- By Kerri Ranney
- June 1st, 2016
In architectural design, we follow the foundational
concept that form follows function, believing that
instructional environments are most successful when approached
methodically, as opposed to delivering a one-size-fits-all
learning space. As customizable learning experiences come to
prominence, more focus than ever is being put on child-centered
learning philosophies, in which multiple pedagogies and diverse
learning needs are used to inspire educational design.
However, focusing solely on the child-learner often misses a
key opportunity: the professional development of educators. As
educational facilities continue to evolve, expanding the planning
and design conversation to include educator development and
space needs will impart far greater success in the classroom, for
educators and students alike.
Designing flexible, forward-thinking environments
Choice and flexibility in the learning environment, combined
with educational relevance in subject matter, are hallmarks of the
child-centered learning philosophy. In this manner, students are
given opportunities to explore interests, develop soft skills and
collaborate with peers, using the educator as a facilitator.
To support this style of learning, educational environments are
moving away from fixed furniture and lecture-style instruction
and instead are introducing movable tables and wall systems, horizontal
and vertical writing surfaces, instructional technology and
varied seating styles. These elements offer opportunities to tailor
the student learning experience.
Evolving child-centered learning
While today’s students have more choice than ever, without
the right facilitator, that choice can be overwhelming. To better
serve students, school districts should also focus on professional
learning opportunities for educators, expanding the child-center
learning philosophy into “learner-centered learning.”
Enhanced educator development is a topic of conversation in
school districts of all sizes. While most school districts have embraced
personalized learning experiences and forward-thinking
learning environments, only a small percentage are also embracing
personalized professional development and forward-thinking
learning and working environments for educators.
This starts with simple mind shifts, for example, encouraging
school communities to put as much thought into the design
of educator workstations as they do for classrooms. Or, looking
beyond educationally focused catalogs and exploring possible solutions
in other building types. By creating a look that encourages
a professional, fun and creative environment, there is the potential
to inspire outside-the-box thinking.
In one Texas school district, this concept is coming to life in
two ways: educator collaboration and design labs on campus and
professional development space at a new central administration
building that mimics the innovative instructional environments
that will soon exist throughout the district.
The campus spaces provide professional and educator-focused
environments that allow for student data analysis, daily collaboration
and dynamic space scheduling. The district labs offer more
than traditional large-group professional development space—
they provide a think-tank environment where curriculum can be
designed, tested and perfected by educators before being introduced
into the schools where classroom management becomes
the focus. This commitment to professional development creates
a strong community of empowered professionals served by the
district so they can collectively serve the students.
Another educational client is taking professional development
beyond the 20th century model of solely content-based opportunities
and is creating personalized learning plans (PLPs) for students, as
well as professional PLPs for educators.
Investing in our educators
Students are not the only learners in an educational facility,
and educators also deserve to experience learning environments
that are focused on their success as professionals. School districts
are learning institutions, but often times, they are also one of, or
are, the largest employer(s) in a community. Districts that are
having intentional conversations about the professional learning of
their educators are successfully embracing the fact that they need
to be equally committed to their adult learners as they are to their
As a community of professionals committed to the holistic
growth of our students, we have embraced child-centered learning.
Purposeful design of space for students has seen its tipping point and
is taking the world by storm. Now is the time to couple that with the
purposeful design of space for educators. Only then will the learning
experience of students be even more successful through the built
environment as well as successful and empowered educators.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.
Kerri Ranney, AIA, Esq., REFP, is the director of Learning & Strategic Development at Huckabee, an educational architectural and engineering firm. She works with clients to shape the learning environment using educational delivery as a catalyst for innovation.