A colleague and I were talking about next school year. This year our overseas international school was struck by the double whammy of COVID-19 and political instability and we anticipate a significantly smaller student population in August. While we bemoaned the loss of what was, it was interesting to consider the possibilities this new reality offered, especially in terms of the use of space.
Condense the Campus
My colleague talked about how jarring it would be for students to return to the campus at the beginning of next year and be confronted with empty classrooms and a visibly thinner population. The usual energetic and joyful buzz of the school would be missing. It would be like those vast sports arenas where teams were still playing but fans were forbidden. Yes, the show was continuing on, but that magic was missing. My colleague wondered if it would be better to condense the campus – collapse the relatively empty school down from the usual number of buildings and rooms to a more lively and connected space. Obviously we would still maintain social distancing (the pandemic isn’t over yet) but we could move closer toward that sweet spot where students were safe but connected together as a community.
Bring Faculty Together
The increased number of vacant classrooms presented another opportunity. I thought about how valuable it was to foster collaboration and community among the faculty and how difficult that was during normal circumstances – teachers simply didn’t have the space to be physically together during the day. This coming year, with a smaller population, it would be possible to convert unused classrooms into shared planning and prep spaces. Grade level partners could work together in a common room. We could post our content objectives on the wall, along with posters/anchor charts outlining our various skills targets and our scope and sequences, allowing us to better integrate our disciplines. And, best of all, working in a shared space would break down the silos between teachers and foster the trust and collegiality necessary for the creation of truly collaborative teams.
Next Level Spaces
Another opportunity that a smaller school population provides is the chance to think truly out of the box. Imagine taking two classrooms and connecting them together as a single space. Teachers could be running a class as normal in one portion, while colleagues could be observing from the other portion. This would create a laboratory-like environment where teachers could share best practices and really evolve their instruction and assessment.
Not every school will be in the same boat as my school next year. But, the 2021/2022 academic year is an opportunity for all of us to rethink what we do and to apply the lessons we have learned since 2020. The need for flexibility was certainly one of the biggest take-aways from the pandemic. We made a lot of significant changes to our instruction and assessment practices, we tried and applied a lot of new technology, and we really began to understand the importance of compassion and community building. We can also take this openness to change and apply it to how we use our spaces. We can really transform schools.
If you have any ideas about transforming teaching philosophies or the use of spaces, I would love to hear from you!