LESSONS LEARNED: Professional learning on how to make the most of flexible learning spaces isn't a one-and-done thing
When I work with schools, especially the teaching staff, on how to implement flexible furniture, I have found it essential to provide context. Flexible spaces in education allow for adaptable learning environments that can support various instructional methods and promote student engagement. Not long ago, I had a conversation with Belinda Kuck, Director of Teaching and Learning at the Davis School District in Farmington, Utah about the professional learning program we launched at one of her schools. She emphasized that “teachers need training.”
There are lots of schools across the country putting in new flexible seating and furniture, but not necessarily training their teachers and not necessarily thinking it was important, and I was one of those people. I did not think it was important. And then as we continued to put modern furniture in our schools, we continued to see the ways teachers were implementing it and it was just modern furniture used in some of the same traditional ways. Because of our emphasis on personalized learning, we want to give students choice in flexible seating and what is comfortable for them. We decided that we needed to look at professional learning. Our teachers just need a spark and once they get one idea, then their minds take off and they have lots of ways that they can implement or what they can do. I found that if we have some initial training, then they are less likely to return to what's comfortable and traditional, and more likely to be creative in their own thinking and take it beyond the professional learning they received to really implement it in their classrooms. Belinda Kuck, Davis SD, Utah
As I conduct workshops aimed at school staff, I like to start with an activity that draws from educational research that substantiates the value of adaptable learning spaces. During this session, teachers are challenged to create their individual "Why" statements. Guiding the teaching staff to establish clear links between their teaching objectives, the learning process, and the curriculum holds immense importance. This process plays a pivotal role in enabling educators to wholeheartedly embrace the concept of a flexible learning environment. By fostering this understanding, they can enrich the educational journey for their students within their classrooms.
Understanding the Concept of Flexible Spaces
In education, flexible spaces refer to versatile environments that can be easily adapted to accommodate various teaching and learning activities. These spaces are designed to promote dynamic and interactive experiences, foster engagement, and enhance the educational process. The benefits of flexible spaces in teaching and learning are multifaceted. They offer the freedom to reconfigure layouts according to different learning needs, enabling educators to create a diverse range of setups that suit lectures, group discussions, workshops, and more. Research and case studies highlight the positive impact of flexible spaces on student outcomes, indicating improved participation, collaboration, and overall satisfaction. Successful implementations in educational institutions highlight how these spaces can facilitate active learning and nurture a sense of ownership over the learning process.
The ‘traditional classroom layout is becoming obsolete,’ as today’s students require learning environments that support collaboration and technology-enabled work. According to a report from Princeton University, ‘classrooms should be profound places of revelation and discovery. Well-designed space has the ability to elevate discourse, encourage creativity, and promote collaboration.’ Therefore, rather than traditional classrooms, schools are creating innovative spaces designed to promote active learning. Literature Review: New Classrooms, Hanover Research*
So how do we start?
Align with partners who understand the importance of teacher engagement in creating successful outcomes
The process involves several key steps. Firstly, identify a reputable partner who aligns with your objectives. This entails posing pertinent questions to learn whether they can tailor the learning experiences according to your specific requirements. Avoiding one-size-fits-all professional development sessions is paramount: your teachers' time is valuable.
Inject an element of enjoyment and interactivity into these sessions—by incorporating a hands-on approach, educators can engage actively with the content. Furthermore, allow time for teachers to interact, voice their emotions, and address their apprehensions. This fosters an environment conducive to meaningful growth.
Here are a few curriculum ideas to get started:
- Understand the Concept of Flexible Spaces
- Define flexible spaces and their benefits for teaching and learning.
- Explore research and case studies on successful implementations.
- Discuss the principles behind flexible spaces, such as student-centered learning, collaboration, and personalization.
- Designing and Arranging Flexible Spaces
- Provide training on classroom layout and furniture selection to optimize flexibility.
- Demonstrate how to create different zones within the classroom (e.g., collaboration areas, quiet corners, project spaces).
- Highlight the importance of accessibility and inclusivity in flexible space design.
- Technology Integration
- Showcase digital tools and resources that complement flexible learning environments.
- Provide training on managing and troubleshooting technology in flexible spaces.
- Offer guidance on selecting and implementing appropriate technology solutions.
- Pedagogical Strategies for Flexible Spaces
- Introduce instructional approaches that align with flexible spaces, such as project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and blended learning.
- Discuss effective strategies for student collaboration, communication, and independent study in flexible environments.
- Explore assessment methods that align with flexible spaces and support diverse learners.
- Classroom Management and Transitions
- Provide guidance on establishing clear expectations and routines in flexible spaces.
- Discuss strategies for managing noise levels and minimizing distractions.
- Offer techniques for smooth transitions between different learning activities and spaces.
- Collaboration and Professional Learning Communities
- Facilitate collaborative opportunities for teachers to share ideas, resources, and best practices related to flexible spaces.
- Encourage teachers to visit each other's classrooms and observe flexible space implementations.
- Foster a supportive learning community where teachers can reflect on their experiences and provide feedback to one another.
- Reflective Practice and Evaluation
- Emphasize the importance of ongoing reflection and self-assessment in adapting to flexible spaces.
- Provide tools and frameworks for evaluating the effectiveness of flexible spaces in relation to student outcomes.
- Encourage teachers to continuously refine their practice and seek feedback from
Offer precise and timely professional development tailored to educators, coupled with continuous support
I've frequently witnessed the incredible value of just-in-time learning experiences for teachers and staff as they navigate how to use their space. In addition to enhancing teachers' professional growth, it's imperative to equip school leadership with the necessary resources to ensure ongoing success. My primary focus is to establish a sustainable model of training trainers and fostering mentorship programs at both the school and district levels.
Above all, it's vital to guide all stakeholders to understand the rigorous nature of this endeavor. Much like implementing a newly adopted math curriculum, there will be times of complexity and uncertainty. Embracing these challenges, experimenting with innovative teaching methods, and embracing the learning process is entirely permissible—after all, the new space is dedicated to precisely that purpose.
It's okay to get messy and try new ways of teaching and learning- that’s what your new space is for. Patricia Cadigan, ALEP, M. Ed.
* Literature Review: New Classroom, https://littletonpublicschools.net/sites/default/files/Literature%20Review-%20New%20Classroom%20Designs.pdf Hanover Research, Nov. 2017, www.hanoverresearch.com. Accessed Apr. 2020.