Five years ago this week, I posted the TedTalk, Teaching Design for Change by Emily Pilloton, on my Facebook page with the comment that the content of the talk was great advice for rural school districts. At the time of the posting, I was a principal with a great team overseeing the special education programs for a county office of education. Little did I know that five years later, I would be the superintendent of a rural school district that would pass its first bond measure, Creating Class A Schools, under my tenure and that I would be working with another great team of educators as well as a school board that exemplifies what it means to put students first. In addition to this, I would also be knee deep in becoming increasingly versed in what it means to design a Future Ready instructional program.
As our team dives into the design work of redefining learning spaces so that they allow for flexibility and the incorporation of today’s learning tools, combining the advice of Emily Pilloton with the Future Ready gears of Collaborative Leadership, Community Partnerships, Budget and Resources, Curriculum Instruction and Assessment with the Use of Space and Time couldn’t be more opportune. As we dive deeper and deeper into the process of working with the architect and his team, it is clear that the concept of “designing with not for” is more intuitive to some than others.
It is easy to take a look at designs for layout, furniture and infrastructure that have been implemented at other schools. It can even be tempting for professionals to suggest that a school or district use the work that was done elsewhere as their model. Yes, it’s easy, convenient and might even feel like it saves time. However, the perception of time saving and efficiency only applies to the front end. It creates far more work on the back if staff voie, student and community voice aren’t specifically and intentionally incorporated into the process. While schools have many similar characteristics and needs, each school design and culture has its own nuances. The location of a particular room or door can dramatically impact the flow and use of space. Classroom design and furniture layout may impact student learning differently from year to year based on the characteristics of the students in each and the strengths of the teacher.
Bob Dillon, author of Redesigning Learning Spaces, gave some simple sage advice at CUE’s BOLD Classrooms event in Northern California to help prioritize instructional space design projects that can be applied to undertakings of all sizes. As schools dive into modernizing learning spaces, let us ask “What is neat to have and what is need to have?” as we move forward with construction and design projects. This concept applies both to things that we purchase such as furniture, lighting, flooring, whiteboards, screen technology as well as to how traffic flow and visibility will impact the use of spaces.
The California voter, this past June and November, has been generous to schools in passing both local bonds and a state school facilities bond. This allows for a great opportunity for schools to take a look at how facilities, infrastructure and learning tools engage today’s learners, prepare them for tomorrow’s careers and stay flexible to adapt to the needs of the next generation of student. This is a great opportunity to show leadership in bringing teacher, student and community voice to the table. This is a great opportunity for collaborative partnerships to leverage social media and professional learning networks to share their work to engage in local, statewide and national thought partner conversations to support wise decision making in design, use of time and space as well as budget and resources to influence curriculum and instruction. This is a great opportunity to invest in the future.