Developing the leaders of tomorrow is an important responsibility. And while some children are natural born leaders, others are bred through authentic learning experiences that foster essential leadership skills.

That’s where project-based learning comes in.

Developing the leaders of tomorrow is an important responsibility. And while some children are natural born leaders, others are bred through authentic learning experiences that foster essential leadership skills.

That’s where project-based learning comes in.

Project-based learning (PBL) is a student-centric strategy that sets meaningful and relevant problems or challenges that young people investigate over a period of time.

By design, PBL promotes key leadership skills. Through PBL projects, students can learn to:

  • Take ownership and responsibility of their work.
  • Be a team player and work well with others.
  • Play an active role in solving real-world problems.
  • Be assertive and present their opinions in an appropriate manner.
  • Accept criticism and feedback in order to learn.

These are all characteristics of a good leader. And whether or not students aspire to take on leadership roles now or in the future, the leadership skills they develop through PBL will help prepare them for success in school, college and life.

How Project-Based Learning Fosters Leadership Skills in Students

PBL projects are designed to not only support academic enrichment, but to also teach important life skills. Below we take a look at the seven key principles of PBL and how they foster leadership skills in students:

Student-Centered Learning

The purpose of PBL is to put students in the driver’s seat on their journey to discovery. It puts them in charge of finding the answers, refining questions and developing the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their desired results.

In return, students have a personal stake in their learning and are motivated to take ownership of their work. They play a more active role and begin to take initiative in order to reach their goals.

In-depth Inquiry and Innovation

PBL is centered on a driving question that generates more detailed questions. To answer these questions, students research and investigate the problem until they discover a solution.

This process of inquiry and innovation teaches students to be open-minded and flexible as they adapt to new findings and discoveries. They also understand the importance acquiring knowledge and skills to inform their decisions. 

Authenticity

PBL projects feature real-world context, tasks, tools and impact. They may also speak to students’ concerns, interests and issues in their lives.

The authenticity of PBL helps to empower students to tackle real-life problems - that may be affecting their family, community or society - and take the necessary steps to create a solution. In this case, their first-hand experience gives them confidence to take action when they’re faced with a problem.

21st Century Skills

As students progress through their PBL projects, there will be many opportunities to foster key 21st century skills, like collaboration, communication and critical thinking.

To create a solution that works, students must learn to delegate, rely on others’ skills and knowledge and work well with others. They must tap into their interpersonal skills and communicate with others in a clear, effective way. And lastly, they must be able to think critically and synthesize research, data and other information to build the finished product.

Student Voice and Choice

To make PBL more meaningful, projects are designed to give students a say in how they work, what they create and what direction the project takes. The level of choice varies, but accepting students’ input gives them a sense of ownership of the project.

Allowing students to make important decisions fosters independence and creativity. They also learn that their opinion and input is valued. In return, they’ll be empowered to speak up and assert themselves during the project and in other aspects of their lives.

Feedback and Revision

A critical piece of any PBL project is creating a process for students to routinely give, receive and use feedback to improve their process and products. This can include feedback from other students, experts or adult mentors.

This principle is important because while it emphasizes the importance of producing quality work, it teaches students that most people don’t get it right on their first try. In the real world, revision is a normal occurrence and students must be teachable and open to feedback in order to improve.

Presentation

Most PBL projects culminate in a presentation of students’ processes and final product in front of a real, public audience. This usually includes people who would have a real, genuine interest in the problem behind students’ work.

Presenting in front of a public audience, rather than familiar faces, takes students out of their comfort zone. It makes the project more meaningful and propels them to take pride in their finished product. As a result, students will understand (and be inspired by) the impact their work can have on the world outside of the classroom.

Cultivating student leadership is a great way to prepare students for success in school, work and beyond. And project-based learning can help to foster valuable leadership skills in students. To get started with PBL in afterschool, check out BIE’s PBL resources for beginners.