Learning Spaces: Beyond the Classroom

Posted by Jacie MaslykO

April 9, 2018

As you enter the dimly lit room, you wonder “Are there students in here”?  There’s a sense of calm that makes you feel like you are entering someone’s living room, as opposed to a classroom.  Lamps instead of overhead lights. Tables, cushions, and couches instead of desks. Quiet music is playing in the background.  A variety of student-generated work is on the walls.


Students are sprawled across the room; on pillows and couches, in small reading nooks, and perched on stools. They are all working intently on projects focused on English Language Arts.  You can’t quite locate the teacher, because she is crouched down on the floor with her students, talking quietly with them about a book they are reading. The students barely notice that another adult has entered the space, as they are so engaged in their work.


Our 5th-grade students have worked with their teacher to design this personalized and flexible learning environment.  Throughout the year, they have tried many different configurations and seating options. Together, they have found what works for them.  Each child has ownership over the mood created in the classroom. Each voice is heard in the process resulting in everyone feeling valued as a member of the classroom community.


Changing the landscape


Personally, I am enamored with this transition to different and inviting learning spaces.  I wish this were an option when I was in school. The flexibility and unconventional styles that educators are embracing are making a difference for the learners in their classrooms.  Educators are transforming their classrooms to look more like homes and coffee shops, as suggested in the book, The Space by Robert Dillon and Rebecca Hare.


This trend is also happening in businesses and corporations, too.  Organizations are redesigning their workplaces to reflect the comfort and collaborative environments that support innovative thinking in business.  Visit places like Schell Games or the LUMA Institute and you will see remarkable places where innovators are working and creating every day.


As a central office administrator, I live at the intersection between a classroom and a business.  My space is educational in nature but oriented as an office like those in the business world. The Hoonuit Learn It videos on learning spaces got me thinking–what can principals and school administrators do to embrace this movement and transform the places that we work and learn every day–the office.


1. Add color


I don’t know about you but, my office is white– eggshell to be exact.  The walls are void of color throughout our entire office suite. The waiting area is white. The hallways are white.  It’s a little institutional. Adding color brings life to a room and activates creativity. White may be crisp and clean, but color livens the imagination.


2. Create a focus on learning


Classrooms post student writing and artwork.  Teachers display projects and create bulletin boards to call attention to instructional content.  We need to do this in our offices, too! Elementary schools do a good job of this. They frame student work in their offices, conveying a positive message that engaging student learning is happening.

Most central office spaces that I’ve visited do not have this focus on student learning.  How might we bring a sense of learning to our space? Let’s post student work in our offices, as well.  How can we showcase teacher accomplishments and give positive shout-outs?



Here’s a great example of a comfortable office space that also highlights the National Board Certified Teachers in their district.


This idea is less formal but promotes a creative way to give positive shout-outs to colleagues in the office.  A shout-out wall using colorful Post-Its is something that you could do tomorrow to change your office space by adding color and giving positive feedback to others.




3. Encourage collaboration


Establishing space for collaborative conversations is happens in our classrooms, but what about our offices?  A seating area with comfortable furniture and an inviting atmosphere will welcome parents, families, and staff.  I’m not talking about waiting room furniture. I mean furniture that says, “Sit down. Let’s talk about it.” Collaboration doesn’t happen in a boardroom.  It happens in spaces where people are comfortable and relaxed, where there is space to think and reflect. How do we create office spaces that encourage the sharing of ideas and the communication that we want for our students, educators, and leaders?


Challenge yourself: How might you re-evaluate the space that you learn and work in to make it more colorful and collaborative with a focus on learning?  Based on my learning from The Space Book, I know that my office is getting a makeover.  To learn more about this book, check out the author’s webpage.



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