“Classrooms are just too complicated for research to ever tell teachers what to do”

This is the provocative statement was made by Dylan Wiliams (DW) as he addressed an awards ceremony for teachers in Glasgow recently. (Available tes.com)

He suggests that teaching is at best a ‘partial profession’, it’s an unusual job, compared to other professions. As a comparison, medications prescribed by doctors are ‘prescriptive’ as the name suggests. Clinical research and trials can inform widespread used of a particular medication given certain conditions. A simplified explanation, I know, but the complexity of teaching is much less formulaic, each context is as unique as each learner in the class.

What is a professional?
businessdictionary.com describes a professional as a “Person formally certified by a professional body of belonging to a specific profession by virtue of having completed a required course of studies and/or practice. And whose competence can usually be measured against an established set of standards

Most of that is straight forward – formally certified, completed a required course of study – but measuring competence “against an established set of standards”, that is less straightforward. Perhaps ‘partial profession’ is actually more accurate. This is because, “the problems teachers need to solve are just much harder” (DW) He explains that the “kind of knowledge that expert teachers have is more like the knowledge of how to ride a bike” (DW).

Sometimes I read an article and the best way for me to grasp the ideas is to draw them. These ideas and the others raised in the transcript have shaped this visualisation:

He also suggests that the idea of applying growth mindsets and fixed mindsets to teacher transformation, and this could be worth further exploration, as Dylan Wiliams says, “A belief that you can get better as a teacher is the key to staying positive in the job”. And that helps everyone, especially the learners.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this idea of teaching as a ‘partial profession’. Or, perhaps you can suggest an article, idea or talk that could be visualised in this way.


Vale Jens Guldbaek: A personal reflection of an education-revolutionary

Over the past eight years I have been privileged to visit Copenhagen regularly, spending time with Jens Guldbaek, his wife Birte Broens and their daughter Mie Guldbaek Broens. They have become dear friends, and I write this in tribute to Jens.

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the recent death of Danish school design visionary and friend to many, Jens Guldbaek. Jens was known across the world as a passionate advocate of school design and pedagogy. His joy, curiosity and generosity of spirit touched many.

Jens & Mie from http://www.loop.bz/om-loopbz.aspx

In 2002, Hellerup, the school without walls opened its doors. Jens was the creative mind behind the vision for re-imagining school and those now-famous stairs.

Hellerup School

At the time, Jens was the advisor to the local authority, with the responsibility of designing a school to meet future learning needs of today’s generation. The spaces enabled multiple learning modes, for students working alone, in small groups, a class together, and large gatherings. The design was ahead of its time, with flexible spaces, responsive to the needs of students.

From Connecting modern pedagogies with the physical learning environments
A space for classes (young and old!) at Hellerup School
The Whale… there’s an interesting story behind this.

I was first introduced to Jens, Birte and Mie when they came to Australia in February 2011. I was working at Northern Beaches Christian School in Sydney at the time, and Jens was excited by the innovative learning spaces and pedagogy. They also visited other schools, including Dandenong High School and found some kindred spirits in Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported on his visit in an article Better designs that lead to better learning. Jens despaired that many schools had yet to appreciate the urgency of disrupting the current model of school, both the physical environment and teaching and learning practices:

“Adding smart boards and other teaching aides is not sufficient to engage today’s students,” he says. “Schools are still ignoring the fact that if you have one teacher in a class, no one really pays attention. We now know that teaching and learning in teams works best. That means we have to get out of the classroom and open the school up.”

Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 28, 2011

Jens will be remembered as an educational revolutionary of the 21st century, seeking to radically redesign schools for the future, in so doing he gained global recognition and respect. He was a passionate advocate for learners – the kids – and a determined activist for change. He challenged the status quo in education. This legacy remains as Mie continues the work, through consultancy LOOP.bz.

Jens was also a dedicated and loving husband, father, grandfather. He was a wonderful friend. We miss him. But we will keep the fire burning.


