Educational Workspaces – The Common Sense Approach

What if teachers from different learning areas worked in the same office space?

Many schools house teachers from the same learning areas in faculty or department offices, buildings or workspaces. These spaces are often a hive of activity in which much is accomplished to further the cause of teaching and learning within a specific learning area. It just seems to make the most sense, doesn’t it?

What would happen if this wasn’t the default setting for schools? A school determined to enhance cross-curricular experiences would certainly be interested in ways to break down the ‘subject silos’, wouldn’t they?

Sometimes the smallest of things can have the greatest of impacts. Here at HPSS teachers are separated into working spaces by community, not learning areas or department. Teachers in a community represent a cross-section of learning areas from across the curriculum. For example, as an English teacher, I share a workspace with science, maths, digital technology, social science, physical education and performing arts teachers. This is my home base each school day. We work together, we coach (advisory) students together, we critique and challenge together.

When you put a group of people into an enclosed space they are going to interact. The interesting thing is that when you place a number of staff from different learning areas in the same office space, amazing dialogue and collegiality is created. A strong sense of identity and curriculum ownership are created in the individual. We feel safe to discuss views, our own learning and are valued as a ‘learned’ colleague in the group.

Some of the by-products are:

  • that students benefit because teachers are exposed to different views and perspectives
  • the breaking down of ‘echo chambers’ in which traditional departments operate
  • the deconstructing of ‘mental walls’ about teaching and learning
  • the challenging of traditional discipline specific approaches to teaching and learning
  • seeking support from those who hold different perspectives
  • learning and discussing cross-curricular approaches and perspectives
  • increasing sense of value and belonging as an ‘expert’ in the workspace
  • exploring different approaches to teaching and learning
  • the honouring of the perspectives and values of colleagues
  • gaining insight and opinions from a diverse range of people

So really, does it make sense to maintain the status quo in a world that demands confident, connected, actively involved and life-long learners? How might we empower teachers to become increasingly connected to those around them?

Those who believe this is not achievable in a ‘traditional’ school need only consider what is required. Moving desks.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Educational Workspaces – The Common Sense Approach

  1. Patrick Bowers says:

    Great post! Design39Campus in San Diego was built from the ground up around this idea, and it is amazing to see the way students learn in that environment!
    I love the cross-curricular model and am working with my team to implement it at the secondary school I work at, but we are struggling with joining the physical space of science with our other departments, because our laboratory rooms (all next to each other in one wing of our campus) have a particular layout specifically for biology, physics, chemistry, and so on.
    Any suggestions?

    Like

    • Thanks for reading! It’s always great to hear how others are working.

      I’m sure you’re not alone with the struggle associated with physical spaces, and this seems to be a challenge that is particularly prominent within science & technology (metal, wood etc…). As a part of our programme we have Advisories. For us the Advisory is known as a “Hub” with a number of Hubs working within a ‘Community’. We spend time each morning working with our Hubs and for extended times on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This means that we are able to share an office and teach in a common space together. Ultimately, the defined space (e.g. Science wing) ‘belongs’ to a Community of students and teachers first and foremost. Then, secondly it belongs to specialist subjects when and as needed. We are fortunate in that we operate in one large building. Where this is not the case, teachers may feel reluctant to leave their ‘specialist’ space to teach elsewhere. I wonder if that is part of the real challenge.

      Ultimately, establishing the intent of a cross-curricular workspace should be the priority. It is about trying to encourage the de-privatisation of the ‘subject’. Think about how you might work with teachers to re-wire the way they think and try to shift their basic assumptions and mental models so that each teacher is no longer concerned about the space they are teaching in. It is definitely a powerful way of impacting on teaching practice and enhancing and enriching the achievement of your students through your teachers. Once a clear vision is established, the likelihood is that wider, systemic changes will be necessary. I am happy to email or talk more about this with you if needed. 🙂

      Like

  2. Hi Heemi
    Great post. I’m working as a Science facilitator and the phrase ‘echo chamber” really strikes a chord with my work with Science departments. It is often very difficult to challenge the perceived wisdom within a department when they all have similar opinions. This would be fine if everything was going well for students in their learning, but often it isn’t. One of my favourite quotes around change comes from Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

    I work at Team Solutions at the University of Auckland, in my pod we have 3 Science facilitators, a PE and Health facilitators and 2 English facilitators. My ‘echoes’ aren’t just bounced back, they are analysed, flipped, turned inside out and challenged before I get to deal with them again. This dissonance can initially be a bit scary but in the end it allows me to really analyse my own values, ideas and practice. My own opinions about assessment, pedagogy and student expectations have all shifted over the last two years because of this cross pollination of ideas.

    Move the desks!!

    PS It looks from your post like you were challenged to start a blog, me too, have a look at https://notthebackend.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s