Students need classrooms that inspire them

Students need to be in classrooms that inspire them—spaces that are light, airy, and filled with examples of work that they aspire to do. Each school will have a variety of spacious classroom settings. Some will be more traditional in the way that we envision classrooms now, but others might be set up outside or within an atrium or amphitheater. There might be desks, cushions, or benches arranged in rows or circles—however the teachers want them, as not every classroom will follow a template. Each classroom will be set up based on what is necessary to meet learning objectives. But schools will prioritize configuring classes to inspire learning first and foremost, and, where appropriate, reflect the diversity of environments that students are exposed to outside a school setting. Students will have beautiful spaces that make them feel good to be at school—with art, living plants, music where appropriate, comfortable seating, and fast internet access.” [Bold added]

Rita Pin Ahrens, the director of education policy for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, in an article on The Atlantic, “Reimagining the Modern Classroom

Change the Environment to Change Behavior

PROJ_Codman_Exterior

A “high level of student engagement may be at least partially due to the school’s new Lithgow Building, which opened last August. The historic building was renovated with a trauma-informed design that houses the school’s lower and middle grades. “In many elementary schools, people use bright primary colors,” says Codman’s executive director Meg Campbell. “But for kids who’ve been traumatized or on the autism spectrum, red can be a trigger.”

. . . Campbell says she has seen a dramatic improvement in students’ behavior following the Lithgow renovation, even with the addition of 44 more students this school year.“Last year we had 16 students with 50 different incidents that warranted a suspension,” Campbell says. “This year to date, we’ve had three students with six incidents warranting suspension to date. If you put kids in a different environment, the behavior changes, and the teachers are happier.” [Bold added]

—Susan Johnston Taylor, “Want To Keep More Kids In School? Design A Smarter Classroom” on Good

The Influence of Context On Character

“What is emerging is a new idea: that qualities like grit and resilience are not formed through the traditional mechanics of “teaching”; instead, a growing number of researchers now believe, they are shaped by several specific environmental forces, both in the classroom and in the home, sometimes in subtle and intricate ways.”

–Paul Tough, “How Kids Really Succeed” in The Atlantic

School Climate Matters

A classroom in Guipuscoa

Chalk up more research confirming what-we’ve-been-saying-all-along here at Schools & Ecosystems: a school’s learning environment impacts student learning.

In case you don’t know, NYC has been collecting what folks call “school climate” data via surveys administered to teachers, parents, and students since 2007. It’s important information to have about a school–arguably more important, to my mind, than test scores (I believe both should be considered).

Last July, I had quoted Match Education’s Mike Goldstein asking an important question about all this data:

Is anyone aware of scholars and reporters digging deep into this data set?  Is there any other data set in the USA just as good?

I think it’d be hugely productive to identify NYC schools which have made progress in “Total Climate” — and then study why.

Well, Mike, you’ve got your answer.

NYU’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools published a study using NYC’s school climate information that demonstrates that a school’s learning environment not only impacts student learning, but furthermore teacher retention. As Chalkbeat NY’s Alex Zimmerman reports:

Each measure, the report found, is independently linked to decreases in teacher turnover. And gains on two of those measures, high academic expectations and school safety, were directly connected to better scores on state math exams.

The study found that if a school improved from the 50th percentile across the study’s four measures of school climate (leadership, expectations, relationships, and safety) to the 84th percentile, teacher turnover would decline by 25 percent, or 3.8 percentage points.

A similar percentile increase in measures of school safety and high academic expectations alone boosted math scores enough to account for an extra month and a half of instruction. (Improvements in school climate also boosted language arts scores on state tests, but those gains weren’t statistically significant.)

It’s important to note that this study confined its focus to the following aspects of school climate:

  • safety and order
  • leadership and professional development
  • high academic expectations
  • teacher relationships and collaboration

Missing in such an examination (and mostly from these surveys themselves) is a focus on the physical environment of a school. There are questions pertaining to cleanliness and conditions of a school, but as we’ve also been arguing on this blog, the actual design, and the incorporation (or absence) of access to natural light and greenery, colors, furniture, etcetera (all largely subconscious factors), all have an impact on learning and relationships in a school.

If your school is interested in collecting school climate data, the US Department of Education is sharing free surveys and information for collection of data similar to NYC’s. Check it out and share.

The Shameful State of American School Buildings

One of this blog’s key arguments is that the influence of environment and infrastructure has a large, and all too often ignored, impact on student learning.

In the conversations we have on public education, we often talk as if teachers and students operate in some kind of a vacuum. Many fail to acknowledge what it feels like for a child to walk into a building each day in which high pitched sounds reverberate sharply off walls and floors, mold grows in the ceiling, harsh florescent lighting beams off bright surfaces, and the infrastructure is decaying.

So it is heartening to see this report from The US Green Building Council drawing attention to the shameful state of public school infrastructure.

Here’s a quote from the press release:

The analysis found that the federal government provides almost no capital construction funding for school facilities, and state support for school facilities varies widely. Local school districts bear the heaviest burden in making the investments needed to build and improve school facilities. When school districts cannot afford to make these significant investments, they are often forced to make more frequent building repairs from their operating funds—the same budget that pays for teacher salaries, instructional materials and general programming.

2016_state_of_our_schools_infographic
Infographic from thr USGBC website

Please help to build awareness of the need for investing in our school infrastructure and promote the report using#StateofOurSchools.