As the research continues to emerge from schoolsand researchers in Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union, it is growing more and more clear that learning environments have a positive impact on engagement, joy, and achievement in schools. This information along with the desire to modernize schools has leaders (classroom, school, district) leaning into this important conversation about how to shift spaces for greater learning.
Over the past years as Rebecca Hare and I have unpacked the concepts and ideas from The Space: A Guide for Educators, we have received a lot of positive feedback from students, teachers, and administrators about how this conversation around space design has changed their perspective. These same leader have also shared that they know realize that designing brain friendly spaces is slow, intentional work that is never finished.
Though the conversation usually starts with classrooms, it often expand when teachers and leaders realize that all spaces support and tell the story of the school including the outside of the building, the entryway, hallways, and common spaces. Once all of these spaces are in play, a comprehensive effort to make space a value add to the learning can begin. Schools interested in this work should consider using the some of the ingredients of the edcamp model to support these efforts.
Empathy Based Learning
Educators, in the spirit of edcamp, rarely lose sight of the fact that all of the hard work of education is about creating amazing conditions for students to learn. In order to this to hold true with learning space design, it is essential to design with students and not for students. This means that students need to play a central role in the voice of the change. This means creating feedback loops that ask students about what in each space support learning and what inhibits learning. Start this work by creating a student design council and by allowing students to experience any potential furniture before it is bought in quantity.
Start with Conversations
Edcamp works because there are no experts, presenters, or single voice in the room. It works because it is based in conversations. Teachers and leaders designing spaces should be having conversations around how to support students and families. They are discussing why things aren’t working. They are discussing where they are seeing spaces that work. They are considering whether their attempted solutions are working. They are encouraging others to provide feedback about their current spaces. Start this work by thinking about what story your classrooms, hallways or bathrooms tell when no one is present.
The best edcamps that I’ve attended have more questions than answers, and this holds true for space design as well. There isn’t a right way to design. There may be some principles to consider, and there may be some emerging best practices, but there isn’t a playbook or a checklist that is the comprehensive answer. Educators gathered to ask questions build a community of learning. This same community is needed when growing the designer’s mindset in an organization. Start this work by asking what are verbs of this space? Who is this space serving? How might we study how our students use our current space?
Be Solution Oriented
The unconference format works because everyone in the room is seeking questions from the wisdom of the room. Everyone at edcamp believes that they have an opportunity to get a piece of some answers through their focus on conversation in sessions and throughout the day. Design is about looking for hacks, tips, and tricks that allow for these solutions to emerge, and it is essential to tinker with ideas and give them a chance to solve both the big and little issues of classroom design. Start this work by asking everyone in the building to solve one issue that they notice in the building. Little solutions build momentum to larger solutions.
Learn with Two Feet
The edcamp “rules” tell us to vote with our feet meaning that we own the learning, and it is our responsibility to get the most that we can from any situation. Schools and districts that are redesigning their spaces believe that answers are everywhere and that it is essential for all teachers to visit more spaces to begin to cobble together an intentional plan for their space. Start this work by “learning with two feet” Even if it is the building where you work every day, tour the building with a designer’s mindset allowing for time to see new ideas and potential solutions.
Focus on Free
The legacy of edcamp will eventually be, at least partially, about the equity of access to this amazing, connected, free learning. Changes in learning spaces, as they happen in scale, may have the same legacy. There will be few schools that will build multi-million dollar additions or remove and replace all of their furniture with intention, but the concepts and principles of The Space allow for all teachers and leaders to make meaningful, powerful changes in their space with no budget or low budget solutions. Start with addition by subtraction and look for ten items that are unneeded and purge those items. It is free, and the space, with less in it, can produce greater results and less distraction.
Robert Dillon is an experienced Director of Learning with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. He is skilled in K-12 Education, Literacy, Classroom Management, Lesson Planning, and Educational Technology. Additionally, he is a strong human resources professional with a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) focused in Educational Leadership and Administration, General from Saint Louis University.