Interior designer, Mary Featherston has just spent two days with us; sharing insights and experience with our system and school leaders. Interestingly, there was an article in the SMH’s Essential Lift-Out on 31 July by Andrea Jones on the design work of Mary and Grant Featherston.
We were most grateful to her for providing a fresh perspective on designing learning spaces for today’s schooling. In education as with very other sectors, there is a strongly held belief that we ‘own the game’, we know best and anyone ‘outside’ the game is too often viewed with scepticism.
Mary’s vision for creating purposeful learning spaces for children grew out of her respect for the Reggio Emilia project. Her perspective on learning spaces has challenged our thinking and pedagogical frameworks.
She views the learning space not as the sum of its parts but as an organic and complex whole.
It’s interesting that we speak of schools as being family like places where children can learn, play, share, reflect and collaborate. Yet, how many of our schools look and feel like homes or even workplaces?
How much time do we spend articulating the purpose of schooling, what feelings we want to evoke in these learning spaces and most importantly what we want our students to learn about themselves, others and their environment? If our homes can offer something valuable to the process of schooling – what other areas/social experiences/sectors can we incorporate into school design?
Stephen Heppell often talks about schools particularly high schools as artificial and punitive 19th century environments that some how we continue to replicate. The environment then shapes the learning. Since most schools are designed around how you manage the business of schooling you get factory models that see schooling as an automated process. We know and are committed to the understanding that the business of schooling is learning; therefore the question for school design is how does the environment enhance the learning of the school community?
As a designer, Mary accepts the complexities and challenges but believes we have reached a level of urgency, which forces to act and act now. We can’t wait for greenfield sites to begin the process. Schools can do much with existing classrooms if they question and change existing factory models of curriculum and pedagogy and then design accordingly.
As educators, we need the courage to challenge our own educational precepts; to step outside the classroom. In otherwords, think outside the box. Wouldn’t it be good if schools looked different from one other – reflecting the distinct and unique educational needs of each learning community?