As design leader, the architect must be prepared to anticipate and navigate elements of reluctance from key school stakeholders. Reluctant taxpayers may ask, “Will the design cost more? How will it benefit my child’s education? Is it a fad that will fade, sticking us with something that doesn’t work?”
In addressing taxpayer concerns:
- Present studies/statistics supporting educational improvement attributable to innovative design.
- Provide cost comparisons for the innovations.
- Illustrate, through examples, design flexibility/adaptability that supports different pedagogies.
The teacher, meanwhile, comes at it from a different perspective: “Is the design proven to improve outcomes? Will I need to change my teaching/learning approach? Will I get proper training in using the new design?”
In addressing teacher concerns:
- Present studies/statistics supporting student success.
- Conduct building tours and organize user group discussions with teachers working in the spaces.
- Provide 3D models to illustrate innovative ways to use spaces.
It is the architect’s professional responsibility to lead stakeholders through the design process; to stretch the condition of “what is” to the opportunity of “what can be” in terms of innovative design. When conceptual design discussions go beyond stakeholders’ comfort zone, that’s when meaningful dialogue occurs. It’s the exploration that is most important for achieving successful results.
A win-win result occurs when the client promotes a direction, or prescribes a pedagogy that gives the architect guidance and encourages freedom to innovate designs that support/enhance the curriculum.
An interesting recent example is an international K-12 schools project. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) assisted a middle-eastern country’s Ministry of Education in designing new schools for its “knowledge economy” to incorporate technology, project-based learning, and collaborative teaming. Even though the goals were stated, there was reluctance from MOE stakeholders to change curriculum and to design schools to support the new direction. The architect was challenged to convince stakeholders that the school designs would improve the teaching/learning process. Workshops were held to discuss concepts, virtual tours were presented, actual tours were conducted at existing American schools and stakeholders spoke with American teachers and parents about how the designs enhance curriculum. In addition, white papers that justified the school designs were presented. Through these exercises to overcome reluctance, the country’s Ministry of Education was influenced to incorporate design innovation for their new curriculum in the 28 new schools.
When architect and educator form an aligned partnership, outside forces can be more easily persuaded to support innovation. So long as one anticipates and manages the natural tendency of reluctance, innovative design can occur. Creating schools for the future requires us to leave our comfort zone, which is a difficult leap for many people. Throughout the process of designing for the future, expect that virtually everyone at one point or another will be reluctant to leave the old and commit to the new. Help convince them to take the giant step. You’ll both be glad you did!