Find out more about Jens and his passion for kids, learning and school design:

Video interview with Jens

Connecting modern pedagogies with the physical learning environments

Then and now: Evolving pedagogy and place

Learning Landscapes, Why?

Destination Christchurch NZ: An immersive professional learning experience.

Disruption has characterised this city. In February 2011, the land was disrupted by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake, causing significant loss of life and severe damage. Then in March 2019, there was ‘human’ disruption, with significant loss of life once again. I see a great sense of community and optimism in the people of Christchurch, where both resilience and fragility co-exist. Transformation that has been fast-tracked out of necessity.

Images of Christchurch 2015

Since 2011, the city rebuild has been underway. Since then, I’ve visited three times, noting the progress as buttressed buildings are replaced or renovated. The downtown city is becoming bright and vibrant once again, and the bumpy roads smoothed out.

Christchurch is not being fixed up to restore ‘business as usual’, it is being transformed, creating a ‘new normal’, especially in education. Many schools were damaged and families relocated. Schools needed to provide a place for students, not just for their learning, but to strengthen a disrupted community. Immediately after the earthquakes schools were closed, they shared sites, splitting their day in two with other schools damaged in the earthquake. Schools were merged and new schools were birthed. For some families, the generational tradition of attending the same school was broken. As a grander educational plan was worked out, the Ministry of Education grasped the opportunity to transform school and learning.

A few months ago, I started to think about a NZ study tour. I started talking with Cheryl Doig, a former Christchurch school principal and local mover and shaker , leadership futurist Think Beyond. With Cheryl’s encouragement and insight I realised that we have much to learn from this city and Destination Christchurch emerged – a week long professional learning deep-dive to understand the transformation of learning and culture here in Christchurch. We started to put legs to the idea, so I set off this week to find out more.

Prior to the earthquake, many of us had heard about the city-based Discovery 1 and Unlimited schools with their unique student-centred character. For the past eight years the students had been in a temporary location, that is, until this week. On 6 May 2019, the two schools as one returned to the city, to their purpose-built space. On 8 May, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the new home of Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School.

Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School

At Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery school, every student develops an individual education plan. They do not have to follow the regular class route to obtain qualifications or aspirations, but map out their own learning pathway.

As we plan Destination Christchurch, Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School is one that we hope to visit. Haeata Community Campus is another school that inspires innovation and challenge thinking, as they push boundaries and traditional thinking about schooling.

Haeata Community Campus

The NZ Ministry of Education utilised the disruptive opportunity to re-imagine school for the future. As I walked around with the principal at each school, I heard first hand experiences of growing vision, student ownership, shared teaching models and inclusive leadership, seriously messing with that known and trusted institution that is ‘school’.

As many schools in Australia grapple with change, which might include transforming practice, creating optimal learning environments and supporting wellbeing across the community, we have much to learn from the Christchurch experience, as in one place it presents of microcosm of change.

Rolleston School

I do hope that you might consider joining us for this immersive professional learning experience – Monday 5 – Friday 9 August. 2019. Head over to the Destination Christchurch page to find out more and register.


Real world application: A deep learning game changer

“Failure to connect course content to the real world has repeatedly been shown to contribute to students leaving the sciences”
(Prince & Felder, 2007)

In this article “The Many Faces of Inductive Teaching and Learning”, Prince and Felder examine the effectiveness of different inductive teaching methods. It is focused on college (university) level science teaching, but provides helpful insight into inductive teaching approaches for school education.

The difference between deductive and inductive teaching and learning can be simply explained by ‘who’s in charge’:

  • Inductive – teacher presents the content knowledge
  • Deductive – learners identify what they need to know

The umbrella category ‘inquiry based learning’, presents the model of a big challenge, where the solution, outcome or even the information required, is not necessarily known by the learner ahead of time. Five approaches are reviewed, the first three have particular relevance:

  • Discovery-based learning – teacher provides little feedback or direction as students are required to work out the solution in their own.
  • Problem-based learning – students are usually working in teams, define the problem and determine what they need to know. The teacher provides guidance.
  • Project-based learning – the output is a ‘product’. Students apply previously acquired knowledge.

