Jul 17, 2017

How the Design Community Can be Catalysts for Change

By Emmy Beeson

Years of experience tell me people love their neighborhood schools but think education as a whole needs reformed. It is certainly incumbent upon school leaders to embrace the vision for change and work through the district’s resources (people, time, and budgets) to bring the vision to fruition. But in an industry where acceptance of change is slow and the actual change is even slower, restructuring how we inspire and support school districts through the design, construction, and move-in phases of a building project are critical. It causes me to wonder if it is the design industry — including the suppliers and dealers focused on innovative learning environments — that may be the most powerful catalyst for change in education.

Perhaps “change” is not the right word. Maybe the word should be “transformation.” In the last two decades or so, we have seen reform movement after reform movement: Federal regulations, state regulations, laws, guidance, compliance, compliance, compliance. States all over the country are building more stringent accountability systems and all the while the letter of the law is draining the life out of our schools. Everyone wants students to be engaged and find meaning in their education, but outside influences continue to create circumstances that disengage students. Current state and federal efforts at reform have only served to stymie innovation within education.

The kids in schools today have access to the whole world right at their fingertips because of technology, but most of their school experiences tell them to tone it down a notch and disengage. More standards and more testing does not an education make. In many places, we have lost our purpose, our vision, and our heart. As a practicing superintendent, I can say this with much certainty. However, while our industry has continued to look to legislators and government agencies to reform our schools, it might be the design professionals and the manufacturers and dealers that partner with them, who have more opportunity to influence a transformation of educational practice than any other industry or "reform effort".

Building a new school invokes a moment of dreaming, hoping, envisioning of what is possible for our professional practices and for the experience of students. Schools seeking to build new facilities due to factors such as aging buildings or overcrowding should be presented with this question, “Will you build a new version of an old building or will you construct a facility which mirrors the work, thinking, and collaboration of the ever changing world just outside the schoolhouse walls?” Design experiences for new schools could be the catalyst for the change American schools have been looking.

Transformation can occur if educational leaders seize this opportunity to: 1) work with the design communities who have a greater calling than to erect buildings, but rather to use their unique position as partners to inspire the educational industry and; 2) create not only a facility but a community vision for education that is larger than any formula presented by lawmakers, focused on student engagement and opportunity instead of compliance. As we consider these two beliefs, let’s examine two likely scenarios.

The first scenario is working with a school district which has no vision for how education can and should change. The district needs a new building or buildings due to physical reasons. They have secured the funds to design and build their new school. While the corridors will look nicer, the furniture will be an upgrade from their current building, more daylight and energy-saving features will be incorporated in the building, there has been no real thought into the idea of teaching and learning. Of course the district thinks about teaching and learning, but they do so in a perfunctory way that mimics the idea of “this is the way we have always done it” or “we follow the guidelines laid out by the department of education.”

When asked what their core business is, they will give a standard answer of “educating kids,” but there is no more thought to what that means in 2017 than there was to what that meant in 2000. This district “does school” because that is what they know how to do. The outcomes for kids may be good, they may be bad, but the point is this kind of district has not had an intentional conversation to identify their vision, purpose, or mission as a contributor to their community. In this scenario, it is quite likely that the design professional could be the catalyst for change. The opportunity to construction new facilities, gives the designers the opportunity to shed light on new trends and thinking in education, paint a picture of what is possible, and help schools begin to enter into a dialogue about what they currently believe as compared to what they could believe. Through a variety of engagement activities, envisioning sessions, providing resources and research, and exposing a school district to possibilities, design firms could help districts to break off their shackles of compliance and embrace a deeper vision for education.

The second scenario is in a district where thinking about transformation is already occurring. It is clear that a transformation in school design is underway in many places and educators are beginning to understand the connection between form and function. How much greater would the impact in the world of education be if design professionals, along with their vendor and dealer partners, honed their skills to deliver both educational envisioning sessions and meaningful support in the retooling of schools? Moving from an industrial model of education to one that is student centered and grounded in identifying and developing the passions and personal skills of students is more than helping stakeholders dream big about the potential of teaching and learning.

Dreaming and codifying the dream helps schools to articulate their vision, but building capacity, implementing and sustaining the vision are altogether different phases of the journey. If design professionals could understand that the power of their created facility is in how it will be used after the grand opening, then why not budget for envisioning work that is built on a long-term commitment to support the school district to live out the vision? Instead of minimal time designated for “sit and get” in an envisioning workshop, how can supports be designated over time? How can design firms ask the right essential questions and frame conversations with school leaders to help them commit to a course of action that will result in a transformation of practice over years?

As a school leader who led my district through educational envisioning experiences, deep questioning of what education should be, consideration with stakeholders regarding our core business, the articulation of our newly-discovered beliefs and vision, and now the daily task of learning how to live out who we aspire to be, I can speak to the considerable difference there is between “doing school” and being driven by a vision inspired by community values. We learned how to hear and internalize the values of our community and transform them into 21st century teaching and learning. We learned how to codify our beliefs and build capacity to implement them. We learned how to build structures, process and frameworks to sustain our vision even when personnel change.  And because of our experience with school transformation driven by the design and construction of a new building, I am confident that unprecedented transformation of the education industry can come through teams of professionals focused on designing schools where innovation happens.

