In early August, one of the last emails I received from my dearly departed friend and colleague, Dr. Jeff Lackney was the continuation of an ongoing conversation we were having about the nature of "Educational Commissioning". At that time, Jeff exhorted me to "focus like a third grader". I suggested that educational spaces should be tested to support a variety of pedagogical and social goals. Jeff came back and said that my thoughts were essentially 1/2 of the equation and that the task was then to describe the physical spaces that would support those education based objectives and then monitor effectiveness of the spaces, data-based on student achievement. This, I think is the essence of Educational Commissioning. Looking back over those communications, what emerges is that I was, in effect, developing a set of experiential best practices against which to both design teaching and learning spaces and then test the spaces for effectiveness against those criteria on relevant data pertaining to student achievement in those spaces. Dr. Lackney's point to me was that the criteria were "only half of the whole" and that he then wanted me to describe specific space templates that would be catalysts for student achievement based on the criteria. While I strongly agree that educational spaces should be flexible enough to accommodate a range of teaching and learning activities and even to evolve over time, I also think that this flexibility should have focused, consistent academic and civic goals; i.e. to prepare our students to have rich, rewarding and FUN scholastic careers in preparation for them to be literate, productive citizen/leaders. So this design agility should always be tested against whether the teaching/learning spaces supports these goals. The criteria I have established are based on my "11 Hallmarks of Effective Teaching and Learning". In this regard then, the spaces should support:
- student academic and civic engagement
- student ownership in their educational processes
- student achievement in grade appropriate proficiency of curricular and standards based objectives
- student proficiency on nationally normed tests
- flexible technology applications
- Higher Order Thinking Skills
- Project Based Learning
- Community Partnerships
- Collaborative Teaching
- Cooperative Learning
On his School Studio Blog Jeff came very close to the idea of seeing the educational facility (the school) and the academic and social development that takes place inside the physical structure (the School) as an organic whole but he still started with the physical design concepts as being the primary driver rather than exactly the other way around. In Jeff's view, teachers should be Professionally Developed to learn how to use the teaching and learning spaces effectively. My view is that educational facilities planners/designers/architects should have Professional Development about the mission and vision of the School and about the pedagogies specific to the needs of the school. In this way, they can then more effectively design spaces that will be in synergy with the goals and objectives to achieve what I call the Essential Non-Difference between the physical facility and the teaching and learning going on within the walls.
As far as which space templates should be developed to accommodate the Hallmarks, my position is that world class teaching and learning can take place under a tree. This statement does not discount the vital importance of creating physical spaces that support the Hallmarks. It does take into account that rich, rigorous, and rewarding scholastic experiences can happen regardless of the spaces in which they take place.