Successful schools have community support from teachers, parents, students and staff who use the schools. Understanding the reality of “what is” and engaging the community in the vision of “what can be” brings about innovation in learning. By taking these four steps, a bridge of understanding can be built to broad support for innovative school design:
- Collaboration is successful when integrated into the planning process; school entities succeed when they establish ongoing partnerships with city, county, commerce and service groups. Educators must be active with groups that need their involvement, assisting with solutions to their challenges. Educators must anticipate the future and open a dialogue long before needs escalate into crises. Collaboration is more than an event or action; it’s a mindset. Involving stakeholders in the planning and design process brings about an understanding and appreciation for innovative design. In a similar manner, architects partner with LEED specialists, engineers, and interior/furniture designers. All of these partnerships are built on trust and respect, recognizing that differing perspectives bring innovation to the project.
- Communication starts by helping the community understand the “why”–the need for a new school (or renovations/additions)–and continues with exploring “what can be.” Business leaders, educators, architects, managers and community leaders are responsible for establishing good communications. Effectively communicating is not only exchanging information, but understanding the emotions behind that information. This requires a combination of skills including nonverbal communication, attentive listening, stress management, and empathy. These learned skills strengthen opportunities for successful bond referenda and community ownership of innovative school design.
- The ability to see/feel/touch innovation allows everyone to experience “the difference” for themselves. Today, change, not stability, is the given. Spatial boundaries and configurations are evolving constantly to meet changing approaches to teaching/learning. For instance, the original open-plan design has influenced newer refined concepts with innovations that respond to a variety of class activities and learning approaches. Addressing diverse learning abilities, so all students are motivated to learn skills needed for their adult lives, often drives innovation.
- Overcoming reluctance is probably the greatest hurdle faced by educational leaders and architects. While there are many strategies to bridge a community’s instinctive reluctance, the foundation for success is engagement. “Build it and they will come…” may be true for ballfields, but “Build it together and they will come…” holds more truth for educational leaders and school designers. When architect and educator partner, outside forces can be persuaded to support innovation. Creating schools for the future requires us to leave our comfort zone, a leap made difficult by human nature. When designing for the future, expect some reluctantance to leave the old and commit to the new.
There are no guarantees in life, or in creating a truly innovative school. There is definite risk involved on all parts. However, missing the opportunity to stretch toward new innovation is even a larger risk. Building a bridge of understanding in a communicative and collaborative way helps everyone move from reluctance to readiness. It is worth the risk and effort!