• Better understand how project managers can add value as volunteers working with administrators, teachers, and students inside and outside the classroom.



While the rest of the Toolkit documents are intended to bring project management into community conversations about school transformation, this Toolkit Section turns to the role that project managers and other professionals can play in helping educators to implement PBL inside and outside of the classroom by providing expertise and lending their supportive voice to community conversations. While every school is different, there are common strategies that that have been shown to be successful.


This Toolkit section offers information about volunteering in schools, including the roles project managers and other professionals can play as well as district processes that may need to be fulfilled to work with students and teachers. Once in the classroom, professionals will be working closely with teachers and principals, and so it is crucial to build strong relationships based on trust and mutual help. Most of these tips are not specific to PBL and learning projects, but they will still be useful for understanding what to expect and deciding how best to utilize skills and experience to help teachers and students learn college and career skills through projects.

In addition, another handout in the Toolkit, “Project-Based Learning in Action,” defines a well-designed learning project and gives several examples of learning projects that have already been used successfully in schools.

Nevertheless, most communities are unlikely to bring project management professionals into the classroom to direct and mentor students themselves at any large scale. In most cases, teachers will still be the source of instruction for project management skills. Therefore, it will be important to build in plans for teachers to themselves learn these skills and how to transfer them to students. “Helpful Project-Based Learning Resources for EducatorsiconPDF16x16,” available from the website, lists some resources and references specifically meant for teachers, including Virtual Workshops offered by the PMI Educational Foundation.


As a volunteer with a specific, relevant expertise, there are several roles to play that can be helpful to teachers, important for students, and offer a sense of accomplishment in an important role:

  1. Helping teachers to plan projects and lesson plans.
  2. Translating “project management” language to everyday terminology and vice versa.
  3. Helping teachers and students to understand technical subject matter and language.
  4. Developing scoring methods for projects.
  5. Creating and adapting project templates and forms.
  6. Speaking to students about Project Management concepts and techniques.
  7. Taking the lead on explaining project assignments.
  8. Assist with facilitating learning projects.
  9. Helping teachers and students with certain elements of conducting projects.
  10. Working with students on their project plans.
  11. Listening to project presentations.
  12. Advising students one-on-one.
  13. Talking to students about your career as a Project Management Professional and in your field.
  14. Hosting students for site visits and internships.

First steps

Many project managers and other professionals may be motivated to bring their time and expertise into schools, but not have any idea about how to get started. Here are a few initial steps to find the right entrances:

  • Look for existing programs that bring professionals into contact with teachers and students. The local Chamber of Commerce is often a good place to start.
  • Review the school district’s website for its volunteer programs.
  • Many professionals already have relationships with local schools attended by their children. Or research low-performing schools that might have a greater need for volunteer resources.
  • Contact the principal of the selected school for a meeting to discuss school needs and opportunities.
  • Meet with the teacher(s) of the best-match classes to determine tasks, roles, and scheduling.


In 2005, the Sandia National Laboratories published Science Education In Our Elementary and Secondary Schools: A Guide for Technical Professionals Who Want to Help, with advice for technical professionals who want to volunteer to help enhance K-12 Science education. While it is focused on scientific professionals, the chapter on “Working Effectively with Teachers” has become widely recommended and contains a great deal of useful information. Following are a few tips from that chapter and the separate section “Coordinating With the Teacher – The Foundation for Success.”

  • It is usually best for your first formal contact with a school to be with the principal… Assuming a favorable response, have the principal arrange a time for you to meet with the teachers, either all of them or a group of the most creative, flexible and proactive ones.
  • The teacher knows far more than you do about such things as cognitive development, the structure and goals of the curriculum, classroom management, and the abilities, limitations, and learning styles of the students… By working together as a team you can make each other’s jobs more productive and interesting.
  • [Y]ou need to assure the teacher that you want to assist and supplement his or her efforts, not criticize, belittle, or change what he or she is doing. If the teacher sees you as a threat you will start out with two strikes against you.
  • [Keep] in mind the level of intellectual development of the age group.
  • It is important to recognize that your long-term impact depends critically on the development of positive interpersonal relationships. You can maximize your chances of doing this by treating the teachers as respected peers, responding to their expressed needs, following up on your commitments, giving them lots of encouragement and positive feedback, seeking their evaluation and constructive criticism of your efforts, and modifying your future efforts in response to their comments.
The best way to help a teacher is to become a trusted friend and teammate who respects and is responsive to his or her expressed needs. Don’t enter into your new relationship with a predetermined notion of what is needed or what you will do. Worse yet, don’t insult the teacher’s intelligence by assuming that teaching is easy, that it’s a part-time job, or that he or she is doing it because they can’t find a “real job”. Instead, find out what the teacher is trying to teach, then help them do it with excellence.
Science Education In Our Elementary and Secondary Schools: A Guide for Technical Professionals Who Want to Help, Sandia National Laboratories


