Re-Imagining Our School Buildings
October 01, 2022
Appears in October 2022: School Administrator.
Many of our nation’s schools, built at the turn of the century, were constructed to accommodate education that focused on training students for factory work. Identical classrooms built along a corridor provided a setting for neat rows of desks facing the blackboard
For some, the current visual of a classroom differs only slightly in that the desks are more modern, whiteboards have replaced blackboards, and student work adorns the classroom walls. In fact, a Google search of “classroom” brings up those very images. But is that the vision we want for our schools in 2022 and beyond?
Most schools were designed at the turn of the century and constructed with an industrial model in mind, without regard for year-round programs and technological advancements. Schools then did not need the electrical and high-tech infrastructure now required.
If we want to ensure our students are future-ready, we must not only reimagine the curriculum, graduation requirements and systems of accountability, but also the environments in which they learn.
In today’s world of work, the employer provides the physical elements and tools necessary for success — updated technology, meeting spaces, a “flex desk” and proper temperature and ventilation systems, to name a few. If we are to prepare our students for life after high school, we should provide the same for our students. Comfortable seating, collaborative spaces, accessible technology and appropriate lighting are just some of the ways we can modernize our facilities. When you read a book at home, do you sit on cushioned seating or a plastic chair? Is the temperature and climate optimal or stifling?
A modernized learning environment not only helps the learner, but the educator as well. One of the triggers behind the current “Great Resignation” relates to the lack of flexibility, preparation and resources to pivot to a different model of teaching. As we modernize instruction, we must ensure the learning environment supports the new teaching methodologies.
Teachers should be partners in the redesign process. Seek their input. Is there is a theme for learning in their classroom? What infrastructure and tools are critical for modernizing and individualizing their learning environment? What furniture, equipment and arrangements are vital for collaboration, critical thinking and creativity? Meet with teachers and administrators with a vision of forward-thinking ideas and determine the specific needs of students and educators to make school a more relevant, meaningful, comfortable, flexible and future-focused experience for everyone.
Redesigning a school’s infrastructure may seem daunting and expensive, which, of course, it can be. However, it is not impossible. Focus on one space at a time. Be creative. Transform a library into a state-of-the-art media center that mirrors those found in technology firms and research universities. Replace rows of desks with collaboration stations where students can easily swivel their chairs to learn with peers. Instead of the conventional whiteboard, why not an interactive, multi-touch screen that allows students to co-present their latest research or project?
Take this one step further and construct areas where students can experience the world of work right within their school. Transform a classroom into a courtroom for law and government courses. Convert a traditional laboratory into a “medical facility” for aspiring doctors, nurses and scientists. Modify the former home economics space into contemporary culinary stations. Think about how students will get the most out of the learning space.
While we can’t be sure of what the future may bring, we do know that if we don’t start transforming our school buildings, these structures will continue to age with every passing moment. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was our public education system. As we rethink what learning means in 2025 and beyond, we must reimagine the physical structures and infrastructure of our school facilities. Why not start today?