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This week we’re diving into a book whose content is very close to our heart: ‘Redesigning Learning Spaces’. It explores how learning-space design can positively impact classroom learning, the culture of a school, healthy communities, and systems and structures that make education meaningful.

‘Resigning Learning Spaces’. Written by: Robert Dillon, Ben Gilpin, A.J. Juliani, and Erin Klein

We love that the opening sentence immediately acknowledges where educators are presently at: ‘Teachers everywhere are working harder, being pressed from all sides for results, and reacting to the initiative overload that has flooded the education horizon.’ We’re sure you can relate. But this book is one of hope and inspiration. It asks many questions but offers many answers about why and how we can turn the traditional ideas of the learning space on its head. ‘Exploring how learning-space design and transforming learning spaces can truly reorient schools and bring a greater sense of control, peace, and joy to teachers who make our schools incredible places for kids’.

We highly recommend anyone in education to read this book in its entirety, but here are our key takeaways.

The authors start by making the point that you can have the best teachers and the best curriculum in the world, ‘but if you don’t have an environment that’s conducive for learning, nothing else matters’. They explain that when a classroom is overstimulating, noisy or uncomfortable how students don’t feel comfortable or safe and therefore it’s unlikely they’ll reach a deep level of learning. The suggestion is to really talk and listen to students wants and needs and observe them in alternative positive environments. The example given is inviting us to notice children in a bookstore when they’re not with their parents: ‘No-one is telling them what to do but in these spaces, you see children with piles of books beside them and they are just sitting and reading. Some are laying on floors. Some are on little beanbag chairs. Some are sitting across from one another in tables and chairs, and some are walking around looking for books.’

This is certainly food for thought and the point the authors are making is, children can self select how they best engage, focus and learn if you give them different location options within a space. There has been enough research and thought leadership for the consensus to be that rows of desks aren’t serving the majority of students well anymore.

This leads into another rarely discussed idea; ‘The importance of beauty in a learning environment.’ This is stated as being more than something that’s just ‘nice’ to have – it’s necessary. ‘Beauty, for many children, is limited by their surroundings at home and in the community, so for students it’s especially important that classrooms are also a place of beauty. Beauty can push back against the effects of poverty. Beauty can stimulate new dreams. Beauty can facilitate connections to people, place and planet. Teachers can be champions for learning spaces for a number of reasons, but one of the motives should be that beauty is good for learning, and students need to experience beauty to grow to their full potential.’

This concept continues by talking about how intentional space design really does impact students mindsets and attitudes. ‘An intentionally designed space is very, very student-centered.’ There’s a lovely recount from a teacher remembering a particular student’s reaction after she’d given her classroom a redesign. She’d removed the clutter, offered different seating areas and options, let in as much natural light as possible and introduced some green plants.

“..we were discussing what it means to have integrity and how proud I was proud of the class’s behavior. One of the students just couldn’t contain himself and said, “It’s really easy. It’s like when you walk into a McDonalds, you know it’s a place where you can have fun and run around and be crazy. But then when you go to a nice restaurant, you know you have to be on your best behavior. It’s like that when we walk into our classroom, we know it’s a space where we have to be respectful.”

This all sounds great but how does the book address how you go about making these changes when there may be resistance from others and most certainly budget challenges? The authors urge you to start where you are. Small changes can make a big difference. They suggest you do the things you can, that need no or very little budget.

  • Remove all unnecessary clutter. Take items off the walls and reorganize what’s needed.
  • Let as much natural light in as possible.
  • If there’s a chance to swap out bright distracting colors for pale calming ones, do so.
  • Introduce some green plants into your classroom.
  • Move the existing furniture around to create different areas for quiet reading, one on one learning and then group areas for collaboration and team projects. Creating as much flexibility is the goal here.
  • Include the students as much as possible, let them feel ownership over the space.

Besides creating a better learning environment for you and your students, you’re showing them you really care. It lets them know they matter and they’re valued, and this can really shift their mindset and lift the culture of their class and the school.

At Natural Pod, we really welcome this book, as it confirms that the work we do is important, it does matter and that we can make a difference. Our purpose has always been to create outstanding sustainable learning environments where educators enjoy working and students experience great learning outcomes.

‘Resigning Learning Spaces’. Written by: Robert Dillon, Ben Gilpin, A.J. Juliani, and Erin Klein