Since this past January, I’ve been the Elementary Principal of T. Baldwin Demarest Elementary School (TBD) in the Old Tappan School District. And, as I’ve previously detailed in my blog post – Flexible Learning Spaces: The Start of Our Journey – one of our first initiatives involved flexible learning spaces. In short, every teacher was given money to spend on furniture for his/her classroom.
Why Every Teacher?
Yes, every teacher had the option. This idea probably sounds a bit unconventional, as most initiatives begin with a pilot group that paves the way, making it easier for late adopters to follow. However, in this instance, due to certain constraints (timing, budget, etc.), I believe it made more sense to let everyone jump on board, which has its upsides. As Prakash Nair announces in Blueprint for Tomorrow, “Indeed there is evidence that reform efforts focused on improving the capabilities of individual teachers are less effective than those that engage teachers collectively.” There is value in everyone moving in the same direction at the same time while learning from one another and continually refining their work (or learning spaces) as necessary.
Why the Classrooms?
I also played with the idea of taking a look at other parts of the school, such as (1) furniture that would allow for students to more comfortably work in certain sections of the hallways, and (2) rethinking the area right outside the main office, which is what is first encountered when entering into the building. However, it didn’t take long to realize all of these changes would have been too much too soon. And, if we’re going to start anywhere, it makes sense to start with the classrooms, as this is where students and teachers spend the majority of their time. In The Third Teacher, John Stanford, the late superintendent of schools in Seattle, tells us, “The victory is in the classroom.”
Now let’s take a look at four reasons why we prioritized flexible learning spaces.