Architects and educational leaders should consider four (4) steps in their efforts to design truly innovative schools: i) being collaborative and building partnerships, ii) communicating continually, iii) creating opportunities to see, feel and touch innovation and iv) anticipating reluctance.
Our natural instinct, when faced with the prospect of change, is to be cautious, conservative and concerned. It’s a whole lot easier to cling to the past than it is to grab on to the future. Yet, that is exactly why we design 21st century school facilities that function in dramatically different ways than 20th century factory models.
So how do we bridge that “gulf of reluctance?” The answer can be found in recognizing the importance of stakeholder engagement. Engagement is an act, or a series of actions, that allows key stakeholders (internal and external) to share in shaping the future. Engagement can take many forms.
For example, in one community, community outreach, a survey and listening sessions were conducted to gather thoughts and ideas about improving the school. These are great examples of engagement. But even with those efforts, and following the debut of the resulting design, the district made a decision to again go into the community in a series of meetings entitled, “Come listen, learn, and let us know...” This told the community that their thoughts mattered; they were sharing in shaping the future of the school. The net result was the passage of a successful levy and the creation of new 21st century school facilities.
In another example, a community task force was organized to develop recommendations to the board that would lead to the successful passage of a levy to construct a new high school (it had previously failed three times). This group of parents, students, community members and school staff held a series of meetings that included a “force-field analysis” exercise; an activity designed to have participants share in the development of a common vision and in the development of strategies to reach it. The result was a set of recommendations to the board that led to the successful passage of a bond for a new senior high school.
One final example: A school district decided it would precipitate change by making incremental modifications to one school and expanding from there. Selecting that first school involved building-by-building engagement activities with staff and parents; sharing what the future might look like and then asking them to envision that future in their school. A school was selected and building modifications made. Once the community saw the benefits of change in one school, the district was able to expand its building program across the district via a successful levy.
Change—designing and creating new school facilities that reflect and support 21st century learning—often means bridging the gap of reluctance. The greatest tool for building that bridge is engagement.
Tapper is senior educational planner for ATS&R Planners/Architects/Engineers, Minneapolis; a multi-disciplined firm specializing in preK-12 and post-secondary school planning and design. He has more than 40 years of experience in public schools. Dr. Tapper can be reached at [email protected].
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