The remaining two relate more to the college/university context:

  • Case-based teaching – study of historical and hypothetical cases, where students are challenged to explore existing preconceptions to accommodate the realities of the case.
  • Just-in-time learning – students undertake electronic pre-test so the teacher is able to adjust the content to address misconceptions revealed in student responses.


Prince & Felder (2007), Many Faces of Inductive Teaching and Learning
Journal of College Science Teaching

Visualising Ideas – my journey of discovery

I’ve been ‘OK’ at drawing and an avid doodler for my whole life. I vividly recall as a child devouring blank paper, pencils, protractors, pens, set squares, compasses (the circle-drawing kind) and soft lead pencils… A lifelong love of stationery! I loved creating patterns and designs.

My father worked for a government office and for some reason (I choose not to think about it), he would bring home a particular type of writing pad used for sketching out engineering jobs. The primary-school-aged ‘me’ would head straight to his briefcase to purloin this resource (and just maybe he brought some extras home for me). I remember every detail of the paper, the bright green gum that held the pad together, each page was beautifully blank, unlined, slightly creamy-coloured, of a decent weight, foolscap* size, and it was emblazoned in bold font ‘Department of Public Works’, just along the top. I would draw and create designs. I also remember gathering up anything else that could be a potential canvas, such as the cardboard inserts in the packaging of my father’s new shirts.

(* The traditional paper size used in Europe and the British Commonwealth before A4)

Then I discovered ‘lettering’. Prior to our digital world, we had stencils and lettering books. I would practice lettering all the time. In the 1970s, a school ‘project’ meant sticking a few pictures on a piece of coloured cardboard, writing on some explanatory text and maybe a couple of diagrams. What my projects lacked in the substance of the content, I made up in the quality of the lettering.

How did this latent passion become rekindled?

In early February 2019, I attended a workshop for facilitators using a suite of tools called Liberating Structures. Throughout the workshop co-developer/ lead facilitator, Keith McCandless, would set us up for a dialogue or an activity amongst the groups and then while we were engaged, he would work on the ongoing visualisation of the three day workshop. This left us to our own devices, without the ‘hovering facilitator’ nearby. On the last day, there was an option to learn about and have-a-go graphic visualising, so I leapt in.

Learning my craft.

The tools themselves have revolutionised my facilitation practice. I use the combination of the Liberating Structures tools and graphic illustration, and my workshops have more talking, drawing (from everyone) and thinking, generating rich outcomes.

In the short few months, I have practiced my craft and played with new ideas. I’m developing my toolkit – Panobook for prototyping, beautiful Fabriano Academia paper, Sharpies of a variety of widths and colours, pastels, a drawing board, B and 2B pencils, and the very important eraser. I use an app called CamScanner to turn my illustrations into a PDF or JPEG.

A Suite of opportunities

Mapping the journey of the workshop.

Workshop journey map: ‘From Separated to Connected’ (April, 2019)

Creating a one page summary for a talk
(instead of providing a copy of my slides)

Presentation at AISNSW Tomorrow’s Environment for Learning Conference (April 2019)

Visualising a book chapter and research article.

Socol, I., Moran, P. & Ratliff C. (2018) Timeless Learning: How imagination, observation and zero-based thinking change schools (Chapter 9 Where Design Begins)
Fernandes, M., Wammes, J. & Meade, M. (2018) “The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory” Association for Psychological Science, Vol 27(5), p. 302 – 308

The next big challenge:
Starting with a blank page, I want to visualise a talk in real time.


