Learning Space Design as an Exercise in Change Leadership

What is the underlying motivation for designing or redesigning learning spaces?  Sometimes it appears as a marketing response – the need to attract new students or retain current students.  However, taken at a deeper level, the design initiative is driven by the reality that current spaces no longer adequately attend to the learning experience.   In particular, new and innovative education approaches are requiring a different type of physical learning environment that better support the learning and teaching activities for today’s student.

If we believe that “instruction drives construction,” then new learning and teaching activities are the metaphorical horse to the cart of physical learning space design.  Unfortunately, this is not always the order of things.  Often, the process of learning space design looks more like a cart before the horse; the space design initiative is evidence of a desire to shift pedagogically rather than a response to existing practice.

Clues to this cart/horse disarrangement can be found during the space design process when educators struggle with envisioning how new spaces will support their current practice.  There may be pushback on the design process as the group deals with the overwhelming task of shifting the mindset not only regarding new spaces, but also the emerging practice that is embodied by the imagery of, or the visits to, exemplar spaces.  Practitioners may find it difficult to see the fit between what they do on “Monday Morning” and what the redesigned spaces might provide to amplify the learning.[1]

If this is the case, if the learning space design process intersects with the adaptive challenge of engaging new pedagogical practices, then shifting the collective mindset of adult stakeholders is an exercise in leadership.[2] [3]  It requires understanding the current mindset, clarifying the purpose for moving through the challenge, and creating an urgency to reach the stated goal.  It means doing the collaborative work to ensure most stakeholders are drawn to the change initiative with a common believe that change is truly needed and it is needed right now – for themselves and the students.  To begin the leadership work, the central question is not so much, what kind of new learning spaces?  The question is more, how do we ready ourselves for new learning spaces?  

[1] Hare & Dillion (2016).  The Space for Educators.  Irvine, CA:  EdTechTeam Press.

[2] Kegan & Lahey (2009).  Immunity to Change:  How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.  Boston, MA:  Harvard Business Press.

[3] Wagner, Kegan, et al. (2006).  Change Leadership:  A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

(c) 2017 Wayfind Education

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