Getting Better at Creating Learning Spaces

So your school wants new learning spaces...

If that’s the case, what is your process?  Because you need a process.  Unfortunately, for many schools, this simply means implementing a new furniture solution.  Most likely, that’s not going be enough to really create new conditions for learning and see a significant return on your investment.

Adding new furniture to classrooms guarantees only one thing - that kids will have a more comfortable place to sit.  In fact, adding new furniture does not guarantee a change in the behaviors of either student or teacher.  For that change to occur, a process that grounds spatial change in learning is required.

That means a clear identification of what you want learning to be, the determination of a set of design drivers that reflect those expectations and that provide a framework for the redesign of spaces, and a prototype process that enables the testing of several space designs.  You’re going to need to be thoughtful about selecting teachers to be part of the process, plus ongoing assessment of the prototype spaces, and a methodology for telling the story of your change process.  You’ll also need time for the process to play out, so that you get the information you need to make intelligent data-informed decisions.  Because of the cost, and the potential impact, rushing to solution is something to avoid.

And you’ll need one more thing.  Professional development.  You wouldn’t roll out a 1:1 technology program without PD, would you?  But most schools fail to include professional development when redesigning spaces and that’s a significant mistake.  Teachers need the opportunity to design, to understand how flexibility and agility really work, how classroom management changes, and most importantly, how students can assume more ownership of the spaces they inhabit for learning.  It’s a complex palette, and one where teachers should be provided the time and guidance for exploring the new opportunities that more capable spaces can provide.

This is not about square tables or round tables, this chair or that chair.  It’s not even a facilities issue really, it's a teaching and learning opportunity.  And, if learning is as complex as we believe it to be, the way in which we create new spaces for learning must address this complexity in a nuanced, comprehensive and thoughtful manner.