Designing School for the Long Haul

[This post is an accompaniment my presentation at a recent conference]

If you’ve heard me speak in the last couple of years, you may recall the story of a school in Sweden that I visited with the architect and consulting team prior to the opening. This 0-15 years school was in a locality that was not without challenges. The local municipality sought out an architect with a reputation for future-focused design. On that initial visit we saw elements recognisable in many future-focused schools – gathering stairs, open-light-filled learning spaces and connected areas wrapping around a centralised atrium, the community heart.

About 18 months later, I returned with a group as part of a study tour I was leading. The school opened a year or so earlier. A very different scene confronted me. Where there was once light and openness, the spaces were closed off. The potential for connectedness, gave way to the desire for separateness. My over-riding thought was that this school had been designed with a clear intention about learning, so why hadn’t it been realised?

Yes, ‘Before’ and ‘After’ are the right way around.
© Anne Knock

How are your people progressing alongside your building progress?

I regularly work with school leadership teams engaged in developing new infrastructure. The timeframe of the project and the detailed decision-making regarding the building, seems to take all the precious time available. As a result the people-factor can take a back seat. Often the first time teachers see the new space is a ‘reveal’ at completion. This provides insufficient processing time on how the new space, the design and furniture might impact their teaching practice.

‘To Don’t’ List #1
No ‘Ta-Da’ Reveal!

Recently, I wrote a post that used the building process as a metaphor for the people-change.

How early do you need to start the human transformation process?

  1. As the cement is poured in the foundations – establish the foundational thinking about the ‘Why’.
  2. As the Walls go up – Strengthen and support staff for growth and change
  3. As the roof goes on – Articulate the over-arching pedagogy
  4. Once the project is near completion on the outside – start looking inside: How will you engage the hearts and minds of the community?

To Don’t List #2
Don’t think it will ever be neatly tied with a bow and completed?

A school that is really making a difference in rethinking student experience is St Luke’s Catholic College Marsden Park in south western Sydney. The Principal Leader, Greg Miller wrote in his blog (gregmiller68.com)

I am constantly challenged and supported to collaboratively work with leaders, teachers, students and parents to co-design and establish a ‘new normal’ for preschool to post school learning.

Two words – ‘constantly’ and ‘co-created’ – tell the story. As the leader, Greg recognises that the role of leading and supporting change is never-ending. Growing change, toward what Greg calls ‘the new normal,’ is considered a collaborative and co-created endeavour.

St Lukes Marsden Park
Photo: Anne Knock

Don’t Forget ‘How’ – designing the ecosystem

I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ movement. Clarity on purpose is essential as the foundation. However, we often skip to the ‘What’, the bright and shiny new thing, without attending to the ‘How’. It’s the ‘How’ that sustains the design for the long haul.  

The student experience and teacher pedagogy can be supported be the ecosystem. In ‘designerly’ terms, each of these can be considered with a ‘how might we’ question:

  1. Teaching teams: How might we equip teachers to transform as professionals, from operating as separate technicians delivering curriculum, to becoming a collaborative design team?
  2. Climate of inclusivity and diversity: How might we create a learning community to ensure that each member is valued and belongs?
  3. Space and affordances: How might we strategically design and set up the learning environment that serves our strategic intent for learning?
  4. Systems thinking: How might we alleviate stress, confusion and the desire to retreat, by applying systems thinking in the learning environment?

(Read more here in an earlier post)

And finally, here is my talk (and this post) visually represented:

Download your own copy here

Building Community Capacity for Transformational Change

A conference speaker asked the audience, ‘Who thinks the world is changing at a rate so fast it’s hard to keep up?’ Of course, many hands went up. To which he responded, “You know, it’s never going to be this slow again!”.

Too often, in my experience, the so-called ‘change management’ process associated with a new learning environment is commenced too late in the process.

One time, I arrived to speak at a high school for their whole staff PD day. It was held in the newly completed shared Year 9 space. This was the first time most teachers had even set foot in the door of the new building, and everything was already in place. There I stood, the embodiment of change, the representation of their professional fear. This should have started earlier.