The National Academy Foundation offers a list of suggestions for working with students in its network of Career Academy schools that will really be helpful in every school [emphasis in original]:

  • Extend respect to students and expect students to reciprocate – don’t talk down to them.
  • Share personal stories of your own educational and career journey – both the struggles and the successes. Brief narratives of your experiences can be engaging and informative.
  • Help reinforce our work-based learning outcomes whenever possible. We can’t have too many adults restating the importance of college and career readiness skills.
  • Model professionalism and other career-ready skills. While the classroom atmosphere is more casual, please wear professional workplace attire and model the skills you expect from your employees and colleagues.
  • Remember to use the [school learning goals] as a context for learning. Use every opportunity to draw connections between Academy outcomes, your specific work, and the industry as a whole.
  • Show examples of your work and engage students by using images and artifacts. Many students are visual learners and will understand you best when you show samples of what you are explaining.
  • If you are giving a presentation, try to keep it interactive by having students move, speak, and get involved. And please allow time for questions and answers.
  • Don’t worry about behavior and discipline. For most academy work-based learning activities, at least one teacher will be present to deal with any unexpected behavior management issues.

Similar to its chapter on working with teachers, the Science Education In Our Elementary and Secondary Schools guide mentioned above also has a chapter on “Working Effectively with Students.” This chapter provides an extensive but summarized background on the social and emotional development of children and principles of learning. It also offers advice on how to plan and present activities for students. This chapter is also available here.


Interacting with children is an area that garners a lot of official attention, and therefore may come with restrictions and requirements from state and local authorities. Most school districts have posted on their websites a list of any forms and certifications that will be required for volunteers before they are allowed to work in the school. (It may also be available on the website of the individual school.) Note that some may differ for long-term volunteers versus one-time class speakers.

To give an idea of what to expect, the following are requirements found in some settings:

  • Fingerprinting (may be done on site or at a Livescan facility)
  • Completing an information and permission form to conduct a background check
  • Taking a tuberculosis test or a chest x-ray
  • Reading and signing a district volunteer handbook and/or policy

A few districts may ask volunteers to complete an online sexual misconduct prevention course, sign a legal release for any injuries incurred on school property, and/or participate in a volunteer orientation – especially for those who will volunteer over a longer term. Note that transportation of students is also an area with many rules and restrictions. When planning to take students off-campus for a worksite visit or project-related trip, volunteers will need to work with the teacher and school principal to arrange transportation in accordance with
district policy.


As noted in the Toolkit Section“Understanding Education Strategies,” Work-Based Learning gives students the chance to connect what they are learning in the classroom to the world of work and to develop their interest in and knowledge about different career pathways. Project managers and other professionals may work with teachers, counselors, and principals to develop internships and other Work-Based Learning opportunities, possibly even at their own worksites. However, whether they extend over a summer or just one afternoon, it is important to make sure that these opportunities are of the highest quality for students.

The National Academy Foundation says that “quality work-based learning experiences” must do the following:

  • Identify learning objectives
  • Be developmentally appropriate
  • Assess student performance, including self-assessment methodologies
  • Include an orientation for all parties
  • Provide opportunities for student reflection
  • Link to the student’s next work-based learning experience
  • Provide links between classroom learning and professional expectations

NAF has also developed a set of “gold standards” for high school internships – key practices to ensure that they are high-quality – that is available on the Resources & Links page.


In addition to offering support through participation in community conversations, which is outlined in the Overview document of the Toolkit, project managers and other professionals possess expertise and knowledge that will be of great value to educators in implementing effective learning projects, Work-Based Learning opportunities, and other activities that help prepare students for college and career. This document will help to prepare professionals for working with students and teachers.

Science Education In Our Elementary and Secondary Schools: A Guide for Technical Professionals Who Want to Help. Sandia National Laboratories, 2005. www.nas.edu/rise/scied.htm

“Working with Academy Students.” National Academy Foundation, 2014.

“Project Management for Learning: A Foundational Guide to Applying Project Management Principles and Methods to Education”. Bernie Trilling, Project Management Institute Educational Foundation, 2014.

National Academy Foundation Guide to Work-Based Learning: A Continuum of Activities and Experience, 2011.