Apart from the occasional new building or major refurbishment project, most school campuses remain largely unchanged over long periods of time. In this sense, the school campus with its mix and arrangement of facilities is the one relatively stable element in the otherwise frenetic mix of variables which make up an active school community.
However, the school campus and the buildings within it are not a neutral environment. The campus is an environment which shapes relationships, feelings, opportunities and expectations. Its impact is lasting, often unseen and little appreciated.
When schools eventually fully re-open in the post-virus era, there is an opportunity to take stock of the impact the physical form of the campus has on the daily life and the culture of the educational community which functions within it rather than simply returning to life as it had been. Essentially this means seeking to understand what type of “place” your school is.
- What is the arrival expectation like for students and visitors?
- What message does the location of the Staff Room send to students and visitors?
- Are particular subjects prioritised by the location or quality of the facilities accorded them?
- Do facilities invite or prohibit interest and participation?
- Is there scope for students to directly shape and take responsibility for their internal or external settings?
- Is there sufficient shelter for students?
- How does it “feel” for students required to move between facilities?
- Where is the beauty; and where is the whimsy?
The list of questions, and the significance placed on specific items, will necessarily vary across schools…..but educators need to have a much greater awareness of how the bricks and mortar of “the school” directly impact, both positively and negatively, the daily experience of staff and students.
Now is the time to look at your school with fresh eyes?
Look beyond the formal designation of facilities as “library”, “art centre” “junior school”. What adjectives would you use to describe what you are looking at? What colors and materials catch your attention? More specifically, put yourself in the shoes of students. What words do you think they would use to describe their school? How do you think it makes them feel?
The present circumstances of Covid has forced educators to reappraise many aspects of their personal and professional lives. We have a rare opportunity to step back from what we, as educators, largely take for granted as our professional work environment, and over which we often have little authority – the actual physical form of the school.
We now have a new obligation to address the physical dimension of the school experience for both students and staff. Ask yourself – how can your school’s physical environment and facilities be improved to enhance the learning experience for students as well as enrich their interactions and opportunities outside the classroom in non-class time? How can it be improved to create a better platform for more effective teaching approaches and enable our teachers to excel?
There is enormous scope to make significant changes at a local level, without the input of major funds or specialist design or architectural services. The physical form and operation of major components of our wider society, including workplaces and public institutions, will be fundamentally reshaped by the impact of the pandemic.
There is no reason to expect that the physical entity we know as “the school” will, or should, remain unchanged in this, dare I say it, unprecedented time.