Changing Our Spaces

There’s something hardwired in me that responds well to change. There is no doubt that our schools could improve the way we do ‘school’ and the most of the dialogue at the moment is around the role that technology can play.

But what about the role of architecture and what I’ve seen phrased as ‘spatial politics?’ This slideshare, by Esltechnology, (an ESL teacher at a middle school in Eastern Oregon) shows what can be the future of all schools if administrators are committed to a new, 21st Century pedagogy.

I can imagine so many different ways that students could be learning in these spaces. I wonder how differently I could teach in spaces like these. I think I would be amazed at how much my own teaching is defined by the space in which I teach. The challenge for me, and others with a similar mindset, is to keep confronting and questioning my own beliefs and teaching practice – while remaining in a pretty traditional classroom space.

I could see how easily you could operate a ‘self directed’ classroom and encourage student collaboration and independence. This challenge would require me to push the boundaries of my physical space and act as we would as if these spaces were ours now. Is this possible?

I can see three hurdles to overcome for the potential of self directed learning to be realised.

1. A desire by schools to risk the abuse of student trust. I have seen schools that allow students to use a variety of classroom spaces to work and learn in – libraries, small offices, playgrounds, utility rooms etc, which can often be unsupervised. With trust and responsibility comes the thin wedge of risk and abuse. I’m encouraged to see many school administrators making this move and enjoying the benefits.
2. A misunderstanding community. It’s not hard to anticipate parents who are unsure of the amount of work that results from this style of learning. The challenge to this hurdle lies in open, honest communication. It’s too easy for teachers to forget that parents don’t have the insight into how education is shifting in our schools. When parents are shown the quality of learning that occurs, as I’ve been told from one school, they are usually quick to support it.
3. Teachers who are unwilling to relinquish the control that comes with 20th century pedagogy. It’s with us, as teachers, that the hurdle would appear the largest and there are as many reasons for this reluctance as there are teachers – and there are many. The control that this style encouraged was due in large part to the limit of resources that students could use but technology has released these resources. Unfortunately, for the students, the control has remained. It’s with us, as teachers, that the hurdle seems the highest.

So, to come full circle – How does my classroom space reflect my goal of inspiring student responsibility and control in their learning?