Designing the physical learning environment

There are a number of factors your team should consider when designing the physical learning environment for your school:

  • Location. Do you have a location in mind? (A specific area of town or a specific building?) How does this choice relate to the student population you intend to serve and the learning program you will use? Be intentional here. One team in Minneapolis planned a school for one location, but received approval only if they would open the school in a neighborhood where there was little interest in their learning model. This affected enrollment, which in turn affected revenue, greatly jeopardizing their school’s ability to succeed. How will you avoid this kind of outcome? What will you do if the school’s location is decided for you?
  • Transportation for students. How will students get to and from the school? Will your school have to deal with district policies or contracts that limit transportation flexibility? Are there ways to gain autonomy so you can choose whether to comply with those policies?
  • School interior. How will the school’s interior be designed? Colored walls or white ones? Will student work be displayed? Will you use inspirational quotations? How will the school’s shared purpose be demonstrated? Will the environment be set up for instruction, collaboration, or both? In what ways will the configuration of the learning environment reflect the school’s philosophy and approach to learning?
  • School spaces outside the building. Will the physical learning space extend beyond the school building into community spaces and nature? Homes?
  • Dedicated learning spaces. Will there be dedicated spaces for music, art, physical education, shop, recess, or other activities? Can you partner with community organizations to secure spaces? (For example, one team in St. Paul partnered with a YWCA across the street and got students discounted gym memberships that they used for physical education.)
  • Lounge spaces. Will teachers and students share the “lounge,” or will it be for teachers only?
  • Eating spaces. Where and when will students eat? What will they eat? Are you bound by any existing food contracts?
  • Office space. For teams planning online schools, will teachers work from home or in a collaborative office space where students can occasionally gather?
  • Autonomy. Will your team need to arrange for autonomy to secure the space it wants and design it for success?


Designing the physical learning environment

Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots, Chapter 6: on the learning environment (pp.74-76)

Book. When teachers design and run schools, they often change and expand the physical learning environment beyond what most people think of as “school.”

Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots, Chapter 7

Book. Chapter 7 addresses how and why designing the physical environment is a vital part of designing how students will learn in a teacher-powered school.

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