Classroom makeover as professional development?

meet our Spacebusters…

A few weeks ago, the amazing Maija Ruokanen visited our school.  Here’s a recap of what she had to say.

With a book club dedicated to #LearningSpaces, there has been momentum growing on campus (check out our Flipboard of resources here) to do more with our learning environment. Starting this week, a group of 15 teachers will read a series of books to help strike up further conversation (if you are looking for a good text to start with, I’d recommend this one).

But conversation and literature are pointless unless you have a few risk takers willing to take action.  Enter Uzay: one of our school’s tech mentors, and model early adopters. Uzay gave up time to sit down and work through this classroom redesign audit with me so we could ideate the future of her learning space.

As a result of that conversation, and a follow up listen to this episode of Podcast #UWCLearn featuring Paula Guinto, Uzay came up with the theme to pull her room together with: #ideasbrewing.

"Cafe" Romuald Le Peru
“Cafe” Romuald Le Peru


Unpacking the theme

Uzay’s theme presents in a variety of java-fueled signage, and an attempt to bring that ‘cafe’ feel to her classroom.  We have more plans to make that theme really *pop* so watch this space for an update on part II.

Uzay is an IBDP Language&Literature teacher.  Using The Noun Project, we revamped her signage to reflect her #ideasbrewing theme, here’s a sample:

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 4.38.15 PM Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 4.38.08 PM


Who did we call?

I’m extremely lucky to be one of several learning coaches on campus.  Dave Caleb and Keri-Lee Beasley agreed to give up their lunch to come in and power through an hour-long makeover session.  We intentionally didn’t have Uzay present for this phase.  Sometimes it takes an outsider perspective to rethink the layout.  This was only done after consulting with Uzay and making note of ‘deal breakers’ and ‘must haves.’

Our objectives for that hour were the following:

  1. Declutter and streamline
  2. Create more space for social learning
  3. Respect both introverts and extroverts
  4. Pull the room together both with the theme and color scheme
  5. Establish levels and ‘cozyfy’

At the end of that hour, we talked about the next step, and what we could do to really honor Uzay’s new theme.  The new space inspired new thinking.  I’m thrilled to continue this project with my colleagues.  I’ve been wondering why schools don’t do this more often: why is it that at the start of the school year, I’ve traditionally only seen teachers working alone during that intial ‘set up’? If Learning Spaces are communal, wouldn’t the design phase also benefit from a team effort?


So what does before and after look like? 

Remember this represents just the first two hours of the process.  I think most likely this will need an additional two hours.  Within those hours you’ll find some very authentic professional development.  During our makeover, Keri-Lee and Dave continued to ask “If you were a student, which seat would you want?” We continued to push to make sure that there was no ‘one best seat,’ which pushed us to think deeper about the student experience. Lastly, this experiment was a reminder of two things we should continually monitor in our schools:

  1. Are people willing to take risks?
  2. Do we have a support network in place to support early adopters?



































Flickr Image courtesy of Creative Commons licenses

“Cafe” Romuald Le Peru 




Making every seat the best seat in the house

how do you want students to feel when they enter your learning space?

That was one of the provocations Maija Ruokanen asked our Learning Spaces committee at UWCSEA East today.

As the former director of professional learning at NIST, Maija has a wealth of experience when it comes to transforming environments.  Take a look at her blog to see the phenomenal work she did in Thailand. Here’s quote from her design philosophy:

Many of today’s learners are self-directed, sophisticated global citizens with opinions and experiences beyond their years – and they want their views and voices to be heard! When designing modern learning environments, pedagogical research and students’ voice need to lead the way. For the spaces to meet the needs of the learners, the design needs to be based on latest research on learning.

We made space and time to think about the story our school tells through the lens of structure, space, and furniture.  We also completed a classroom makeover in an hour, processed through Maija’s formula of looking for collaboration, culture, community, agency, and alignment with our learning principles.

Many schools are familiar with LOOKING FOR LEARNING…but how often do we look for learning spaces?

Image Courtesy of Pexels
Image Courtesy of Pexels

During the learning with Maija, I’ve been inspired to develop the following checklist to use with high school colleagues:

1) What words would you MOST like students to associate with a learning space for your course and why?noun_878495_C82606

2) Where do you see a reflection of student wellbeing within your classroom design?

3) What unites the space? What could pull the room together? (for more on this, listen to this interview with Paula Guinto)

4) Do the students have access to carefully curated resources which are regularly updated? (Is there a TOK mobile library which links best to your content?) (Do you feature an article of the month?) (Which learning extensions could you rotate within your department?)

5) Does the ‘teacher space’ dominate too much of the physical space in the room?

6) If you asked another teacher to look at your learning space, what would most ‘wow’ them, and why?

7) If you asked a team of colleagues to make-over your room, what two pieces of furniture would they likely remove? Why?

8) Which learning space on your campus MOST inspires you and why?

Maija says all teachers are experts on learning spaces

And to a certain extent, she is right.  Most people reading this have spent thousands of hours inside learning environments.  One of the things that MOST inspired me from our session with Maija is her reminding us that each and every space on campus has the potential to be a learning space. Instead of seeing ‘hallways’ try to shape rivers where learning can flow in and out of your classroom.  She prompted us to see the emotional spark that can happen when we intentionally model our spaces after our learning values and principles.

For a small sampling of Maija’s brilliance, here’s a 17-minute podcast episode which brings her from our space to yours:

Pull the room together


You may already have met.

She’s given this phenomenal #Learning2 talk as well as this one (a really really relevant watch for this time of the year)

Paula is an incredible colleague–and luckily you can learn from her no matter where you are.

This week, we sat down during lunch, and talked about her process for thinking about the classroom environment.  If you have 15 minutes, you can check it out over your lunch:

All year, I’ve been exploring podcasting as a tool for teaching and learning. More on that HERE.

Who could you sit down with today to preserve and curate a conversation for safe-keeping?




Starting conversations about spaces


infowidget “Book Club shirt”


I’m extremely lucky to work at an amazing school where the learning never stops.  People are constantly keen to think more about next practice, rather than cozy up to ‘best practice.’

In coming weeks, a group of us will begin a Learning Spaces Book Club. Sustainability is a major component of everything we do at my school, and that means change comes with a mindful check in place: when we ask: is this good for all stakeholders? we make sure that inquiry includes Mother Earth.

I’ve begun to assemble a Flipboard on Learning Spaces.  This magazine is meant to compliment the broader reading we will do. Our first text, is on it’s way in: feel free to read along with us, and join us in the #uwcLearnSpaces conversation to be.

I have to recommend three amazing people who are leading the thought-athon on this topic.  If you aren’t following these big brains on Twitter, stop reading this post, and bring them into your PLN now:




That’s where you come in–if you are reading this right now, and you have a favorite text/resource when it comes to learning spaces–or if you have a great question to ask when it comes to classroom redesign, please share in the comment section.