If you’ve heard me speak you might remember another story about a school community’s unpreparedness for change. The building project with future-focused learning environment which soon returned to walled classrooms with the aid of cupboards and bookshelves.

Much of my work as a consultant, facilitator and speaker is centred around the process of encouraging and equipping for change. Learning, at whatever age, is primarily focused on preparing for and navigating change.

We may have knowledge about our fast-changing world. Today’s learners, in decades to come, will face immense opportunities, along with significant challenges. We know that this means we need provide an education that equips them to solve wicked problems, those that are both complex and paradoxical. We know that they require a broad set of adaptable skills to successfully navigate the intricacies of life in the 21st century.

Yet for many students, school remains rote-repeat-regurgitate. We know what they need, why isn’t it done? Because ‘knowing isn’t doing’, but I think you’ll agree that

  • Talking isn’t doing
  • Remembering isn’t doing
  • Data collection isn’t doing

Time after time people understand the issues, understand what needs to happen to affect performance, but don’t do the things they know they should.

(Pfeffer & Sutton, 2000, p.11).

This is called the ‘knowing-doing gap’, and research by Pfeffer & Sutton backs up what we all can confess – that transferring what we know into action isn’t as simple as it sounds. What can we learn about turning our knowledge into action?

  • Why comes before how
  • Planning isn’t doing
  • There is no doing without mistakes
  • Fear fosters knowing-doing gaps
  • Measure what matters

The success of most innovation “largely depends on implementing what is already known” (p.14). And this is why I love the facilitating. It brings out the ‘gold’ in people, their knowledge and experience, encouraging them (or putting-in courage) and providing a co-created framework for action.

Transferring knowledge into action takes courage, because change and stepping into the unknown can be scary. A new building project, as it reaches completion is a constant reminder that change is coming. Working with schools I often hear fear expressed as:

  • How will we teach in this space?
  • The kids will be distracted.
  • Will the noise just bounce around?
  • How do we manage the different activities?
  • What about the kids on the spectrum?
  • Our parents won’t be happy!

It doesn’t need to be that way. As the building starts with the foundation, to supporting walls, to the over-arching roof, and finally completed internally, we can use this as a metaphor for the change:


Ref: Pfeffer, J. & Sutton, R (2000) The Knowing-Doing Gap: How smart companies turn knowledge into action. Harvard Business School Press:

Design the Learning Ecosystem: Don’t forget ‘How’ after #StartWithWhy

design /dɪˈzʌɪn/ (vb) decide upon the look and functioning of a building, garment, object, system or experience

innovative /ˈɪnəvətɪv/ (adj) new ideas; original and creative in thinking

Innovative design is changing the the way we navigate our world, reimagining future opportunities, solving annoyingly small or significantly huge problems, or just plain helping people. Design thinking is applicable beyond buildings and objects to everyday life, designing experiences and systems.

It’s more than just coming up with the big idea, but implementing systems. Systems represent the conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools to make it work (Senge, 1990).

I love planes, I love flying. It’s a chair in the sky travelling near or even far away. We need to truly appreciate this innovative design.

It was a little over 30 years from the Wright Brothers’ powered flight innovation, to McDonnell-Douglas commencing the era of commercial air flight with the DC-3 in 1935. That’s not very long, from zero – no powered flight –  to sufficiently gaining people’s trust so that they could reach their destination safely by air. This innovative design was about as disruptive imaginable?

This plane, the DC-3, a fixed-wing propeller-driven airliner, revolutionised air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. It was fast, had good range, could operate from short runways, and was reliable. Before the WW2 it pioneered many air travel routes, transporting passengers in comfort.

