- By Corrie Hood
- July 1st, 2017
“Oh, so we’re doing that again?” said my stepfather. He’s been teaching for 40 years. I’d just told him about the flexible collaboration spaces and classrooms designed for our latest middle school. “We had those when I started teaching,” he continued, “I guess everything comes back around.”
I understood his reference, because I was taught in one of those original, open-concept classroom designs. My fifth grade year was spent in a “pod” of open-concept learning spaces. This was later than the 1970s, but the exact date is neither pertinent nor something I want to put in writing.
The rest of my elementary school contained rows of traditional classrooms. Fifth grade was probably an experimental addition. It appeared the district administration took open-concept teaching for a test drive, but decided to go back to the traditional standard.
Fifth grade had five individual classes divided from each other by tackable partitions in fixed locations. There were no doors, most of the finishes were soft, partitions were wrapped in fabric, and the floor was carpeted. The space felt very quiet.
This was all very different from the lower grade classrooms I’d gotten used to, but the teaching was similar. My teacher didn’t use the open-concept spaces any differently than she would have used a traditional classroom. That’s not to say she didn’t get the job done. Her teaching was still effective, and I was more educated when we finished our year together.
My elementary school didn’t complete one of the most crucial steps of integrating collaborative teaching space — Educator Commissioning. Educator Commissioning engages the building’s end users in each stage of the design and construction process. This creates a community of teachers who are familiar with the building’s next-generation design elements and the specific reasons each were included in the space.
Commissioning also includes training educators in new methods and techniques best suited to their evolving learning spaces. There are many forms this training could take, such as in-service, curriculum planning, building walkthroughs with designers and more.
The first task is identifying the end users. Whether it’s a brand new building or a renovation, the educators coming to inhabit this space are being integrated into a shifted educational model.
If possible, assemble this new campus group to start engaging the commissioning as a team. This creates a community of educators who’ve become next-generation building experts together. As they begin using their new space, they can lean on each other for new ideas and solutions. Next-generation learning is highly collaborative. Next-generation teaching should be no different.
Mastering the teaching skills that align with next-generation spaces requires practice. The newly assembled next-generation community should take site tours of their new spaces during the building process. But they should also visit existing spaces to begin mastering their next-generation, collaborative skills.
Teachers in the process of commissioning should tour existing next-generation spaces to watch how other educators choose to interact with their surroundings. Nearby districts that have pioneered next-generation learning are valuable resources.
In Texas, school districts have regional service centers they can turn to for resources. The state is divided into different regions, each made up of many school districts. Many regional service centers have embraced next-generation design in their on-site continuing education spaces. These include rooms with flexible walls, interactive technology, etc.
A local service center also has a model next-generation classroom that’s available for educator practice runs. Educational furniture and technology manufacturers provide their latest and greatest product models for this space. This gives educators access to the elements they’ll be using once construction of their new spaces is complete.
School buildings are a valuable asset in the educator’s toolbox. As with any new tool, the safest and most productive use happens after learning how the tool functions.
In other industries, the introduction of a new software triggers continuing education sessions so a company can ensure employees are using the software to its full potential. Continuing education maximizes the company’s return on investment. Similarly, engaging teachers with their new spaces harnesses the full potential of next-generation learning environments.
Collaborative spaces are being revived as a response to recent research showing the extensive benefits of next-generation learning environments. Education space administrators and planners will realize the capabilities of these implemented design theories by including their educators in the process and inspiring new teaching methods and ideas.
School buildings are more than four walls and a roof; they’re 21st century teaching tools. The community of dedicated professionals and students within them deserve to reap the benefits of Educator Commissioning.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.
Corrie Hood, RA, LEED-AP, BD+C is an associate at PBK Architects.