When it comes to creating great learning environments with the intention of creating great learning outcomes, who gets to decide how to create them, and by what means? Welcome, stakeholders! We mostly know what ‘stakeholders’ means, but the term doesn’t sound very human-centric. So, who are stakeholders and why do they matter?
‘Stakeholders in education are people and we know people are the heart of the education system. – In stakeholders lie the resources, information, and opportunities, the love, caring and wisdom needed to support the goals of the education system — creating the conditions for our kids to thrive now and in the future.’ (Getting Smart – ‘Getting Clearer: Stakeholders At The Heart of Education’)
Stakeholders consist of the entire community involved: those in leadership positions within the school, educators, principals, counselors, administrators and all the other members of a school district that students may or may not come face to face with; plus possibly architects and designers; certainly parents and the students extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and so on; local organizations and businesses; faith-based institutions; then, and maybe most importantly, students. Unfortunately, it’s students who most often get overlooked in decision-making processes.
‘Every adult, if seen, heard and valued for their strengths and gifts, has much to offer directly and indirectly to the growth and development of children. Family, school and community stakeholders are sources of connection and love, resources and opportunities, learning and play for our kids. They are sources of expertise in careers, hobbies and much more. They are sources of inspiration, hope and resilience.’ (Getting Smart – ‘Getting Clearer: Stakeholders At The Heart of Education’)
To create effective education systems and effective learning environments, all stakeholders need to come together in a meaningful way, through collaboration and therefore connection. And successful collaboration between all stakeholders means deep listening as well as active doing. Open, transparent dialogue results in all parties feeling seen, heard and valued, and in the end it’s the connection and compassion formed through those healthy relationships that creates successful teaching and learning outcomes.
The Thought Exchange points out that stakeholder engagement must be deliberate and systematic where leaders meaningfully connect with, learn from and communicate with individuals and groups, with stakeholders having influence throughout the decision-making process, not just at the end.
They identify five criteria for effective stakeholder engagement in education:
- Better insight into stakeholders’ views and opinions
- The ability to make big decisions more quickly and at reduced cost
- Greater buy-in from stakeholders, who played a larger role throughout the decision-making process
- Stronger likelihood of positive outcome thanks to access to more ideas and broader awareness of the decision made
- Greater trust for education leaders among stakeholders
Described as a cycle, engagement generally moves through four phases:
- Planning: determining what decisions will be affected, who the participants are, establishing the background and settling on the right questions to ask
- Participation: gathering of input and ideas, learning from each other and setting priorities
- Analysis: consolidating all the input in order to establish a relevant course of action
- Sharing: encapsulating and distributing results to relevant, interested parties
Through the lens of creating learning environments, the Natural Pod team has repeatedly found that indeed collaboration and relationship building between all stakeholders from the beginning of any project or process has been key in creating successful education spaces that lead to successful teaching and learning outcomes. We’ve also discovered time and time again, the more students voices are included the greater the success rate. This transpires because not only are students sharing their lived experiences and vital viewpoints, but the effect of students feeling seen, heard and valued greatly increases their sense of self, capability, and that they can actually make a difference. All of which also increases positive teaching and learning outcomes and shows that students as stakeholders are just as important as all the adult contributions involved.
In summary I can’t emphasise how important it is when aiming to create the best results possible, whatever that vision might be, that stakeholder collaboration and communication takes place as early as it can, preferably from the very beginning of any process.
If you have a learning environment project coming up or are considering one, the Natural Pod team would be delighted to discuss your goals and objectives and start collaborating with you right away. Our team of design and education experts work with you throughout the process from initial design concepts, to completion of your space, and we involve as many stakeholders as possible along the way. Please feel free to reach out to us.