Retrieved: http://www.aviation-history.com/douglas/dc3.html

How did this revolution in transport happen? McDonnell-Douglas’ 30 years of prototyping and testing discovered that the DC-3 needed five essential components for a successful flight:

  1. Variable pitch propeller
  2. Retractable landing gear
  3. Lightweight moulded body construction
  4. Radial air-cooled engine
  5. Wing flaps

Five years earlier Boeing introduced four of these elements, without the wing flaps, but found that the plane was unstable on take-off and landing. Illustrating the power of thoroughly prototyping and testing the design. (Senge, 1990)

Retrieved: http://www.aviation-history.com/boeing/247.html

We talk a lot about Simon Sinek’s simple message, Start with Why’, he’s created a movement around it. Of course, no one disagrees, we need to have clarity around the purpose of the design, there is no other place to begin. We can often visualise the What as we craft the vision. But I think the How is the like neglected middle child of the ‘Start with Why’ family. So, I’m going to start a movement:

‘Make Time to Focus on How’ 
(Clearly, not as catchy)

(Modified) Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, N.Y.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the How, especially when it comes to designing the wholistic learning environment. How can we help to ensure that the ‘Why’ is realised and the ‘What’ is sustainable? By ‘creating time to focus on the ‘How’, that is, applying design thinking to the supporting systems and infrastructure.

This is how the idea of the ecosystem came about, the often unseen elements that create sustainability around the ‘Why‘ and make the ‘What’ look so good. I have identified four ‘How‘ elements of the supporting learning design ecosystem:

  • Teaching team cohesion
  • Physical space design & affordances
  • Inclusivity and diversity
  • Systems thinking

These are elements of learning design are not directly related to the pedagogy, but how the ecosystem supports the pedagogical approaches.  I’m currently testing this prototype as I work with schools. I am passionate about creating schools that are amazing places for learning – so these are my four.

How might you ‘Make Time to Focus on How’?
Identify your critical components for success.


Reference: Senge, Peter M. (1990). The fifth discipline : the art and practice of the learning organization. New York:Doubleday

What’s all this talk about ‘small data’?

Slide1.pngIs big data your only focus for improvement? 

90% of the data you collect will never be
actionable or even helpful” 
(Jake Peterson, founder of Dirty Analytics D-Zone)

Attention is turning to ‘small data’. If you’ve heard Pasi Sahlberg recently or read his book FinnishEd (2018), you’ll know about small data.

Small data finds the humanity, and focuses on details, observations and interactions. Walk around a school or workplace, and small data abounds, in the information displayed on the noticeboards, how people work as a team, and relationships amongst the community. These can form everyday cultural clues that lead to broader trends.

Big data, Sahlberg explains, is very helpful for making correlations, such as variables between student behaviour and learning, but it is less helpful when looking for causation, the relationships between cause and effect. Small data provides insight and meaning at a micro level, as Sahlberg writes, “If you don’t start leading through small data, you will be led by big data and spurious correlations” (p.45).


How is the mission, and supporting values, evident in the everyday life of your school or organisation?

Danish branding advisor, Martin Lindstrom has worked with major global companies, including Disney, Pepsi and LEGO as a small data miner. His book, Small Data: Tiny clues that uncover huge trends (2016) suggests that big data on its own offers an incomplete solution. Rather, understand big data in concert with small data, spend time watching, listening and noticing clues to find human, rather than only digital insights. In his book, Lindstrom tells stories of how he hunts for small data, in kitchens, bedrooms and even garbage bins, “If someone crushes a toothpaste tube and tosses it away capless, experience tells me they are prudent about saving money” (p.114). Seriously, it’s that small!

Slide2Working with global brands, Lindstrom seeks insights from users around the world, his fresh eyes see things that can be easily missed. This is a little like the so-called ‘dead dog’ audit, as Australian academic, Stephen Dinham, wrote in his book How to Get Your School Moving and Improving: An Evidence-based Approach (2008),

“people who have spent a long time in a school … develop organisational myopia, unseeingly stepping over the ‘dead dogs’ in the corridor” (p.129)

I have had visited many different schools around the world. As we walk around, the principal or senior leader explains the ethos and philosophy of the school, I might notice subtle examples where the espoused mission and values seem disconnected with what I observe. I’ve also witnessed a ‘quiet achiever’ supporting the school’s values in an interaction with a student. Fresh eyes can see what might be hidden. Slide3Where to next?
Do you need a Small Data Audit of your school or organisation? A fresh pair of eyes collecting evidence through observations and conversations, framed around identified priorities. This becomes the basis for developing strategic alignment with espoused mission and values.

