Have you been inspired by your everyday surroundings? As we travel, even the ordinary makes us think about better ways to design the school environment. Shopping centres and airports become inspirational. What this trip has taught me is that it is time to look beyond what schools are supposed to do, be and look like and see what we can learn from the real world. Our students live in the real world, but often their day to day environment at school bears little resemblance to the world beyond. Here are a few of the inspiring ideas we’ve seen:
School feels like home – as the world beats a path to learn from the Finnish education system, one of their key features is the sense of ‘home’ in schools in Finland. We saw this firsthand in Denmark at Absolonskolon. Soft furnishings, communal tables with stools around them. The ‘classroom’ area, as we would call it was relatively small. The tall round/oval table is used for instruction, as students pull up a stool, but the whole day isn’t spent there. Other spaces are used for other types of work. Even if a teacher spends time in lecture mode, how much more engaging if it’s set up as a conversation around the kitchen table.
Toilet and bathrooms – This is definitely the least attractive and least desirable place in a school. I have bad memories of the toilets when I went to school. Dark, horrible, smelly and often scary places. Many students, as I once did, avoid going all day. If shopping centres can now create ‘nice’ toilet areas, why can’t schools. Isn’t it time to change the mindset, perhaps if we made the school toilets more pleasant students would get the message that we value and respect them and they in turn would value and respect the environment.
Shopping centers and airport concourses – we can learn from places where people gather and people move. Today’s shopping centers and airports are more than functional spaces for shopping and transit. The designers have created spaces that draw people and make then want to come. The designers are also skilled at people movement. There are definitely things we can learn here.
High and wide spaces – open areas and atriums create a sense of expansiveness. Then add in natural light through an atrium and it becomes a very inviting space. At each of the places we visited the sense of space through high and wide foyer was very impressive. Sadly for schools designers often look at spaces in terms of how many classrooms they can squeeze in. It is time to rethink the rectangular classroom as the only space to learn and be creative to allow the sense of openness that the high and wide spaces give.
Books and food and drink – I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things is to have a coffee in one hand and a book in the other, curled up on a sofa. This is the environment that encourages me to read. I wouldn’t choose to read, nor would I take it in if I was required to sit at a desk. Coffee and books and computers are natural bedfellows in today’s world. It’s time to stop being precious about books and to become real.
Learning along the way – I want to encourage you to be an observer. This trip has taught me to open my eyes and learn from whatever is around me. It is too easy to go about our normal life with the blinkers on. Let’s create schools that make students want to come and learn. I don’t think just replicating what schools do and have done in the past is good enough today. We need a new paradigm. It’s time to learn from airports, shopping centers, the best libraries and museums, theme parks…whatever!
* Well, we did see ‘We Will Rock You’ the Queen musical in London.