Facility Planning: Who Moved My Chalk?

Dec. 1, 2002
School administrators and designers shouldn't fear change.

Perhaps the most daunting challenge for educational planners and architects is fostering change. Administrators want a building design that enhances rather than inhibits new developments in educational curriculum and philosophy. Educational planners and architects are excited to create spaces that reflect these new developments. Whether “form follows function” or “form and function are one,” the spatial design reflects the educational philosophies.

Innovations such as open and flexible classrooms, forums, houses, team-learning areas, technology, school-within-a-school, integrated curriculum and block scheduling necessitate change. In general, teachers are the most resistant to change, while students are the least resistant. Most interested parents seem to follow the attitude of the teachers. School board members are willing to change if they believe the changes will be successful.

How do schools accomplish change successfully? The book Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson illustrates truths about change. The characters in the book are two mice, Sniff and Scurry, and two “little people,” Hem and Haw. The cheese is a metaphor for what you want in life, such as a possession, relationship, good health or career. These four characters represent the simple and complex parts of people. They are in the maze, and change occurs when their cheese disappears.

Sometimes we act like Sniff, who sniffs out change early, or Scurry, who scurries into action. Sometimes we think like Hem, who denies and resists change, or Haw, who finally adapts when he sees that change leads to something better. Just like Hem and Haw, we can become too comfortable in our surroundings and methodology, which provide security in the familiar. Although change is a constant, we resist it.

Architects and planning committees can be obstacles to change when they choose a design that does not enhance a school's educational philosophy. For example, three districts joined together to create a new elementary school. After months of meetings, the design was approved. However, as the process moved into the design-development phase and teachers were added to the committee, it became obvious that the floor plan could be redesigned to better support the activities. Some of the planning and design team were hesitant because they were comfortable with the current plan. They had found their “cheese,” and didn't want it moved. After much internal turmoil, the architect redesigned the entire building.

Human factors in building design create a sense of place, community, security, performance and privacy.

How do educational planners, architects, facility directors and administrators foster change? Perhaps the answer lies in taking a cue from Sniff and Scurry, who are excited about change, and realize that it is inevitable and often leads to renewed success.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong Torseth Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

James Rydeen | Architect/Facility Planning Specialist

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis.

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