There are three stages to the Small Data Audit:Slide4.pngGet in touch and let’s have a conversation about your small data. 




Lindstrom, M (2016) Small data: the tiny clues that uncover huge trends

Sahlberg, P. (2018) FinnishEd: Four big, inexpensive ideas to transform education



How might we co-design the learning ecosystem?

Perhaps the construction is close to completion for the new learning space. I’m sure you are keen to embrace diverse pedagogical approaches, develop collaborative teaching teams and create learning strategies to empower self-directed learners. That bright-shiny new space may have been designed to support future-focused, inquiry-based and learner-centred pedagogies, however, over time it can just as easily become a bright-shiny traditional classroom. And I’m sure that’s not what you had in mind.


In this post I  talk about:

  • Getting out of the ‘problem-fix loop’
  • Application of systems thinking
  • Designing the ecosystem to support learning

It takes more than providing new space, flexible furniture and openness to transform pedagogy and create the desired learning culture. In fact, to support longer term sustainable change there needs to be specific attention to the ecosystem. Within nature this is an interconnected bio-community of complex organisms which interact within their physical environment, and is a helpful metaphor to describe about the learning space.

By comparison, the traditional classroom is relatively simple. The nature of relationships are often hierarchical, reinforced by the uniform and orderly arrangement of furniture, with the orientation toward a front, while learners remaining ‘productively’ quiet and mostly fixed in position.

However, the physical environment in the multimodal learning space, can be comprised of several classes in a shared area, with multiple learning zones, a variety of focal points, different furniture options for different purposes. This context creates complexity, a network of humans, objects and pedagogies. However, as Dr Helen Street (2018) notes,

“The physical environment matters; it reflects our identity, shapes our behaviours and reflects the values of those who are ‘in charge’ of the space.”

This ‘community of complex organisms’ needs to design systems and strategies in each learning setting. Taking into account the users, the culture and the vision for the space. It is not desirable to merely shoe-horn traditional classroom systems and processes into the multimodal learning environment. There needs to be an intentional strategy to embed and then sustain change for the long haul. This can be achieved through applying systems thinking and a design-mindset.

How might we design the ecosystem to provide the context for future-focused, inquiry-based learning?

From the outset, attention to the interrelated elements in the ecosystem is critical to provide the foundation for transformation from traditional to student-centred learning. These may include:

  • Agreements and shared expectations,
  • Negotiated use of learning zones and resources in the space,
  • Furniture configuration,
  • Movement and line of sight issues, and importantly,
  • “Where do a put my stuff?”

The perspective of the ‘interrelated elements in the ecosystem’ helps us to see the whole picture rather than focusing on each individual issue as it arises, which can lead to a frustrating and incessant ‘problem-fix loop’. Alternatively, attention is given to the deeper issues that impact transformation – addressing mental models, identifying patterns and trend and co-designing systems. ‘

Senge (1990) suggests effective systems integrate with all the others to see the big picture, known as ‘systems thinking’, relying on the strength of the team learning together, their collective intelligence. Critical to this transformation is designing systems and structures.

How can I help you?

In my workshops and consultations with schools and systems I apply the principles of design thinking to the ecosystem: How teachers and students can work effectively by developing a shared understanding of how to use the space and get out of the frustrating ‘problem-fix loop’.

If you would like more information send me your details



Peter Senge, (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization

Dr Helen Street (2018) Contextual Wellbeing: Creating Positive Schools from the Inside Out