Planning for Schools of the Future

Good school planning and design is dictated by the design principle that form follows function. Unfortunately, all too often schools have been designed that failed to respond to the school districts' present, let alone their future, educational needs.

Functionally our schools of the future will be shaped architecturally by the decisions that will be made by professional educators, boards of education, and communities regarding instructional programs and process.

In order to program new facilities properly and communicate their needs to design professionals, educators and others involved in creating the educational vision of a school district must be prepared to look into the future to determine what kinds of outcomes they desire for students. What and how should students learn? How will they interface with each other and their environment? How will technology affect the learning environment? What should students be able to accomplish and ultimately what type of environment will be necessary to make that possible?

Developing the Vision
The concept of visioning has been around for the past several decadesÑ first in the private sector, where large corporations developed vision statements, mission statements, and action plans to accomplish their goals and objectives.

Over the past several years, school districts have also started to use a similar process. However, in the race to meet construction deadlines, this early planning step in designing a new school, additions, or realigning existing space has often been overlooked. One of the most important steps to take early in the planning process is to discuss educational and instructional outcomes without ever talking about the building itself.

Once those programs are determined and the instructional delivery systems have been established to accomplish these goals, the design professionals will then be in a better position to develop a physical plan for a facility that will allow those outcomes to become a reality.

There are a multitude of educational concepts and considerations that can affect the planning and design of a facility. The following are some examples and scenarios that should be part of a planning group's considerations.

Educational Delivery Systems
Issues such as departmentalization and interdisciplinary approach, grade level teams, multi-age grouping, and performance-based learning must be carefully reviewed.

The issue of creating smaller units within the school needs to be considered. Historically, large high schools have warehoused large numbers of students. Clusters are being created within schools to create a more comfortable environment for students, one where students are treated as individuals rather than numbers. As a result of this trend, such strategies as house plans, schools within a school, and other concepts have been developed.

Schools for the future should consciously take these delivery systems Ñand others Ñ into account in the initial planning stages so that they can be provided for when the school is built.

The Learning Space
In the next several decades schools will need to provide flexible classroom space to foster participatory learning. Students will become active participants in the learning process and will be required to apply the concepts they have learned in an application-driven model. In order to facilitate this, the learning environment must lend itself to data collection, the incorporation of technology, and flexible arrangements that will support both large and small group instruction. Teachers will act as facilitators and classroom configurations will have to reflect this form of delivery.

Students may work in different sized groups Ñ receiving instruction from assistants or aides under the direction of a teacher. To accommodate these teaching methods and learning styles, classrooms may need to be larger or of varied configurations.

There may be a demand for more spaces serving different functions and incorporating multiple work centers. The need to have classrooms that will create and enhance an atmosphere that permits cooperative learning, individualized instruction, and authentic assessment, while at the same time providing unique space for teachers to work with various sized groups of students, is on the horizon.

Specialty Areas and Ancillary Space
Specialized classrooms as well as ancillary space will continue to be a long-term requirement. Since programs will continue to evolve and change over time, flexible facilities will become imperative.

Hands-on learning has become the focus in science. Classrooms will be developed to promote data collection by teams of students working on various experiments. Space and storage systems will need to be available for this process.

Students with outstanding potential in various specialty areas will be doing long-term projects that will also require suitable space in order to accommodate these activities and individualized instruction. Students will have to develop the ability to become "lifelong learners," developing portfolios to give a potential employer.

For many schools, the library media center will become the educational hub of the building and will support various types of learning activities. In order to accommodate each of these scenarios, it will be important to design space for media centers, science, mathematics, language, and technology, that will be flexible and large enough to permit exploration and discovery.

Common Areas
We also need to take a look at space outside of the regular classroom where teachers have the opportunity to cluster children so they can work with groups that exceed the normal classroom size. It is clear that those types of spaces should create an effective social environment for positive interaction. Providing quality space is an important factor.

At the same time, buildings have to be planned with a clear understanding that supervision and safety are important. Therefore, any design must take into account the ability of the administration and staff to supervise students and to make sure that the environment is safe both in and out of the classroom. Particularly important will be appropriate building circulation patterns, since a large number of discipline problems occur outside of the classroom.

It's important to provide students with an inviting cafeteria/commons area if we want them to interact in a civilized manner. Alternative food delivery systems, table layouts, quality of finishes, and colors can all help to create an atmosphere conducive to developing desired social behavior.

In essence, a school that creates an inviting atmosphere motivates students to take care of it and be proud to be a part of it.

Community Involvement and Access
We know that nothing within the public school setting is done in isolation. Therefore, the community will be intimately involved in discussions and setting future directions for use and design of our educational facilities.

One of the general trends is that school districts are concerned about making their buildings accessible to the community for use after hours for sports, drama, continuing education, and other community activities. In response to this, many districts will attempt to establish community-oriented schools.

These schools will be open later in the evening, perhaps on a 12-month basis, and will require public accessibility. Based on this, the facility will have to be designed to permit adults as well as students to use various aspects of the building at a variety of times, while still maintaining security. In addition, mechanical control and monitoring systems will have to be sophisticated enough to allow for efficient control of the buildings' mechanical and electrical systems.

Another concept that is more widely accepted is the involvement of community service agencies to aid in student development. Representatives of these groups are currently housed in many schools and are interacting with the professional staff to address the needs of students and families effectively.

By coordinating the efforts of schools and community agencies, additional resources are being provided in this most critical area. This trend will develop further and space will need to be made available. Once again, these services need to be located in an accessible place for parents and other groups of individuals from the community.

Technology is a key tool for teachers to use in the delivery of the educational program. Any building program under consideration must take into account the development of an appropriate backbone and infrastructure as well as a system that will be flexible to provide for each of the issues surrounding technology in the foreseeable future. The selection of the appropriate system becomes one of critical importance.

There will be a major emphasis on improved communications and voice/ video and data systems will be designed to allow teachers to connect readily to administrators, students, and parents.

Teachers will be able to communicate with each other and have instant access to information and new teaching techniques. Networks, e-mail, and conference systems will allow students to move beyond the classroom. Videoconferencing and interactive distance learning will allow for more customized information and learning. The emphasis will be on individual learning and students may expect highly individualized approaches, while receiving education at their own pace.

There is no question that over time, a school's vision and the actual programs used to implement that vision will be changed and modified. However, if the plan is carefully made, facilities will be designed that will be flexible and adaptable enough to be changed to meet future needs.

With the challenges facing the educational community, a building program is a golden opportunity to restructure schools to better meet the needs of students and educational programs.

Districts recognizing these possibilities will begin to plan wisely by creating their vision using the resources of both the professional staff and the community as they work to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

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