Building flexible learning environments with staff and student input, alongside collaboratively establishing shared school philosophies and focussing staff professional development on how we learn best, worked as a catalyst for increased learner agency at Glenealy School. This led to a shared desire from all stakeholders to create learning environments that empower learners to know themselves and flourish in their learning.
In 2011 Glenealy School carried out an exercise in gathering student voice with the simple question ‘What makes a good learner at Glenealy School?’. Although academically our results had been strong, the student responses left us questioning if we were fully equipping our students with the skills and attributes needed for success in their future.
We wanted increased opportunities for our learners to create an environment where they had more control of how, what and where they learned. An environment where students developed their approaches to learning, reflected on themselves as learners, the class as a community of learners and how they learned best both individually and collectively.
We began a journey as a whole school, focusing on empowering learners and exploring the pedagogical factors that have the greatest positive impact on learning. Through professional development teachers and educational assistants engaged with the latest educational research from around the world.
This focus had a positive effect on pedagogy across the school, although it was becoming increasingly obvious that the furniture and structure of our classroom environments were impeding our goal for increased learner agency. The space was cluttered and limited, with most students assigned to tables of six with a lack of flexibility and opportunity for movement. This traditional layout was designed on a teacher at the front of class model, with the teacher taking the role of imparter of knowledge rather than facilitator of learning. This was not our vision for learning at Glenealy so we knew a change was required. A team of dedicated professionals within the school spent significant time researching learning spaces. Exploring research on design, furnishings, impact of colour, full spectrum lighting, learning styles and the effect of clutter on focus and attention.
This learning was first synthesised and applied to the redesigning of our library space. This created more of a 21st century book shop effect with soft furnishings and playful nooks and spaces for students to enjoy and develop a love of reading, creating a welcoming learning hub in the school. The success of this redevelopment shone a light on the power a well thought out, learner focused design could have on creating an atmosphere where learning can flourish.
We wanted to capture this success and amplify it, applying a similar approach to the design of all learning spaces across the school. To ensure full engagement in the process and to gain multiple perspectives students and staff were involved as much as possible in the redesign of learning spaces. We examined the latest designs both locally and from around the World. Some classrooms engaged in rapid-prototyping, trialling the use of different furnishings and layouts. From this a collective design brief of building flexible, dynamic, light and adaptable learning spaces was agreed.
We are currently in the process of refurbishing and redesigning our outdoor areas to create learning spaces outside as well as in. This process of redevelopment is due to be completed in December 2019.