Unlocking learning spaces

Unlocking learning spaces

15:38 26 March in Education, Modern ways of learning, News and views, School interior design

Our webinar series dedicated to educators.

Since the first national lockdown began last March, we realised that the events industry would be the first to suffer amid the global pandemic, and we would sorely miss seeing our esteemed colleagues in the education sector and have those quality conversations that teachers rarely find the time to have in their day to day working lives.

As part of our commitment to education, we decided that we would take our event from the physical to the virtual platform and curate a webinar series covering a multitude of salient subjects that industry experts could dissect, and attendees could debate and digest.

It was also a way in which we could convey our thanks to all of the hardworking devoted teachers whose unwavering devotion and resilience has been invaluable for parents and children.

Part I ‘From surviving to thriving’

In tandem with Noble and Eaton (strategic consultants in transforming schools), we hosted our first webinar 4th December, where we explored how to go from surviving to thriving within school settings. Julie Keyes shared her ideas on what ‘thriving’ in a school setting looks like.  Using moments or anchors of joy that were revealed in lockdown to unlocking/ offset the negativities drawn for all of the ‘red tape’ pervasive narrative. Some vibrant ideas were shared on how to breathe life into redundant spaces within schools.

Shaun Baker, Head of Design at Noble and Eaton shared his visions for designing flexible future-ready education spaces beyond the COVID-19 crisis to support today’s learners. This included spaces for quiet contemplation and reflection, spaces for collaborative learning that facilitates BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and BYOC (Bring Your Own Content). Thoughtful design of spaces significantly impacts on student’s performance, health and wellbeing.

Our ‘HeadTalks’ guest, Irfan Latif, Principal at DLD College shared his experiences of the pandemic, revealing some positive outcomes such as taking in pictures and artwork from all over the world, celebrating the NHS staff as the first Nightingale hospitals opened.  The hospitals were unable to accept the artwork due to the risk of cross-contamination.  DLD College is not short of glass, and so the students rallied together to display the pieces in the windows, later termed as a “Beacon of hope” in the centre of London, while London looked like something out of 28 days later! With all the messages of thanks for the NHS. Irfan said that this positively impacted the wellbeing of the boarders and house-parents.

Our second session took place on 4 February 2021 titled ‘The future of learning in schools.

Each panellist brought different experiences and knowledge to the key question being asked around the topic of what is “The future of learning?”

During the pandemic, we have seen schools respond brilliantly to the difficult situation that they have been faced with. Whilst some schools may have found it a bit more difficult in terms of their technological setup, it has been a superb hallmark of the profession to see the dedication of teachers to the children and communities they serve during the last 12 months.

The way we teach has changed, exams have changed, the disadvantage gap widened, and yet the behemoth of a curriculum that favours the academic elite remains the same. One way that some schools and communities have thrived however, is where they have had access to smart systems to supplement and support learning.

Mark Anderson, ICT Evangelist explained that using modern AI-driven tools there are many ways that teachers have been supplementing and supporting learning. From some of the simple AI built into our everyday tools such as PowerPoint or more dedicated services such as CENTURY Tech; “a teaching and learning tool that combines artificial intelligence with the latest research in learning science and neuroscience. It creates constantly adapting personalised pathways for every student and powerful intervention data for teachers.” we can see that AI tools really are now in our everyday vernacular.”

As we move forward in time, we are only more likely to see these types of tools that help reduce some of the administrative burden of activities such as marking, to let teachers spend their time doing what they are best at, teaching and supporting students with their misconceptions. Data is information without context and such tools help give teachers what Dr England described as “wisdom” to help teachers focus on their core business.

sixth form centre redesign for independent school

“Necessity is the mother of invention”, said Plato and we have seen that hugely increase in the ways in which technology and education companies have responded to the pandemic and the needs of schools. Is it now the time to really start digging deeper into online assessments for qualifications? For AI to really help power the curriculum with highly personalised learning pathways tailored to everyone’s learning needs, supported, and led by expert teachers? It is the case that we are seeing a much more research-informed profession with the application of cognitive psychology and neuroscience being more frequently the norm in conversations about teaching and learning. Will technology of the future be able to work in tandem with teachers to help everyone achieve their potential?

Allowing children to have some control over their destiny in how, when and where they learn is an important aspect to consider. This is not a crisis, it’s an opportunity to rethink our education system and create schools that are both future-proof and COVID-proof. COVID counter measures are helping to re-energise education by creating meaningful workspaces that helps to facilitate SDL (Self-Directed Learning).

The technical term is for SDL is heutagogy.  The consensus was that ‘Sage on stage’ is gone. Teachers are scaffolding an environment and curriculum for learners to explore that journey of self-discovery, which is not lazy teaching.

