We may never again have a disruption of this magnitude to the educational system. On the positive side, most educators and administrators agree that this is the right time to reimagine the way we educate students today and into the future.

Like it or not, the pandemic of 2020 shone a spotlight on the disparities in teaching and learning across the country. It opens the door for us to rethink practices, policies, principles, and even place. We have a unique chance to control our future and connect the dots between what we teach, how we teach, where we teach and align it to our vision of student success.

Can changing the space change the outcome?

There is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence showing that transforming learning environments is necessary to transform learning. Lessons learned from virtual and hybrid learning environments give us insight into student engagement, student social-emotional needs, instructional models, and learning activities and can guide us to transform learning by designing environments to support it.

Innovative leader and Superintendent Michael Kuhrt in Wichita Falls ISD, in Texas is taking advantage of this time to embrace change and implement his district’s bold vision. The Wichita Falls leadership has a singular vision that they will utilize their educational spaces to transform the environment, to open the door to transform learning, and, ultimately, to connect their community in transforming the ideology of student success. (Hear their story: https://www.huckabee-inc.com/more-momentum-wichita-falls/).

Michael states their vision of their new buildings and learning environments “needed to retain relevance well into the future,” is of flexible and adaptable spaces, and takes into consideration that brick and mortar buildings may be obsolete in the future. Realizing that virtual learning is here to stay, they are embracing a blended learning model for all core academic learning areas and designing spaces to support it while enhancing programs like fine arts and sports to bring students onto the campus.

Collaborative Spaces in Georgetown, TX Elementary School

Collaborative Spaces in Georgetown, TX Elementary School

Whether you are making this kind of ground-breaking transformation or simply making the “collaborative conversion” to flexible classroom furnishings, here are 4 things to consider when planning for today and preparing for tomorrow.

Make sure you define your “WHY”

American author Simon Sinek encourages us to define our “WHY” clearly before making any transformation. This guiding principle or purpose provides us the framework to shape our thinking and actions, allowing us to be more innovative, more successful, and more motivational to others. Clearly, the team in Wichita Falls, Texas, has defined their WHY.

What have you learned from the past year that might reshape or refine your WHY?

If you participated in one of the Conversation Starters at the NSBA Online Experience, you may have started the process of defining your WHY already.

Design matters

The design of the classroom has an immediate and lasting effect on students’ physical, psychological, physiological, and cognitive abilities. Color, Comfort, Space, Movement, and Flexibility can all impact student achievement (2017, Sheninger and Murray).

As you consider options for transforming your own spaces, shift your mind to a new way of thinking:

  • TIP: Move past “desks” and “chairs” and think in terms of “flexible worksurfaces” and “student seating.” This dramatically opens your options to non-traditional and creative solutions that can set the stage for new learning strategies.
  • TIP: Incorporate student (and teacher) voice in design and planning. Allowing students and teachers to design their space with flexible furniture based on the learning objective of the day is critical in promoting engagement and ownership.
  • TIP: Evaluate resources and materials. Before you start adding anything, ask what you can take away from your spaces to improve engagement. Busy rooms with “too much” stuff overstimulate students and disrupt their ability to concentrate.

Know what you are buying

It goes without saying that if you’re investing in new furniture, you want it to last. Finding the right fit takes time and work. Let your teachers and students kick the tires, gathering feedback on which products enhance teaching and eliminate barriers to learning. Check with your team whether your furniture dealer or manufacturer provides a pilot classroom program or samples that can be used in a classroom for an extended period (nine to eighteen weeks). This is also your opportunity to test durability, functionality, and comfort.

  • TIP: Avoid buyer’s remorse. Know the warranties offered by the manufacturers you are purchasing from. Understand their process for replacements and repairs. Get references and contact schools that have purchased the furniture. (Read more: How long should my school classroom furniture last?)

Post occupancy expectations and plans

Transformation isn’t a slam-dunk. It takes work! How will you get everyone on board to execute your classroom transformation? Providing professional learning for teachers, staff, and students on the functionality of the furniture may sound silly, but is it? Your vision is to prepare your students for the future, and you will need all systems aligned to do that. In a recent interview, Belinda Kuck, Director of Teaching and Learning for the Davis School District in Farmington, Utah, said she was skeptical of professional learning for furniture at first. She notes that the importance of setting expectations and training teachers before they inhabit a new space is critical in transforming learning. Invest in PL for classroom furniture just the way you invest in it for math or reading.

  • TIP: Find out if the manufacturer or furniture dealer provides professional learning for the furniture you have purchased. Artcobell provides such PL tailored to the specific furniture solutions each school purchases from us.

Now you are ready to implement change!

Where we learn, work, play, gather, rest, socialize is all impacted by the place in which we do it. Physical environment influences our behavior, impacts our mood, and inspires us to engage. It can encourage and facilitate interactions and make us feel safe and secure. Transforming learning goes hand in hand with transforming the environment.

Sheninger, Eric, and Murry, Thomas. “Designing Learner-Centered Spaces,” THE Journal, July 2017, https://thejournal.com/articles/2017/07/05/designing-learner-centered-spaces.aspx. Accessed 9 Aug. 2019.

Author: Patricia Cadigan, M.Ed., Director, Learning Environments, Artcobell

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