you can’t teach to all standards, so pick and choose. Less teaching is more.

Create assessment and evaluation tools that can measure PBE’s effectiveness and outcomes

  • Create rubrics and task lists that are appropriate for the activity. 
  • Be consistent with assessments.

Create alignment with school mission and vision

  • Get on a committee that is dealing with that issue.
  • Work on buy-in from community leaders. 
  • Identify champions in different disciplines.
  • If the mission is unclear, define your own and proceed.


Funding for and commitment to PBE projects fluctuates from year to year, administration to administration.


Build projects for sustainability

  • Use a team teaching approach
  • Focus on a given year with eye on future
  • Create a club to sustain a multi-year project: eg. garden
  • Conduct student research each year and hold a symposium every few years
  • Develop revolving projects that students check in on every few years (natural inventory or monitoring, for example).
  • Have school-wide focus on one subject (eg: a bio-blitz, one day natural inventory of the school yard)
  • Take one step each year toward a long term goal (eg: water quality monitoring)

Develop a diverse funding base for PBE projects

  • Involve students in all fundraising activity
  • Seek in-kind contributions from businesses and individuals
  • Use free resources: county foresters, state employees as possible
  • Use town resources – donations from businesses and time from people
  • Seek grant-writing assistance gratis from a local expert
  • Models of grants on the web for teachers to use
  • Administrative/board buy-in via education time (get on the agenda)