There’s no *place* like *home* – why comfort and community matter when we work, learn, play & create

This post is my presentation at the Education Future Forum, 15 March 2013


There is no sense of ‘place’ that is greater than ‘home’.

Hugh Mackay, in What makes us tick? Ten desires that drive us  says

‘My place’ is partly an anchor, partly a refuge, partly a stable point in a world that seems kaleidoscopic in the complexity of shifting patterns…we need to know where we belong; we need to feel that some physical place stands as a symbol of our uniqueness and acceptance.

The places where we spend most time are home and work. The picture of the employee in isolation is changing, as we prefer to work in community with others. Yahoo recently banned working from how, because as CEO Melissa Mayer stated, “we are one Yahoo” and community and connection is essential to culture change.

The traditional office  isn’t  particularly inspiring either. People often like to just hang out, work in proximity with other like-minded people. This has led to  a happy medium between home and work.

Sometimes curing office doldrums is simply about a temporary change of scenery, whether that’s in a coffee shop, a co-working space or even a park bench. (Link)

Over the last couple of decades there has been a shift in the way people work and learn, breaking down barriers, enabling choice and recognising that ownership of time space and very work itself is a huge motivating factor. The term ‘third place’  was coined by Ray Oldenburg an urban sociologist. In his book The Great Good Place he writes about the importance of informal public gathering spaces. “Third places” are essential to community vitality.

The $8bn Green Square project in inner Sydney is an urban development will eventually be the home for more than 40,000 people by 2030.  A young architectural team came up with the winning plan for the library at Green Square:

Artist impression 1

Artist impression 2

The below-ground vision will include garden storytelling, rolling hills and a sunken garden for reading and relaxing. It features an amphitheatre, water play area and music rooms where residents can practise on their instruments without disturbing neighbours.

Did anyone mention books?

Today, the library is a third place where people come to meet, read, work and belong. The word ‘library’ was once only synonymous with the word ‘book’. Now it is a ‘place’. The architects described this library as the ‘community living room’, a third place where people can be comfortable and productive at the same time. The library that feels like home.

The Hub “Where change goes to work”  is a non-profit communal movement across the globe that is recreating the work environment.

The Hub

HUBs are uniquely designed spaces that provide a creative environment as well as a professional infrastructure to work, meet, learn and connect. Individuals rent spaces to work with other  entrepreneurs or project space with their team. The spaces are comfortable, with a variety of furnishings, a cafe and a kitchen.

We believe physical spaces are key to our impact  – for work, collaboration, inspiration, community, vibrant spaces, tools, connection, innovation. Why work from home when you can co-locate with other like-minded people at The Hub?


Another example of the third space is The Design Factory at Aalto University in Helsinki. This is a cross-disciplinary project space furnished in the same way as the hub, catering for different ways of working and placing shipping containers to create a variety of working areas – spaces within spaces.


Importantly, the kitchen provides a focal point and an opportunity for “planned coincidences”. It houses the only coffee machine in the building, so people must come to the kitchen to connect.

Design Factory

So what happens when school feels like home?

For generations, educationally, we’ve been polishing the chrome on the Holden Kingswood (or Edsel or Cortina), without seeing the need to reinvent in the hybrid-vehicle era. For generations the physical place of school has remained the same, when all around people are working and learning in markedly different ways. Think about the hospital/medical services, the way we communicate, how we access music and purchase goods – yet there is a constancy to the way schools look – for decades.


The physical environment does matter. This was identified by a pilot study by the University of Salford and architects, Nightingale Associates. This study  found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25%.

 Slide26  GM23

Schools we have visited in Scandinavia, and in particular Denmark and Sweden,  the design definitely feels like home. There are communal living rooms with soft furnishings and kitchens within the learning space, especially for primary and middle years.

There are, of course, other spaces for instructional sessions, but there were no rigid rows, but coworking tables. These spaces are generally kept small, because they aren’t spaces to stay in all day.


I witnessed a ‘school feels like home’ moment last year.  

The teacher brought the young boy over to the kitchen, took a plate, put some crackers with cheese together for him and then sat at the ‘kitchen table’ to work with him on his maths problems.


Kunskapsskolan is a system of more than 30 free schools across Sweden. The schools have a specific replicable design that is evident at each site.



A new Kunskapsskolan school is not built on fresh greenfield site, but a disused factory, warehouse, shop or hospital that can accommodate the design and way of working – one characterised by light, visibility and flexibility.


Every space is a learning space.

The starting point for design is to think of the entire space available as a potential learning area, not defaulting to “dividing space into static classrooms with connecting corridors”

Most areas have multiple functions …the cafeteria doubles up as a space for collaboration.

Visitors to Kunskapsskolan often remark that our schools look more like the site of a modern, creative knowledge industry, rather than a traditional school.

How do we make school feel like home? 


Test every assumption about school – just because we have always have classrooms, desks, chairs and a teacher at the front, it doesn’t mean they are the necessary elements.

Identify what is actually necessary – begin with the end in mind.

Observe the times – how do your students connect, learn and communicate?

Ditch those things that don’t matter any more – how much of what we do is due to what has always been done?

