"If you've told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner."
December 5 2015
Leadership in Schools: Learning Spaces for All -
Another piece of the jigsaw puzzle
Way back in 2010, when Cranston School was an empty building still under construction, I had a unique opportunity as a principal contemplating a space that would soon be home to many young children. I was able to come together in cooperative planning with five other principals also experiencing the same process, to envision learning spaces and how they could be used differently to optimize learning within a school in the Calgary Board of Education. Working with representatives from the CBE, we were able to explore new ideas in furniture, teaching environments and design concepts in quite deliberate and innovative ways. I was so privileged to work with fellow principals Jeff Hutton, Gail Landon, Sandra Levesque, Scott MacNeill and Jacquie Walsh - all innovative, risk-taking thinkers who constantly challenged my thinking and helped me envision a learning space at Cranston School that was significantly different than any I had taught in before. It was in collaboration with these outstanding educators that I came to understand a critical piece of building a new school environment was the need to carefully consider how to create learning spaces in which all students could learn comfortably and to the best of their ability.
I understood the impact classroom arrangements could have on student learning - as a teacher, I frequently changed room and desk arrangements, often pushed back desks and chairs to make room for projects and encouraged the students to re-arrange the room with me to best suit their learning needs several times throughout any given school year. However, I had not encountered any design thinking about use of space to promote learning in any significant way so I was captivated by the thinking and research found in the book The Third Teacher (and companion website http://www.thethirdteacher.com/ ). Reading through the photo essays in this book connected me with many other space and design thinking websites and resources, and I began to realize this was a very special opportunity to create not just a school where teaching could be innovative but also a place where the very space we worked in each day promoted students to move, think, interact and explore learning in different ways.
The thing about changing the way we use space and changing the furniture we place in schools is that it immediately invites something else. An awareness that things happening here can be out of the ordinary - the message is immediate and visceral - things could happen here that are different. It's like opening a book expecting to find familiar images and instead encountering completely new possibilities. Children and adults enter the space and realize possibility lives here. There are no teacher desks because the learning is focused on the students. The learning commons hold books, technology, games, toys, puzzles on mobile carts and shelves. Everything is on wheels and isexpected to be moved as needed.
From the beginning, the way we have furnished and used space at Cranston School has allowed our work with children to be viewed differently - we aren't just delivering curriculum - we are inviting students to learn and think in collaboration with others, while sitting and standing and sprawling and moving. We place resources differently, change the purposes and uses of rooms and tables and shelves, stand at tables, sit on dots, stools, sofas, balls and bean bags as frequently as we sit on chairs. Visually and spatially our school announces our learning is active and engaged.
This is a piece of the leadership jigsaw puzzle I was not the least bit familiar with when I began the principalship of Cranston School. It is a huge piece of preparing a school for a learning community that I was not even aware existed. It is not enough just to have an inviting place to work - there is still so much thinking and planning and teaching to do - but without inviting and functional learning spaces for all, I now understand how much more challenging the job of meeting every child's learning needs can be.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal