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Embracing Change: Making a Difference in Student Outcomes Through Education Design

The era of square classrooms where students sit in perfectly aligned rows of desks while teachers stand and lecture at the front of the classroom has faded. As districts expand their educational goals we find the “cells and bells” method of school design no longer supports these directives.

I commonly have people ask me “Why do education spaces need to change – they worked for me when I was young?” The world is changing and it’s time for schools to catch up.  Tomorrow’s graduates’ success will be measured by how well they work in a team.  Tackling problems that have no predetermined answer.  Schools are adjusting the curriculum to prepare these students and it makes sense the learning environment adapts also.  Here are a few key reasons why I see the need for change in educational design:

  • Increased Student Engagement – People in the education field have come to understand that everyone has a different learning style. Corporate studies like Steelcase – How the workplace can improve collaboration are also finding that professionals perform work differently and excel in different environments. To keep students present and engaged during the day it is important to implement a variety of instructional methods, these methods can be executed easier if the space is designed to support them.
  • Flexibility for Now and the Future – Districts are looking for spaces and furniture that allow students to easily and continuously change their activities – not just every hour, but possibly every few minutes. I’m not talking about the “Open Classroom” of the late 1960’s.  Today it’s a collection of adjacent, transparent, and appropriately sized learning environments that allow individual learning styles to excel in a dynamic team setting.
  • Improved Student Performance – With increasingly competitive standards applied to K-12 and higher education, it is imperative that students are provided with the proper skills as they progress through their education path. By modifying spaces to provide improved comfort for students, such as adding daylighting and views to the outside, it provides students with variety, ultimately helping them focus. Furniture Solutions now exist to aid in student comfort with height adjustable tables that allow students to stand while learning; minimizing fatigue and physical strain. Backless chair options with balance mechanisms allow children to wiggle; a solution intended to benefit students with ADHD. In addition, chair size diversity at the elementary age level allows various proportions to improve the comfort and in turn, the performance of students.
  • Enhanced Security – Schools are still one of the safest places children can be during the day, but safety goes beyond the instances we hear in the news. Design should focus on solutions that help assuage students from fear or concerns related to: bullying, harassment, nutrition (hunger), personal relationships, family relationships, sexual orientation, and other factors. By extensively using glass within the exterior and interior of schools it allows teachers to monitor and supervise students over an expansive area in an effort to reduce bullying and disruptive behaviors improving well-being.

Many districts are faced with budget constraints and are actively trying to work within their existing spaces; I commend these districts for taking actions, as small or large as they may be. I recently had the pleasure of working with Lake Mills School District and a visionary group of progressive thinking teachers on a new elementary school. We were able to think outside the box at how the education space could flex to meet their changing needs. This short video is a just a quick insight into how that space has changed the life of the administration, teachers, students and community. I hope it inspires you to help bring forth change in your district – whether you are an administrator, teacher, school board, concerned parent or just an active community member – you can help make a difference.

Eric Dufek, RA, LEED AP

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