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Many educational leaders are finding that traditional forms of education are not keeping students engaged, nor assisting students in taking responsibility for their own learning or providing opportunities for students to work together. Equipping learners with the skills and capacities for a successful future—including self-directed learning, global awareness, collaboration, and creativity—is no small matter. Pedagogies must evolve and respond to the changing world to remain relevant to the next generation of learners. Many schools are working on transforming their spaces but often focus on influencing only one aspect of education—either academic standards, instructional practices, or the physical environment, but seldom all three. This can prohibit reform efforts and produce less than desirable results.

Here a Texas teacher and student share their direct experiences of new learning styles in new environments and what happens when pedagogy meets an innovative learning environment. Their stories demonstrate how today’s spaces can create lifelong learners and prepare students for the future.

Teacher to Facilitator

“When my students saw a news clipping about the state of water across the world, they really were concerned. So, I gave them an opportunity to decide how they wanted to make a difference. They determined it was important to make people aware of the issues with water conservation. Some chose to develop a website, some chose to design brochures and pamphlets, while others chose to create a digital multi-touch book. They also chose their own groups for this challenge, based on common passions. I reviewed regular updates throughout the project, and the experience also included a presentation of their finished projects to me and their peers.”

The facilitator also shared that this innovative approach to teaching and learning is much more impactful than lecturing in a traditional educational setting. In previous years, she followed the same lessons year after year, lecturing to students and assigning homework every night. She felt the older, traditional approach made it difficult to build relationships with learners because of the constant pressure to get through the curriculum and prepare students for the state test, and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be an educator in a new, modern learning environment.

New School, New Pedagogy

“At the new school, we follow the challenge-based learning model to deliver instruction. Students collaborate with each other throughout the day and are much more involved in their work as they develop a deeper understanding of the world around them. I can guide my students in a way that personalizes learning based on their passions, interests, strengths, and needs. And when they feel like they need more support, I am there to work with them. They can even use our class Google doc to request a workshop, or a small group lesson, on a topic that will fulfill a need and help them move forward, such as quadratic functions, or finding expert leaders in a specific field. This way of teaching allows me to understand the curriculum better and allows me to use my creativity to ensure my students gain the necessary skills and knowledge they need to be successful in life. It is an exciting way to facilitate learning, and I will never go back to traditional teaching!”

Student to Learner

And her students shared the same sentiment. During the 2017-2018 school year, one student attended a traditional high school. Her eight classes per day were held in classrooms where the desks were arranged in rows and her teachers lectured day after day. She told me that she rarely talked to other students outside of lunch, and therefore did not make many new friends during the school year. This learner also said by the time she returned home each day, she struggled to remember the goal of her homework lessons. Later that year, however, she began attending a new school— one that supports modern pedagogies and is designed to be flexible, with furniture that can be easily moved to accommodate varying teaching styles, and spaces that can accommodate changing technologies. She said her experience in this innovative learning environment is vastly different than the one she recounted from her traditional school.

“I love my new school! Here, the content in our classes is integrated and we learn in more of an open environment with additional small and medium spaces, so we can choose where we want to research, practice skills, and create projects. We have comfortable furniture that we move to where we want to sit or move to work in groups or by ourselves. Our teacher is called a facilitator and she sets up challenges where we have choice in how to research and find solutions. I also get to work with students in other grade levels.”

As this student described one of her favorite learning experiences her enthusiasm and expanded confidence was palpable. “Today was another amazing day as I shared with the class the digital multitouch book that I created with two other students for our water conservation challenge project. The three weeks of research and preparation really paid off. When I got to class, I chose a spot next to my friends in my project group. Of course, one of my friends wanted to sit in that big, blue bean bag chair, but I got my favorite spot on the pillow chair behind him. The three of us worked so hard on this project, we even chose to work outside of the school day because we enjoyed doing the project. Our facilitator gave us feedback along the way, so I knew we were going to be successful.”

Key Takeaways

These two stories reinforce the idea that instruction and physical design share equal sides of the educational coin—they work with one another to support educational success. In order to best prepare students for their future, school districts should approach change from a holistic perspective, simultaneously focusing on the architectural design components of the facility as well as the pedagogy that will be shared in that space. In doing so, these districts can create meaningful change for the learners of today and flexible solutions for the learners of tomorrow.

About this Research and Methodology

State of the K-12 Market 2018: The Impact of Learning Spaces on Student Success, is based on an online survey conducted by MDR, with a nationwide sample of K-12 public school educators. Teachers and librarian/media specialists were sent an email invitation to take the survey and 1,685 completed it. Data collection occurred from May 24 through June 17, 2018. Respondents were asked if their school had undergone a construction or renovation in the past five years, or if their school has a renovation planned in the near future. If neither was the case, they were asked if their school is in need of a renovation. Throughout the report, how the respondents answered this question will be referenced for perspective. Nearly one-fourth of the respondents work in schools planning a renovation, over one-third reported construction took place recently, and nearly two-thirds believe their school needs construction or a renovation in the next five years. This points to the importance teachers place on having modern, updated learning spaces in which to teach. Learn more about MDR Education reports at