Focus on relationships – at all levels, and at every nexus.

…And be brave.



Will this be in the test, My Pyne? Old school is not way to go #weneedvision

Christopher Pyne is the Australian Education Minister in-waiting, with an election due in September this year. We have been waiting for a clear vision for the students in our nation and are yet to receive it. The current government hasn’t delivered. This piece appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald this week.

Old School is way to go, says Pyne (emphasis mine – see below)

Child-centred learning should be abandoned for a return to more explicit instruction driven by teachers, the Liberal education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, says.

Mr Pyne on Wednesday advocated ”more practical teaching methods based on more didactic teaching methods, more traditional methods rather than the child-centred learning that has dominated the system for the past 20, 30 or 40 years’‘.

”In other words, mounting evidence suggests that primary school children or students with particular types of disadvantage would be better off being taught this way,” he said. ”Unfortunately this research has been ignored by most teacher training and in many instances attempts to return to explicit instruction pedagogy have been blocked by state education departments.

Dear Mr Pyne,

The world has changed significantly from when I was at school. I’m not sure who’s advising you, so maybe I can help. In 2013 it is not feasible to look to the so-called good old days and say, “it didn’t do me any harm”. Rather than appeal to the voting public (parents) with seemingly reassuring words about getting back to the past, we need an Education Minister who can look forward and see the amazing opportunities our children have before them.

I’m sure as a student you knuckled down and worked hard to get where you are today. But learning is personal, and I wonder if there were peers in your classes who were like a ‘fish out of water’ at your school.

Today I want an education system where there are no more of these ‘fishes’ at school, that we are able to personalise the learning for the success of all students – with a curriculum that is deep, engaging, rigorous and purposeful. Not a policy that will just win votes.

In no other profession do we yearn for the past. For those of us over 40, think back to our childhood. Would we want to go back to the way it was for a visit to the dentist or the hospital? I wouldn’t. Similarly, the world of education and learning has significantly shifted and we are looking to the leaders, like yourself, as alternate Education Minister, not to turn back the clock based on your own experience, but gain a greater understanding of the world we are preparing our young people for, especially the opportunities that technology bring.

Just to ge things straight

Child-centred learning that has dominated the system for the past 20, 30 or 40 years This term was used when I started my career in education 30 years ago. In 1979 I started my pre-service teacher education and it seemed that in the right conditions learning would happen, as if by osmosis.

Rather, I think today forward thinking educators would say that the curriculum needs to be learner-driven, not putting the student in charge of the content, but the teacher. ‘Learner-driven’ is more about the students as engaged and passionate learners, who actively pursue learning as a lifelong endeavour.

Return to more explicit instruction, driven by teachers. Now I’m really confused. We now know that quality teachers are more important than ever. I see many passionate teachers that are taking responsibility for the ‘stickiness’ of their students’ learning. Back-in-the-day it was a simple blame game – if students didn’t learn it was their fault or problem, with associated punishment. I am impressed with the education professionals in my world who are constantly assessing students and evaluating their own practice, thus seeking to ensure that they provide the conditions for students to learn.

This may also include instructional teaching, as part of the tool kit, but this can be done in a variety of ways that frees up the teacher from the one-to-many approach, allowing more quality time with students.

Mounting evidence suggests that primary school children or students with particular types of disadvantage would be better off being taught this way. Does this mean that because these students require a particular approach, then there needs to be a blanket rule for all students? There is no one size fits all education. Let’s aim to give all students the approach they need to realise their potential and achieve success in life.

In many instances attempts to return to explicit instruction pedagogy have been blocked by state education departments. I can only speak from the NSW perspective, perhaps one of the most prescriptive curriculum jurisdictions across Australia. I am very familiar with the requirements for the registration and accreditation of schools and I am not aware of any such blockage. The breadth of outcomes to be met in NSW actually lends itself to explicit instruction, as this is the only way that many teachers feel they can meet the statutory requirements.

I am currently reading social researcher, Hugh Mackay’s book, What makes us tick? The ten desires that drive us. In the chapter, ‘The Desire to be Taken Seriously’, Mackay talks about the need to focus on intrinsic motivation. Rewards and punishments come from extrinsic sources, says Mackay, then we focus on control. This is very evident in school:

Students who become obsessed by the marks they are getting tend to be less engaged learners – in the richest sense of ‘learning’ – than those who are not driven by the extrinsic reward of marks. Marks become the goal. Learning, questioning, exploring ideas, making mistakes – all the hallmarks of an engaged student – tend to diminish in the pursuit of rewards.

In one secondary school famous for high marks achieved by its students, teachers reported that the students’ focus on marks was distorting their approach to learning: ‘Will this be in the exam?’ students would ask, whenever a teacher introduced a topic or mentioned a book worth reading. The clear implication was that if there were no marks in it the students wouldn’t bother paying attention to it.

I don’t know about you, but I would like to provide the conditions for rich and engaged learners. I definitely don’t want these young people to face school as I experienced it.

Be the change, Mr Pyne, if you become the new school Education Minister for Australia

PS… Please don’t take counsel from Mr Gove. Instead, watch the TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson and Sugata Mitra.