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How Will You Redesign Your School Over The Next Six Months?
"I was talking with architects from the AIA’s Committee for Architecture for Education last week, discussing — along with my superintendent — our school system philosophy of the intersection of space design, technology, and pedagogy. And at the end Karina Ruiz — a West Coast school designer — asked,
“But what if educators don’t have a building project right now?”

And I paused. We had been talking about our journey from opening up a few walls to building truly flexible spaces, from offering kids seating and writing choices to a move toward eliminating single-teacher classrooms, but our presentation was, indeed, geared toward building.

“Everybody always has a building project,” I finally said.

Because every school should be changing all the time. And should be changing with a purpose — moving from adult centered teaching spaces to child centered learning spaces — moving from static environments to flexible environments — moving from controlling design to inspiring design.

Every school needs a building project every year, because you don’t need contractors and bulldozers to change a school environment — you just need commitment.

So if you can’t do the expensive stuff — you can still do the effective stuff. So here are four things you can do to change your school’s space.

One: Give your kids the gift of daylight.

Walk into many classrooms and you’ll see the windowsills piled high with stuff — often adult stuff. You also may see shades or blinds pulled down.

Well, in order to maintain healthy attention kids need three things that are often in short supply in schools — fresh air, large muscle movement, and daylight. One of the easiest to fix, in many schools, is daylight.

Open those blinds and shades. If it’s not a lockdown or the sun blazing in full bore, open them and keep them open. Limit anything on the windows that obstructs the view — kids benefit from being able to see where they are on the earth.

Now clear off those windowsills. That’s not a storage spot — it’s a prime place for children. Make it easy to sit there, make it comfortable.

If you just do this in every classroom you will have rebuilt your school. Attention will go up, discipline problems will go down. Guaranteed.

Two: Get rid of teacher desks.

Or at least dramatically shrink the space teachers claim for themselves.

Listen — when I observe a classroom I really don’t look at the teacher, I watch kids, listen to kids, look for the variety of what kids are doing and how they are doing it — but — an opening ‘fail’ is walking into any classroom and seeing a teacher sitting at their teacher desk. Why would any teacher separate themselves from their students like that?

The teacher’s desk is an ugly remnant of a time when uninvolved teachers led ineffective classes, they really need to vanish. But if they cannot vanish completely, they need to become small spots used for effective one-on-one or one-on-two conversations. Storage can be in one modest-size cabinet against a wall.

If you want to increase learning space, you get rid of space used for — well, something else.

Walking a middle school a year ago with the principal we came across one classroom where the teacher had built — essentially — a tiny house, and a tiny house blocking student access to half of the room’s windows. Looking at the ceiling grid I noted that this teacher had carved out an 8x16–128 square foot living room. There was a presidential-size desk, a pseudo oriental rug, book cases, a coffee maker, and all kinds of personal images: 16% of the classroom space was walled off from kids.


That’s extreme but it’s not that unusual, and it needs to stop. Classrooms belong to children.

So get rid of teacher desks. Or at least shrink them and push them completely away from the windows. In every classroom.

Your school will see it’s learning space increase by 10%.

Three: Keep all of your classroom doors open.

Easy, right? No cost, no moving anything. But transformational.

The most obvious way to build transparency and openness into your educational environment is to open classroom doors and create the notion of ‘the commons.’ Opening doors will make your school noisier and more active. It will convert corridors from waste space to instructional space. It will allow kids who need a different kind of space to have it and yet — remain supervised.

Obviously it will do something else. The talk we gave to the architects was titled “Space that forces change — Change that forces space.” Opening doors will make your teachers change what they do. Noisier environments mean that teacher voice must change. You can’t really yell over it, you have to talk under it, and thus move away from mass instruction.

It does one more key thing — it reveals great teaching and encourages teachers who struggle to collaborate with those great teachers.

So make this an absolute rule: classroom doors stay open.

Four: Let kids sit where they want, if they want.

We have this saying, “a kid can’t walk into any classroom, kindergarten through 12th grade, and choose where, how, or if to sit — we aren’t teaching them to make decisions, which means we aren’t teaching them very much at all.”

This is important. The act of controlling seating, like the act of controlling toilet use, or food and drink, is an act which shatters the possibility of real trust between teachers and children. It’s an act which prevents children from learning how to define their own work environment (If you’d like — it’s an act that leads directly to failure in the first year of college.) It’s also an act which makes the classroom a fight, for you have created rules that work against child learning and a rule that makes no sense to kids.

So stop doing it. Eliminate the rule across the school. Focus on comfort and good choices instead of compliance. Use phrases like, “wouldn’t you be more comfortable standing up? [lying down? by the window? sitting in the hall?]” Or even, “is that space working for you?”

Another guarantee — the entire mood of your school will change.

There. Four ‘quick fixes.’ Quick but not easy. Instead of sledge hammers you’ll need full admin support and peer pressure. You’ll want to document and talk about the changes. You’ll need to see where the design needs tweaking. And most of all, you’ll need patience.

Rebuilding a school creates mess at first. Your kids will need time to learn new patterns — and learn how to make good choices. That’s why these are six month construction projects. Three months to plan and get consensus. Three more to make it work."
irasocol  2017  schools  education  change  adaptability  flexibility  schooldesign  sfsh  furniture  doors  desks  light  seating 
may 2017 by robertogreco
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