If we want to create world-class school environments, we need to experience their inner workings in a more hands on way. Seeing and experiencing the struggles that learning environments place on real-world learning is invaluable – and there is a whole lot more that can be done to alleviate them.
What is Educator for an Hour?
Under the insatiable eyes of 22 five-year-olds, the Hayball team spent a number of hours in an inner-Sydney kindergarten classroom. Here’s what we learnt and how these insights will have a tangible impact on our future design work:
We need more considered means of collaboration
As architects, we often champion interdisciplinary learning, and the co-location of different activities or subject matters to enhance collaboration. At this particular school, reading sessions often took place next to the music class. Watching this play out challenged our understanding of optimal practice. Sometimes we sat, reading our books next to the music class, when the trumpets came in, followed by the percussion ensemble practicing in the corridors. The readers didn’t stand much chance to focus on their books, so balancing practicality with co-location of different activities is key.
Where’s my sanctuary?
We need to have more intimate spaces for kids to retreat to in small groups. They are, after all, human, and sometimes feel overwhelmed - particularly the five and six-year-olds who may not yet have fully developed the skills to deal with stimulation overload. During our time at the school, two students retreated to a niche by the bookshelf, and behind a pillar respectively. Surely, we can do better to provide safe and peaceful regroup spaces?
Learning outside the classroom
Noting how teachers and their students appropriated the space outside the classroom was also interesting, and is worth exploring how to incorporate this in a much more meaningful and conscious way. For example, all reading and some math sessions were conducted in the thoroughfare to the music classes. Basic arithmetic proves challenging when your concentration is repeatedly impeded by stampeding six-year-olds.
Enhancing our research-led design ethos
At Hayball, evidence-led and research-based design are a part of our ethos. Working with leading education consultants and researchers to inform the design of flexible, agile and interactive spaces where students can participate in many different modes of learning is something we strongly advocate and apply.
Even though we are armed with cutting-edge theory and experience, there is always scope for more when it comes to the practical end of this innovative research. We need to be immersing ourselves further than a one-time tour of the premises or the occasional opportunity to briefly sit in on lessons or engage with teachers. Designing schools without understanding their unique needs in the first instance can no longer be the status quo. Can you imagine if a chef never ate out at restaurants?
Truly interacting with the children who occupy the spaces we design could make the world of difference. Seeing the impact of learning take place on their faces and in front of our eyes forms an emotive and important foundation for further thinking. And we all agreed that while we’re aware of the theory underpinning the encountered phenomena, seeing it in practice embeds the thinking. After playing the part of Educator for an Hour, I am abundantly more conscious of the realistic needs of these learning spaces, with stronger grounds to argue certain contexts in the future.
Can’t stop here: Every school is different
Hayball is now working to make initiatives like Educator for an Hour common practice across the firm. It’s not enough to just hear about the pinch-points of a space – we need to connect and even experience these needs ourselves.
In retrospect, one take away also deserves illumination: a deep admiration for the educator and their role in supporting and nurturing young minds to learn and grow into the leaders and thinkers of our future is no simple feat – even an hour was time enough to affirm the vital importance of this role and undertake to do everything possible to champion positive design interventions that will enhance the learning and teaching experience.
We need to be designing spaces that help our educators do their job, not restrict their practice. Let’s start by putting ourselves in their shoes – even just for an hour.