When Andria was a 1st Grade teacher in Taiwan (AND Communication Officer AND English Coordinator AND Assistant Director of Primary school AND something else I am surely forgetting), I used to stop by her classroom quite a lot.
I have a very clear memory of one little girl who was working on math while simultaneously doing cartwheels during one of my visits. That mini-event sparked a flexible learning spaces project that ignited our entire team for several years—I left just before it was completed in every classroom. What type of furniture, what layout, and what type of spaces would empower every student to learn better and enable every teacher to optimize their time with each child?
We have placed differentiation at the center of our teaching at The École. It is therefore natural that we have also approached the question of how we design our teaching and learning spaces —albeit from a slightly different perspective—by asking ourselves this question: What could a classroom look like if the students are not all doing the same thing at the same time? It’s an incredibly potent question that challenges our practices when we examine it from every angle.
Under Benoît’s supervision and with Jan, our Director of Facilities’ support, all of our Elementary teachers have researched the topic and prepared detailed proposals for their classrooms. The results are fascinating and demonstrate the serious consideration that has been given to the role that teachers and students should play within the learning spaces they share. Not every student needs to do gymnastics in order to solve a math problem but the notion that they should all be sitting on a chair behind a front-facing desk is an outdated idea that no longer makes any sense, which is why it is essential for us to bring our classrooms in line with our vision of teaching and learning.
Let’s not forget that The École’s classrooms are already very attractive and that our current furniture is flexible and can be adapted to students’ needs. It allows for a variety of combinations and a large part of our recent work focused on making the most of the potential of our existing furniture. Nonetheless, you can expect our Elementary classrooms to look a little different when we come back to school in September according to specific needs, demands, and budget (a practical dimension that we should never lose sight of!)
Some classrooms have already evolved since the start of the year, such as Adeline’s room in 4th Grade (she attended a professional development course on the subject this year) and Sarah and Molly’s in 1st Grade classrooms (Sarah Corsin was part of the team in Taipei that worked on the flexible learning spaces project. She was also Andria’s co-teacher and their classrooms were magnificently innovative.) The need for a flexible learning space in 1st Grade is probably the most pressing. The transition to Elementary at The École is twofold on account of the changing of buildings and the switch from two teachers in the classroom to one. It’s important for us to make that transition as smooth and complication-free as possible, which is why the transformation will be greatest there: we’re even talking about breaking down the wall between the two classrooms (it will allow for more space to do cartwheels!)