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Education, Reform, Technology

Lost in Space

cc photo by Jeff Delp

Lately, being in my office has been causing feelings of claustrophobia.  The tether to my desk has seemed more like a steel chain – email, paperwork and a plethora of issues trapping me in a space that is reasonably effective for rote completion of tasks, but seems to squelch efforts at creativity.

This has me thinking about the importance that physical spaces play in our job performance, and more importantly in student learning.  With all of the reforms (and budget issues) on the plate of public education, it is understandable that the physical environment of our classrooms and schools takes a back seat.  That being said, I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t missing the boat on this issue.  Is the physical environment in which we (and our students) work, inextricably tied to the quality of our performance–specifically efforts to encourage creativity and innovation?

I will use my situation as an example.  When I walk into my office, I generally gravitate toward my desk and computer.  Doing so inevitable results in time spent reviewing my e-mail inbox and completing paperwork.  Although I generally have an open door policy when I am in my office (both literally and figuratively), I am relatively isolated from my staff, students and what is happening in our classrooms and on campus.  The structure of “the office” lends itself to this type of activity (e-mail, paperwork, etc.) and isolation.  A Pavlovian response…if you will.

 Office => Desk => Computer => E-Mail => Disengage/Isolate

My fear is that many of our students suffer a similar response when they enter our schools and classrooms.  Consider the structure and setting of a typical classroom.  A teacher’s desk and chair, student desks (generally with the chair and writing surface connected), limited number of windows, sterile paint (i.e. eggshell), and perhaps a bulletin board or two.

 Classroom => Desk => Notebook/Textbook => Disengage/Isolate

Our school has recently had the opportunity to work with several leaders from a collaborative community called Gangplank.  Derek Neighbors (@dneighbors), Jade Meskill (@iamruinous) and Mike Benner (@refriedchicken) have some fantastic ideas about shifting the educational paradigm.  It has been great working with them to identify innovative approaches to the issues we face at our school–but that is another blog post.  A collateral effect of working with Gangplank has been the way it has challenged my thinking about our use of physical space.  During our last session, we met at the Gangplank headquarters, and I have to say that it was liberating to get out of my office, away from classrooms with the traditional student desks, and into an environment that was set up to encourage collaboration.  It can be a bit confusing for those used to a traditional office hierarchy, but it is evident that the work space at Gangplank offers something different.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that the physical environment of our schools is “the” difference maker, but I do believe it can be a significant contributor to the atmosphere of positive energy, creativity, engagement, enthusiasm and innovation that we are trying to create.  My recent experiences at Gangplank have me considering crazy questions like:

  • Why do I need an office (at least in the traditional sense of the term)?
  • How does the physical structure of my environment impact my day-to-day activities?
  • What would happen if I did away with my desk and changed the expectations that I “reside” in a particular place at specific times?
  • What impact would this change have on my job performance and connectedness to my staff, students and school?

My initial thought is that it would be a good thing.  Who knows?  Maybe I will give it a shot.  Technology gives me the opportunity to take my office mobile — setting up wherever I need to be in order to remain an engaged educator/learner.  Perhaps an experiment with trying.  Until then, I challenge you to reflect upon your educational environment and I will try to keep from getting lost in the issue of space.

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About azjd

Junior high principal by day, aspiring difference maker, and Jedi in my own mind. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Lost in Space

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more with this post. Love the comparisons on disengagement. I have been having a few conversations with some staff about not camping at their desk. This is going to be nice to share with them! Even though I have the open door policy too, staff are less likely to converse with me when I am in my office.

    Posted by Mike McNeff (@mdmcneff) | January 14, 2012, 7:55 am
  2. I really enjoyed this post and have been thinking about the questions you posed at the end. I think a lot about that. When I get in my office it can be like quicksand. Days when I’m traveling with my iPad through the school I seem to be able to keep up with emails and everything AND I connect and have great experiences throughout the building. I generally feel better about my day as well when I’m out and about. Why do I need that desk? Great questions…thanks for the post.

    Posted by principalberry | January 15, 2012, 11:07 am
  3. Hey Pal,

    You’ve GOT to read this bit:

    http://www.architizer.com/en_us/blog/dyn/37250/vittra/

    Now THERE’s a vision that TOTALLY redesigns learning spaces.

    Sure wish I wasn’t working in a $30 M building that was 6 years old. There’s not a “redesign” anywhere on our horizon.

    Rock on,
    Bill

    Posted by wferriter | January 20, 2012, 5:40 pm
  4. I think it is important to get out of the classroom at every opportunity. I frequently gather up clipboards, paper, books our class work and move class outside. Granted, this isn’t as much fun as it was when we could go out and see the baby lambs, but it is still mind clearing. I think we work better there. A window do good weather coming up. Must do it a lot before it goes too hot. A change of scenery inspires innovative thinking.

    Posted by Sherry | February 9, 2012, 4:17 am

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