Leading with Learning Spaces

So many of the current processes in schools are dictated by compliance, inertia, and chasing metrics dictated by others. This reality leaves many teachers and leaders isolated, lonely, and disillusioned. In this current reality, leaders of learning, both in the classroom and beyond, need a fresh leverage to nudge the system into new, authentic, and innovative ways. It is in these nudge moments that organizations build momentum, envision a new way of serving kids, and develop a deep mission around modern learning. The nudges that we have left in education are narrowing. Because of the pressures of poverty as well as the pressures put on local schools by state and federal mandates, the space and time available modernize and innovate continues to shrink.


Even with this reality, there is hope. Throughout the country, teachers, leaders, students, and others are gathering in growing numbers for conversations, planning sessions, and grand openings surrounding redesigning learning spaces. In these moments, some key areas have emerged; keys that allow these conversations around learning space design to go from thoughtful conversations to deep, foundational shifts that impact student learning.


The first realization is that redesigning classrooms isn’t about decorating classrooms. Because even though learning in beautiful places is an important, it is only thoughtful, intentional design that can bring the types of positive learning impacts that educators are pursuing. The second key that is emerging in this work across the country is that making student voice a meaningful part of the process is essential to its success. Too often, we are redesigning learning spaces for students instead of with students. This may require us to allow the final plans to be more organic with unplanned results that are crafted by students.


Finally, when learning space design succeeds in bringing hope, energy, and fresh thinking into a school, it comes from a process that unearths the deep purpose for all those involved. These thriving schools in the areas of modernizing learning spaces know how important it is to focus on creating, design thinking, or modeling, and they understand the essential nature of having spaces for collaboration and creation.


Beyond these keys, don’t be surprised to see a one or all of the positive unintended consequences listed below coming from efforts to redesign learning spaces. They include:


A willingness by more teachers to embrace student-centered learning.

  • As the joy of learning returns and the need for control wanes, a new rhythm to learning develops with students in the center.

Students showcasing fewer behaviors related to stress.

  • We underestimate the amount of chronic stress that impacts our students. Learning spaces can be a pressure release value.  

Teacher creativity reemerges.

  • Being in new spaces brings new energy and ideas. This also helps to push back on the normal pressures of teaching.

Student focus and stamina for learning grows.

  • Detractions and classroom “noise” inhibits focus and stamina. Being intentional about these areas reaps benefits for all kids and makes learning a bit more sticky.

More intentionality about what to add and remove from the learning space.

  • Addition by subtraction is a key to designing new learning spaces. As more isn’t equated to better results, behavior changes.

Introverted students finding a quiet space to thrive.

  • Many of our students that need more time to process, focus, and reflect are left out of the current learning spaces that we inhabit. Flexibility allows them to emerge.

A new perspective on the impacts of light, sound, and color in the classroom.

  • Though educators can’t control these factors in many ways, unearthing an awareness of their impact on student allows for some intentionality of decisions that can be controlled.

An interest by adults to gather in the space.

  • Adults want to learn in great spaces as well. The first learning spaces to get redesigned often become a magnet for great teachers conversations.

Student interest to see other learning spaces.

  • Students crave innovation and new ways of thinking and learning. After a learning space serves this role, they are eager to experience others inside and outside of the school.

Gaps and issues of equity are positively impacted.

  • Our current learning spaces confine students, minimize movement, and dehumanize. They aren’t responsive to students’ emotional needs. Modern, flexible, and agile learning spaces begin to close this gap.