Designing for Sustainable, Resilient Schools
This was originally published for Natural Pod HERE
Learning during a pandemic has spotlighted concepts that have always been involved in some education conversations, but now seem to dominate the media, talk in the community and future planning. These concepts include synchronous and asynchronous learning, blended/hybrid/concurrent learning, and learning loss. Though all of these areas warrant some conversation and consideration, we should also create space to talk about how we can design for the future learning, including where learning occurs, to grow our resilience and restore our humanity.
This school year has stretched our teaching professionals in so many ways. They have been asked to learn a new way of serving students in learning on the fly while they were also coping with the realities of the pandemic for their family and friends. Through this additional stress and anxiety, teachers persevered. They showed great resilience in testing new instructional designs, utilizing new technology tools, caring for the basic needs of families, and crafting solutions that allowed students to grow. They showed incredible resilience, but the tempo, pace, and intensity of the work can’t continue forever. We are already seeing the breaking point for many professionals as they consider seeking new ways to serve outside of teaching. The design of our spaces can right-size the pressure on teachers and validate their new resilience without continuing the work at an unsustainable pace. Consider these factors to support teachers and the resilience that they have shown.
- Create outdoor spaces for teachers that allow them to take a break, think, and design learning.
- Develop spaces for teachers to reflect and recharge that are sans soda machines and copy machines.
- Co-design with teachers the spaces in the building that lack the excellence and professionalism that teachers have shown during the pandemic.
Though learning from home has supported the specific needs of a small niche of students, learning at home, for most, has been a lonely and isolating experience. Students have had to solve their own technology issues and manage their time and work completion. This has called for a new level of independence for even our youngest learners. In some cases, students have struggled because the learning designed by the teachers was a step or more beyond their zone of proficiency, and some of them struggled because their learning space was chaotic and didn’t support their focus and attention on learning. As we return to more in-person learning, it is important to remember that students have grown more independent. They are used to making more choices about their learning, and they know where they learn matters. With this in mind, consider shifting your space to:
- Incorporate at least one choice option for seating that supports the neurodiversity of your students.
- Discuss with students the goal of empowering their independence and maintaining their resilience acquired during the pandemic.
- Talk about your resilience including the good and bad moments of the journey. This modeling will help students continue their growth.
The interconnection between spaces for learning and those that inhabit the space is clearer than ever after this school year. So as we consider how space supports the resilience of teachers and students, we should also talk about how the design of space itself can hold up under the stress of extreme conditions. Learning spaces need to be able to adjust to staffing, instructional method, and environmental changes as well as the changes that come from examining how the space supports diversity and inclusion. Here are a few ways to keep your space resilient.
- Purchase only items that can serve multiple purposes. Something that does only one thing can become unneeded quickly.
- Consider sourcing items that last including items that can be easily cleaned while still being beautiful.
- Think about color choices that can stand the test of time while not lowering the energy.
- Build systems that support reusing and sharing within the building to match furnishings to teacher strengths.
Resilience in our places and people has been put to the test, but as always, our teaching professionals rise up and move through these moments. They innovate and solve problems big and small. As we move beyond this pandemic in the next few months, let us not forget what we have learned. Teachers and students are strong, but the environment either cares for them or breaks them down. The intentional design of our spaces can sustain us, heal us, and restore our humanity. Continue to look for ways to foster resilience, a skill needed by all of us as we work through the pain and possibility caused by this year.