I remember a colleague once saying that education was all about relationships. Relationships with pupils, with colleagues, with parents and of course with your own family.
Since I started reading more about sustainability and well being I have realised that another relationship that is very important is the one with your school building and grounds. The environment that you work and study in affects you in so many ways. Are you going to feel comfortable or study well if you sit in a draught, experience lots of distracting noise, if you are surrounded by drab walls, don’t have a nice view out of the window, sit in uncomfortable seats for hours, if you have too little space because of overcrowding, if things don’t work, if it is far too hot, or you are in a massive building where it feels like you are just a tiny little insect? Are you going to respect the school building and surroundings if nobody else seems to care about looking after them and there is litter everywhere, if the windows are falling out, the roof leaks and doors don’t shut properly? Will you be bothered about saving energy by switching off lights and closing doors if the windows don’t shut and the classrooms are uncomfortable due to excessive heat or cold?
Yet despite BSF and PFI, global warming and financial crises, Ofsted and Academy status we are still planning to build schools that depersonalise us and don’t encourage us to develop a good relationship with them.
I’ve seen how new buildings and carefully developed school grounds can make a huge impact on behaviour and motivation of staff and students and how they start to respect the school fabric in a way they didn’t in their older buildings. The buildings can become part of the learning process as well as part of the learning environment, they can inspire learning rather than distract. And if the staff and students are allowed to have a say in the design of their new working environment then even better. Why shouldn’t students be aware of the process of planning a school? Let them know that someone has decreed that each student is allowed a certain area of floor space and why the windows are the size they are. Let them make suggestions as to how their learning environment can be improved.
So all you architects and school planners out there, when you go to visit a school to look at how it might be rebuilt or extended, go and sit in the classroom for a day, talk to the students and staff and get a feel for how you can help them improve their relationship with their learning environment. And when you go back to your environmentally controlled, plant filled, light and airy office just think about the environments you are creating for our learners for the next 40-60 years.