The Olden Days….

In the 1900’s classrooms were designed to educate the masses for an industrial society. Rows of desks, facing the front, hierarchical positioning of the teacher vs student. Not just in the 1900’s, but also in my day, in your day, and unfortunately TODAY! And quite frankly, it’s just not going to get us where we need to go.

Education is the backbone of society. Teachers and students are the backbones of schools and learning. It’s the people and pedagogy that matters, but, so does space.

So how might we…. design schools and learning spaces to bring together people, pedagogy, and place?

In the 1850’s learning, the basics of the 3 R’s was an imperative to the success of the industrial revolution, and the industrial revolution was imperative to the success of creating a cleaner, safer, and healthier world.

And whilst the 3 R’s are still fundamental to learning, we need to ask,

What skills do our kids need to learn for the complicated society of the future, and what qualities of space will best serve this learning?

The 4 C’s
·      Curiosity
·      Communication
·      Creativity, and
·      Collaboration

Whilst we do live in a cleaner, healthier society than those in Victorian times, we now faced with a plethora of new problems.

Complex, exponentially expanding global problems that teaching just the 3R’s won’t help us solve.

In a knowledge-based economy where the internet of things gives you instant access to information, it’s thinking, not knowing that matters. 

Not just thinking, but thinking creatively. Giving youngsters the skills to connect ideas, build theory, make their way out of the world wicked problems is paramount to not just our success, but our survival.

And as Sir Ken Robinson tells in this TED Talk – traditional schools KILL creativity.

So how might we….. design schools so they are the backbone of creativity?

What do spaces that support creative thinking look like, and how can you create them in your school?

Collaborative Learning

Collaboration is the key to creativity and creative thinking. New ideas only matter if they are shared, built upon, proto-typed and iterated.

Learning requires a challenge that opens the door for the learner to actively engage his/her peers, and to process and synthesize information rather than simply memorize and regurgitate it. (Smith and MacGregor, 1992)


When was the last time you collaborated with the back of someone’s head?

Collaboration is about coming together. It’s about sharing ideas. It’s about engagement. It’s about two heads being better than one.

And the good news is…..

You don’t need a million dollars to create settings in your classroom to encourages collaboration.  All you need is the ability to work with your students, to think differently, and be prepared for fail!

Design for Collaboration

For collaboration to flourish classrooms need to promote movement and choice.  Fluid, multi-purposeful spaces encourage active learning and help create the disposition for creativity.


Movement for everyone. Students and teachers. Space to move, interact, build, stick, develop. The confines of the solid brick cell-like classrooms of yesteryear just don’t cut it. Think up, down and all around when it comes to surfaces for sharing ideas.

Claim unused space, and don’t tell me you haven’t got any. How often are your corridors, library spaces and outdoor spaces not used for learning? You don’t need to build creatively, you just need to think creatively about the space you already have.

This picture shows a back alley in India where students have created a nomadic creative space to showcase their ideas.


Choice in the experience of space.

Sitting, NOT sitting, open closed, loud, quiet, light, dark space Allow the learner to find not only their space but also their place.

Watch your students use the space, figure out what they need to do in the space. Then adapt the space to support this doing. Check out this idea kids invented to make their space their place….

SHOW and not tell

Showcasing ideas in a flexible way is easy. For $250, whiteboard paint can transform a dead corner into a creative and collaborative hub.

For $200 more use an Ikea stool and painted FC sheeting to create an ideas wall which can also act as a room divider to enclose a creative corner

Making it work


Instead of worrying about furniture being more flexible, create an environment which supports flexible learning. Look around you for examples of spaces that encourage the behaviours you want to nurture creativity in your students.

Where and how you could build a creative and collaborative corner in your learning space?

Think low-fi not hi-fi.

Make it quick, cheap and easy. What’s the worst thing that can happen?

Inspiration can come from the simplest of things, imagine learning as a picnic or your kitchen at home as a classroom.

And last, but not least…….

Use human centered design to think deeply about your space.

Watch how students use space and let them tell you what they want to do in it.

Get feedback on what you have. What’s working, what’s not?

Humans are at the centre of all design. Without curiosity, input, and feedback you will always have what you’ve got now, status quo.

Admittedly the built environment might not change the teaching and learning in your school overnight, but it will change how you all feel about the possibilities for creativity and collaboration in your students, and hopefully in yourself!

Jayne Harrison is an Entrepreneur, Architect, Design Thinker,

& Founder of JDH Architects.

“Mindset, Curiosity, Creativity, and Action are the key skills students and teachers of today need to solve the problems of tomorrow.”

“Without innovation, you will always only have the Status Quo” Jayne Harrison