February 28,  2020

Optimizing Learning and Work Environments

Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.


3 Big Ideas

Learning is enhanced by the space where it happens–no matter the learning. While I might be able to learn to ski on an indoor slope in South Florida, my learning is enhanced when I take that learning to the Rocky Mountains, and while my son learns from listening to master violin players in the car, he actually puts it all together in front of his music stand with his violin. I have been thinking about how to optimize learning spaces and took a look at some innovative businesses to see what they do differently. I’ve already put a few of these in place at home.

  1. Learning and work environments can support collaboration. As noted in a Harvard Business Review article, we’ve seen an explosion of open office layouts, in part because openness, transparency, and collaboration are some of the attributes companies strive for today. Sometimes these designs work well; however, research shows that this collaborative push may be too much of a good thing. Read more about how to balance the desire for collaboration with the need for quiet.
    See “7 Factors of Great Office Design” by Peter Bacevice, Liz Burow, and Mat Triebner.


  2. Well-building standards set the bar. “We spend almost a third of our lives in the office, and in order to find and retain top talent, it’s essential for companies to foster an environment that empowers people with the right space to work, think and collaborate naturally.” In a Forbes article, Alan Kohll outlines ideas for seven well-building standards easily adaptable for schools. Additionally, John Rampton notes in Entrepreneur that there are a variety of factors that can influence your productivity, decision making, mood, and physical health. He says, “Consider it essential to make sure that your work environment and conditions are optimized to boost your productivity.”
    See “How Your Office Space Impacts Employee Well-Being” by Alan Kohll. 
    See article and video “10 Ways to Create a More Productive Environment”  by John Ramston.


  3. Start with the vision and purpose for the environment. Did you know that students spend an average of 11,700 hours of their life inside the classroom? Research shows that furniture arrangements, lighting, classroom décor, and even building design can have a significant impact on learning, behavior, and overall academic achievement. Many creative adjustments can be made with materials already in the school, with PTA funds, or when your school is scheduled for renovation.
    See infographic “5 Research-Based Practices for Brain-Friendly Learning Environments” from University of Southern California.
    See creative design ideas for elementary, middle, and high schools from Edutopia
    7 Outstanding K–8 Flexible Classrooms”
    High School Flexible Seating Done Right
    Reflections on Shifting to a Flexible Classroom” (middle school)
    The Architecture of Ideal Learning Environments” (whole school design)



“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” 

    –  Maria Montessori

“There are plenty of changes you can make to your classroom—without a lot of money or space—to make it a much better place for students to learn.” –  

  –  Jennifer Gonzalez

See “12 Ways to Upgrade Your Classroom Design” by Jennifer Gonzalez.


1 Question

When you walk into a classroom, note of the use of space. 
What changes in the physical learning environment might improve teaching and learning?


About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.



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