Facility Planning: Future Tense, Part 2

Feb. 7, 2017
More trends that will drive the future of PreK-12 school design.

School leaders, researchers and architects are continually trying to ascertain the future of education. With new research in brain development, a growing recognition for process-oriented curriculum, and a new generation of learners, learning spaces need to be designed to accommodate trends identified by educational futurists. Of 10 identified trends in education, five (multicultural fluency, intense data, integrating arts-tech-engineering, customized learning and project-based learning) were covered in the last edition of this column (Future Tense, AS&U December 2016).  

Here we will look at the next five from an educator’s point of view: interdisciplinary-vs.-siloed curriculum, flexible learning and social opportunities, teacher as facilitator/mentor, preparing for careers yet-to-be invented, and nurturing school attitude.

Many colleges and universities, recognizing that a compartmentalized approach to learning doesn’t prepare students for the multifaceted nature of work and life, promote an interdisciplinary approach to education. PreK-12 schools must follow their lead. The fragmented day begins in early education and continues into secondary school with regimented periods. Students recognize this is not how life works and question the relevancy of school. The real world requires them to identify and struggle with problems, generate ideas to address problems, research the feasibility of ideas, and generate solutions — all in teams across various disciplines while using technology. Educators agree with the need for an interdisciplinary approach, but it will require faculty conversations, leadership, and innovative design.  

Schools of the future will need flexible learning space to provide a platform for changing educational methods. Common spaces foster social engagement, collaboration and team opportunities. New learning spaces must unify curriculum by supporting project-based learning, small or large group activity, and autonomous learning. Flexible space allows for multiple kinds of activities to occur. For instance, “learning streets” harness hallway space for personalized learning and group work. 

The teacher’s role also is evolving. Teachers are challenged to create learning environments that are relevant to students. Traditional teaching emphasized the teacher as the source of wisdom; the new model shifts the teacher from “sage on the stage” to one who asks questions, provides resources, monitors progress, and coaches. The result is students who are more creative and able to apply their learning to life’s challenges.

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts 65 percent of children entering pre-kindergarten will end up in jobs yet to be invented. How do schools prepare students for tomorrow’s economy? Content has been king in education, but schools will also need to focus on multicultural literacy, problem-solving skills, invention, resiliency, and creativity. Allocating time and resources to developing the whole child, including character formation, is vital. Architects and educators will be called to design learning environments that enhance students’ curiosity and stimulate creativity.  

Alignment of systems, policy, practice, and design elevates the likelihood of realizing the school’s mission. How students perceive their experience affects the school’s culture. Culture influences behavior, engagement, and communication, and helps build character. Cultural values shared across grade levels and a diverse student population builds a school’s identity. Varied building materials, flexible learning spaces, inviting common spaces, daylight, and signature pieces all enhance the school climate.  

Tracking all 10 of these trends is critical as educators and architects anticipate the trajectory of education.

Brian Sullivan, Head of School at Maranatha Christian Academy in Brooklyn Park, Minn., Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]. Sullivan has 37 years in education as a teacher, coach, principal, and Head of School. Sullivan frequently collaborates with ATS&R Planners/Architects/Engineers (, which specializes in school planning and design.

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