Creating an innovative learning environment anywhere: Start with what you have.

Well, It’s been a while since I put finger to keyboard for a post. I am currently knee-deep in data collection, interviewing, writing and lots of thinking for my PhD. I’m looking at how to support and equip teachers to transition their thinking and practice in innovative learning environments.

Recently, I came across an article by Heidi Hayes Jacob:
“Ending old school nostalgia in learning spaces” (
read it here). She writes,

Any space we enter elicits physical, psychological and behavioral responses. When we arrive at a sports stadium, theater or library, we anticipate a specific type of activity will take place.

It’s true, isn’t it. We have expectations of responses and behaviours. When I walk into those ancient cathedrals in Europe, I feel the need to whisper. Yet, contemporary churches with lights and loud music changes the expectations, even though both are considered places of worship. Space elicits a response. How do we design for the desired response?

2017-10-02 23.53.10
Stanley Park High School, UK

Often, there is a struggle to translate ideas and opportunities into our own school context. We may not have the luxury of a green field site, or demolishing and rebuilding, or even knocking down walls. It’s easy to get caught up in ‘I wish our school had/could…’, when its better to first take a critical look at where we are, and start change somewhere. This begins with deciding on the expectation and response we desire, and then designing for that, even within the constraints of what we have.

What is the expectation that your learning environment can establish, regardless of its physical constraints?

Space Spectrum

Heidi Hayes Jacob has developed a “Learning Space Continuum” (above). It starts with a classroom and concludes with a modern learning environment. Stages 1 and 2 on the spectrum provide a place to begin, even if you don’t have the luxury of budgets for remodelling and repurposing:

Stage 1 suggests work with what you already have: Rearrange classroom spaces – Teachers inventory their existing classrooms and move furniture in and out; consider shelving and furniture placement.

Ask yourself: What do I have on hand that can be used to change expectations? Maybe I can even lose some of the furniture?

Stage 2 takes the next step: Upgrade and replace furniture – Replace dated standard seating with a wide range of chairs, tables that are ergonomically matched to the age and stage of the children.

Ask yourself: Are there simple, cheap additions that can make a difference to the learning space? What if I put a budget together and presented it to the principal?

Just start somewhere.



2017-10-02 19.43.47
West Thornton Primary, UK



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