School dining hall design

We also had the opportunity to learn about ‘The Biophilic Classroom’. Architect and Sustainability Advisor, Clare Bowman, brought us back to earth with some compelling research she’d undertaken at Putney High School.

Biophilic design is a concept used to increase connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions in the design of spaces.

Clare worked on designing a learning space based around this idea of biophilic design called  the ‘Futures Hub’.

The research aimed to demonstrate how adding things from nature such as plant life into a space could improve air quality and the learning environment for students and staff.

Our ‘HeadTalks’ guest, Dr Heery placed emphasis on where schools need to think carefully about how they blend learning in the future, a mix of the synchronous and asynchronous opportunities that are afforded when you give students more control over their learning.

Part III 18th March ‘Flourishing minds & learning environments’

Precisely one year on after the first national lockdown, our concluding Part III looked at designing buildings for well being with Professor Derek Clements-Croome who shared his research-based evidence on how his ‘Flourish triangle’ must be applied from the get-go when designing purpose-built learning environments that will enhance students engagement and productivity.

Professor Derek Clements-Croome explained the three basic layers of his Flourish triangle:

  1. i) Physical environment – Comfort, air quality, noise, daylight and physical things easy to measure
  2. ii) Personalisation/ perceptual-  This layer Professor Clements-Croome refers to as the ‘sparkle layer Empowerment’,– transient levels effects  – a view out of the window, colour, artwork, greenery

iii)        Economics – The costs of a poor environment i.e. absenteeism, impact of poor air quality or high carbon dioxide levels on concentration.

The ‘Flourish triangle’ model should be applied from the get-go when designing or upgrading purpose-built learning environments to enhance student’s engagement and productivity. School leaders can implement various things to improve the environment.  Whether it’s daylight, views out, plants, artwork etc. This is not a high cost, providing health and wellbeing environments is an investment.

Dining hall fit out

Also, the importance of connecting with nature came about in the conversation, and that outdoor classrooms in green spaces offer wellbeing benefits to all ages, to which we sent out a poll to see how many schools have already made provisions for outdoor learning.

Outdoor learning live poll results

Has your school made provisions for outdoor learning?  50% said yes.

30% said no.

20% said they are planning to incorporate outdoor spaces to facilitate learning.  

Jonathan Matta, National Education leader at KI and event compere highlighted the similarities between these key external factors for the base levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of physiological needs.

Personalisation of environment being key to positive interactions and how are we designing the system to really support what matters most.

We heard fantastic contributions from our ‘HeadTalks’, Mrs. Rebecca Tear, Headmistress at Badminton School and Dr. Stephen Burley, Headmaster at Kings High Warwick. Both having shared initiatives that have worked well within their schools which engage, empower and enhance wellbeing and mental health in students.

Mrs. Rebecca Tear, Headmistress at Badminton asked an important question in terms of sustainability of a designed space when new imperatives eb away at the purities of what matters.

Dr. Adam England shared “Organicism and simplicity.  The more complex the system, the more unstable they become. Staff willingness versus compliance, keeping things simple”.

Shelly Masters suggested it is a combination of staff willingness shaping organisation through management, getting the team on board for the design process.

Kelly said “Relationships are important in setting the culture, not just physical space but emotional space.  “Students come to school for the relationships too and wellbeing at the heart of education will support any vehicle for recovery in these times.”

Dr. Stephen Burley added “Traditionally, the built environment tended to be a discussion in schools between the head and the bursar.  “Through engaging the whole teaching staff so they appreciate the gains in terms of academic teaching and learning and crucially in terms of wellbeing can be powerful.”

Mrs. Tear described what she found to be an effective measuring mechanism in her school as how each individual interacts with the environment e.g. person to person, person to environment.  Involving everyone from all areas of the school with relationships at the heart can be most empowering for creativity and productivity in the wider community. There is an extra gain investing in the environment, and to one’s own wellbeing in long term.

When redesigning an upgrade to Badminton’s sixth form and library, Envoplan involved a panel of students to sit at the core of the design process.  The students felt engaged, empowered, and that the space was designed ‘for them’, attributing positive aspects to the project.

Another approach to wellbeing in Badminton is using a dedicated ‘Toolkit’. A focus whereby each pupil can access resources and tips to improve their own wellbeing. Every day and every individual’s needs being different.

The session swiftly led to available tools and resources for school leaders.

Shelly Masters, Learning and Development Manager at ‘Minds Ahead’ joined the conversation stating, “No one needs a qualification to listen!”.  Her approach to empowering school leaders to have a positive impact on wellbeing in schools is through preventative measures, actively listening, looking at the data, identifying recovery reactions to apply to future imperatives.

