Innovative Learning and Teaching: More than window-dressing

Millions of dollars are being spent on the construction of Innovative Learning Environments, or Flexible work spaces in parts of education and business.

Between the years 2011 - 2021 the Ministry of Education have committed to building or modernising 17,000 buildings & 38,000 classrooms into flexible, open and adaptable teaching spaces.

Some of the thinking behind it has been "Build it and they will transform". This may occur for a small number of early adopters, but for most it won't. 

A recent article on Innovative Learning Environments in schools has highlighted this, with one teacher stating "Endless collaboration between teachers sharing the spaces has distracted them from teaching pupils, who are in turn distracted by each other. Learning outcomes have gone down, not up, but no one wants to discuss the elephant in the room". 

Research shows it takes 3-5 years to make sustained change. Building a room full of lovely furniture will not mean the pedagogical and practice changes will occur. Due to our very nature as humans, we are creatures of habit. We will continue in the same vein until we are shown and convinced of another way. Traditional models of "tell them and they will do-it" no longer work, so collective buy-in (the why) is imperative. 

Plunging staff members into an Innovative environment or flexible workspace and expecting them to operate differently and collaboratively causes a huge amount of stress for some people. Professional learning in the areas of emotional intelligence, personality profiles, and strengths are a starting point for unpacking who the people are and how they will operate together. 
For schools and tertiary organisations making the shift into Innovative Learning Environments, it needs to be a slow-and-steady burn that must be supported by dedicated professional learning, beginning prior to entering the environment.

As an example, a Primary School in Auckland had a vision of beginning an ILE in their Junior School. They began the journey of shifting teacher practice two years prior to the move. Teachers worked towards creating more learner agency, a shift in locus of control and innovative learning opportunities within the four walls of their traditional classrooms. Then, as their environment was being built, they moved into a collaborative space and began co-teaching. Through this process, they were able to determine how they would collaborate, teach and plan in the environment. When they moved into the ILE, they were ready... and so were the students. In total, this was a 2-3 year journey involving an external facilitator (myself) and internal leaders operating together to support the shift. 

If we are truely student or customer-centric, then we need to pay mindful attention to how we will support the transformation of teacher practice... because, after all, our learners will be the people deciding how we will be looked-after in our old age!