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Recently I’ve been re-reading the MDR research report ‘The Impact of Learning Spaces on Student Success’ to further and deepen my understanding of how I can lead Natural Pod to better serve students and educators. This research is such a great resource – it was specifically conducted to help people that work with schools gain valuable insights into what teachers believe creates learning environments that encourage all students to collaborate, develop critical thinking skills, and achieve their highest potential. It’s very valuable research – if you’d like to read it for yourself – you can read all sections of the report here.

Researchers communicated with well over a thousand teachers in the US around their experience of how learning environments affect their student outcomes – The conclusion: “Teachers across the country overwhelmingly agree that creative learning spaces play an important role in student engagement,” said Melissa Pelletier, MDR education research editor and an author of the study.

According to the educators who participated, the features that were most important for classroom learning were (in order of importance):

  • Accommodating different learning styles
  • Incorporating technology
  • Allowing for movement and “less sedentary behavior”
  • Manipulating lighting
  • Incorporating outside views and natural light

These elements are reflected in my own findings and experience of the correlation between learning spaces and student engagement. Although here, as is often the case, I find one of the missing pieces when educators discuss their ideal classroom, is the importance of beauty and the effect it can have on children. Having a beautiful, or at least an aesthetically pleasing learning environment is much more important than it being ‘nice to have’.

Students having a beautiful, welcoming environment to attend each day fosters a sense of safety and desire to be there. It can raise their expectations, self-esteem, and connection to others, which in turn often leads to greater focus, engagement, and enjoyment. For many children, entering a classroom that’s been intentionally designed sends the message that they matter, are valued and can potentially encourage and empower them to take ownership of their own learning.

“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.” – Dr. Robert Dillon.

Additionally, within the research, there was also an unsurprising preference stated by the participators – ‘If they could create the ideal classroom, they’d give themselves more room, and it would be more open and flexible and include collaborative spaces.’ As one teacher reported, “We teach classes of as many as 36 students. In some classrooms, students are practically on top of each other. There is no space to have quiet conversations, to work on writing, to do book groups. Space is premium.”

In response to this, I’d like to dive a bit deeper – adding my own experience of working extensively with school districts, educators and students to create better learning environments.

Firstly, the aspiration for educators to have more physical space within their classroom is easy to understand but almost impossible to achieve in terms of increasing the actual floor area. But better effective use of space can be simple to obtain. If you have inherited a classroom full of traditional desks and chairs, as you know they are taking up a lot of floor space and can be tricky to navigate around. Those same pieces of furniture can be used more effectively, they can be placed around the wall of the classroom or pushed together to create smaller more intimate collaborative areas. Another intentional action that creates the feeling of a more open space is decluttering frequently, ideally by both educators and students. This alone can immediately create an environment that feels more spacious and is more conducive for focused engaged learning.

These simple actions, along with a focus on creating an aesthetically inspiring space, can greatly contribute to achieving the very features educators sight as being the most important for classroom learning. I would add that these simple actions do not need any financial input, just some leadership and time management. The effort is worth it, especially when the results can potentially lead to engaged, focused students and better learning outcomes for all.

By Bridgitte Alomes. Founder and CEO of Natural Pod – Originally posted on LinkedIn