Shelly explained how Minds Ahead have been delivering its unique ‘Masters in School Leadership of Mental health’ programme to educators and how the evidence-based research has enabled them to effectively apply preventative measures.

As a former Deputy Head of a Sixth Form, Shelly was part of the team that wrote the Masters programme along with Leeds Beckett University.

Kelly Hannaghan, Mental Health and Wellbeing Consultant at Mind Work Matters, shared tips and expressed the importance of relationships in setting the culture in schools.  Kelly is the founder of the ‘Family Matters’, an empowerment program that supports family health and wellbeing, positive relationships, healing trauma and positive parenting strategies, which has resulted in outstanding outcomes for family engagement.

Kelly coined the phrase “Two ‘ok’ rule” when asking your staff how they are, go back and ask again “How are you really doing?” Staff and leadership wellbeing is vital and perhaps not receiving as much attention as the onus is predominantly placed on students.  She used the analogy ‘putting on your own oxygen mask first’. School leaders need support to open up and come into the vulnerable space.

Lots of tips to better prepare our future generation for what feels like an uncertain future and rise through adversity.

Jonathan agreed “Leadership, it’s lonely at the top.”  Occasionally senior leadership roles can often feel like Atlas, carrying a world of worry on their shoulders.

Dr. Burley told us about the school’s Student wellbeing ambassadors taking ownership, thus enhancing wellbeing, since they feel rewarded for helping others. They were each trained by the ‘Diana scheme’, alert to early signs of wellbeing issues.  Mental health first aid courses are available to staff. Also, the ‘Wellbeing hub’(centre of resources, tips, activities advice and guidance), has proven to be powerful during lockdown.

Mrs. Tear added that by harnessing creativity and productivity in ownership of the learning space, then the wellbeing is greater than just during the activity but in how they interact with that space over time – a symbiosis or virtuous circle.

Jonathan rounded up the session, synthesising the multi-faceted aspects of wellbeing in both the physical and emotional space.

So where has this journey led us?

Looking back at the time of our inaugural virtual event on December 4th

the nation bore witness to a surge of coronavirus hospitalisations and deaths, with the prospect of a roadmap for easing restrictions painting a bleak picture.  Many school leaders were already feeling burned out with the enormous burden of re-purposing their schools to keep their students and staff safe whilst delivering education with minimal disruption as possible. As the four-tiered system failed to curb the spread of the virus, international students braced themselves for a Christmas without their families.

Part I ‘From surviving to thriving’ was taking a proverbial ‘deep breath’, opening the narrative for post pandemic education spaces.  A spotlight for schools to recreate inviting and safe spaces where students can thrive and attain self-actualisation.

We learned a great deal through spotlighting school Heads.  A candid HeadTalks, revealing insights into their resilience, humility and passion for building success through adversity.  From that point onwards, we decided that this would be a key ingredient for the success of the entire ‘Unlocking learning spaces’ series.

The next natural progression was to look at the seismic shift in the mass adoption of technology and online learning. ‘The future of learning in schools’ Part II.

This webinar was planned and conducted during Lockdown 3.0. We identified that there had been a multitude of benefits for both teachers and students with the adoption of digital technologies and AI driven tools, and so with a panel of industry experts, we explored how AI increased engagement and supported personalised learning paths.  All of this flowed nicely into the Self-Directed Learning or heutagogy methodologies. This raised an important question: Does the curriculum support personalised learning paths and SDL?

With students tending to be more connected to their devices than with nature, we looked at Biophilic design, and the findings which prove to enhance engagement and wellbeing.

Part III ‘Flourishing minds and learning environments’ 18th March concluded the series with a focus on the psychological and behavioural effects of the built environment.

With wellbeing and mental health in schools being a top priority, we looked at several programmes, resources and initiatives available to schools. Our HeadTalks guests happily shared their success stories and experiences.

As the saying goes, “Only when you look back, are you able to see how far you’ve come.”

As we reflect on this webinar series, we feel enormously privileged to have had guest panels of highly esteemed industry experts, each willing to offer expertise and guidance in the most challenging times.

Thank you to all who attended and participated!

If you didn’t get a chance to see the full webinar, go to the link here

We would like to express gratitude to all our esteemed panellists, our partners, Noble and Eaton, and our sponsors, KI Europe and Table Place Chairs, without whom the event wouldn’t have been such a success!

At Envoplan, we have it covered.  From concept to creation on any budget.  We would love to help!

Contact us on +44 (0) 20 8997 9656 or enquiries@envoplan.co.uk