A New Era Of Education
In 2016, our schools are part of an era in which core academic areas are changing to focus on multi-disciplinary themes such as: financial literacy, civic literacy, health literacy and global awareness.
At the same time, traditional models of education are shifting to something called 21st century learning. This is a philosophy and a model centered on the student that incorporates creative, participatory and project-based learning. It differs from the 20th century model of education, which was teacher-centric and focused on teaching efficiency and preparing students for an industrial age.
Districts across the country are trying to figure out what to do with these new philosophies and how to best incorporate key methodologies into practice.
On Wednesday, March 9, at the 2016 Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) School Facilities and Safety Conference, Frank Locker, PhD, principal of Frank Locker Education Planning, and Dan Obrynba, AIA, vice president of Architecture at OHM Advisors, used one Ohio school district as a case study for discussion about these changing educational practices, the evolution of school design and the value of educational visioning in building support for significant change in a district.
Educational visioning: A critical part of long-term educational planning
Located on the fringe of one of the fastest growing school districts in Ohio, Buckeye Valley Local Schools began planning for improvement to their aging school facilities in 2014.
After deciding to build two new elementary schools, the district extended discussions beyond the design of these two schools to include an evaluation of their current teaching philosophies and facilities. They selected a group of teachers and administrators to participate in a two-day educational visioning process led by Locker.
Visioning is an often overlooked but critically important part of the long-term planning process for schools. It generally entails guided discussion over a period of multiple days to gauge where a district stands on the future delivery and environment of education. The process often inspires new ideas and generates grass roots support for alternative practices.
Visioning is particularly helpful before building or renovating a facility. Architects can use the visioning process to develop concepts of new, rebuilt or refitted school facilities that foster and anticipate educational change, and are flexible enough to “facilitate” it.
So, what does the visioning process entail?
Locker’s role in the visioning process for Buckeye Valley was to share the most current theories about learning and education and guide discussion so that the group could make informed decisions with regard to the future of educational delivery and curriculum in the district.
As he describes the process, “It acknowledges the effectiveness of current practices, while embracing the wisdom from national trends and worldwide sources.”
Attendees prepared for the visioning workshop by reviewing a series of educational videos (TedTalks, etc.) on different learning styles, teaching methods and educational philosophies.
The changing landscape of education was a central theme on day one. Participants discussed the pre-workshop videos, necessary skills for tomorrow’s workplace, 21st century education practices and various student learning modalities. They also discussed what was “working” in their schools and what could be improved from an educational delivery standpoint.
On day two, participants discussed the application of these ideas in the district and viewed examples of implementation in other schools. Intended to inspire collaboration and innovation, these examples included things like:
- Open, flexible common spaces
- Ample windows for visibility
- Areas for collaboration, social, group and independent learning
- Lots of color
- New technology
Participants mapped their current curriculum and facilities with future wants and needs. They also went through the process of conceptualizing various programmatic elements like a media center, STEM labs and community use locations.
The physical outcome of the visioning process was the creation of a conceptual plan, called a relationship diagram, for the ideal elementary school. Unlike a space plan, which includes details like the number of classrooms, this diagram was very loose. It captured the relationship between programmatic elements and was built on characteristics, like flexibility and collaboration, that were identified as important during the visioning workshop. This diagram, which was later shared with the broader community for review and understanding, served as a guide for tangible action in the future.
The broad benefits of visioning in promoting 21st century learning
By defining the most appropriate educational practices, school organizational structure and concepts for the school facilities needed to support them, visioning can help districts to create a roadmap for transforming their schools. The visioning process opens the door to possibility in a district and often inspires cutting-edge work. It can also be valuable in building consensus and positioning administrators, teachers, students and parents to embrace change. As the community is often the force which enables the goals of 21st century learning to be actualized, this is immeasurably beneficial to a district.
In the case of Buckeye Valley, participants became empowered advocates for 21st century learning. Their excitement extended to the community, and despite previous failed attempts, the school district passed a bond issue for new state-of-the-art school buildings this past election season. The district felt that the energy created during the visioning process was essential to the successful bond outcome.
To hear more about this district’s plans for the future, educational visioning or 21st century educational design, please email us.
About Frank Locker
Frank Locker is an educational planner that guides schools to improve teaching and learning. He speaks at conferences all over the world, created and co-teaches the Learning Environments for Tomorrow course at Harvard University, is a certified facilitator and a registered architect.
About Dan Obrynba
Dan Obrynba is the vice president of Architecture at OHM Advisors, and the Principal in Charge of the Buckeye Valley Local Schools project. He has more than 30 years of experience in K-12 educational facility planning and has led the design of various new elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and PK-12 facilities.
About Buckeye Valley Local Schools
Buckeye Valley Local Schools is located in Delaware, Ohio and serves the students primarily from the Ashley and Ostrander areas. Their mission is to achieve excellence through growth and learning for each student’s success.