However, the model for delivery has to change. Long-term relationships which allow transformation to be supported over time instead of short term design discussions must become the norm. Design professionals and the manufacturers and vendors who partner with them are able to gain entry into education unlike any other group. They work along side as partners, possibility makers, and as such an air of hope and potential enters every conversation vendors and designers have inside a school. The mere presence of an architect, interior designer, or engineer means the power to create exists. If harnessed correctly with a commitment to truly partner with schools over time, the industry can use this power to transform education. Inspiring to create what is good for kids and communities is infinitely more powerful than current reform efforts of forced compliance through state mandated accountability.


Emmy Beeson has been involved in education as a teacher, Central Office Curriculum Director, and Superintendent of Ridgemont Local Schools in Ohio since 2010. She is a co-founder of the Hardin County Design Team bringing schools in her county together in collaborative education, and a participant of the Hardin County Economic Development Committee. She is a member of the nationally-recognized Superintendents Leadership Network from the Schlechty Center for School Reform. On March 20, Emmy was awarded the 2017 Betsy M. Cowles Leadership Award presented by the Buckeye Association of School Administrators. 

Leveraging Business/Community Partnerships

By Lisa Johnson, FAIA, LEED AP, is the Education Leader and Principal at DLR Group

Across the nation, we’re seeing an increase in school districts leveraging business and community partnerships to help do more with less, consolidate community resources, and move towards the future. With services that reach student needs around the clock (some on a 24/7 timetable), these partnerships are addressing needs holistically, as well as those of families and communities. 

There are three ways these partnerships are proving to be beneficial: 1) to address basic needs of students and families; 2) to provide real-world opportunities for students to find relevancy in subject matter; 3) and to enhance the local economy. 

As learning environment designers, we can support and enhance our clients’ ability to leverage such partnerships by providing them with facility designs that are flexible, adaptable, and responsive to the needs of the school and community, and provide ways for these community partnerships to thrive.

In Tacoma, Washington, we recently completed an adaptive reuse for McCarver Elementary School. With over 250 community partnerships that support the vision and goals of the school and the district, McCarver has been successful as a facility to offer both education and flexible space for necessary community services. One of these partnerships is with the Tacoma Housing Authority’s Education Project, funded initially, in part, from a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

The student body at McCarver has an annual turnover rate of around 115%, attributed very much to transient families who are/were at risk of homelessness. Tacoma Housing Authority offers special housing vouchers which provide housing stability to students and their families. These efforts, combined with the enriched learning opportunities from the faculty and staff at the school, support the holistic needs of the students. 

To reinforce these partnerships, the renovation of McCarver Elementary school involved focused design strategies. The spaces designated for congregating, eating, and learning support a forward-thinking student centered International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum — including components such as fresh food preparation, flexible, shared learning spaces, and a community-focused “McCarver Square.”  McCarver Square, envisioned to be the heart of the school is where many of the larger community events take place. 

A new feature immediately adjacent to McCarver Square is the “Da Vinci Room,” a place for making things, exploring science, and creating art. Its proximity to McCarver Square and the administrative office facilitates ease of zoning for community and partner use.

By adding a garage door to the cafeteria/large group learning space, the school is more adaptable for community use, including an accessible teaching kitchen. The cafeteria and servery supports the food service needs of McCarver's breakfast and lunch service, and also provides sack lunches for three additional schools. In the evening, the “community kitchen” and the space can be open to the public for community gathering and/or classes.  Adjacent, a future “tenant improvement” space with a separate entrance will one day be built out to support community partnership needs.

Another way partnerships are beneficial is when schools work with the local community, providing students with real-world relevancy while also enhancing the local economy. One example of that form includes community college partnerships in a local high school, focused on a specific industry that is economically significant in the community. 

The new Tahoma High School and Regional Learning Center in Maple Valley, Washington, opening in the fall of 2017, will support such partnerships. Tahoma School District’s Vision is for students to become “Future Ready” supporting the preparation of students for college and careers as well as the local economy by helping students develop skillsets that can be used in the area’s industries.

Tahoma School District’s Future Ready initiative reads, “Together, [we] provide the tools and experiences every student needs to create an individual, viable and valued path to lifelong personal success.” It includes eight skills: Complex Thinker, Quality Producer, Self-Directed Learner, Responsible Decision Maker, Effective Communicator, Collaborative Teammate, Community Contributor and Conscientious Worker. 

The District involved over 400 people in the formation of these goals, including students, parents, business leaders, community members, staff, teachers, and administrators, and educational partners.  The various perspectives included insight from those connected to the projected needs of the economic workforce at the local, state, and national level.

The design of the High School and Regional Learning Center supports the Future Ready initiative in many ways, including support for Career and Technical Pathways in the areas of health sciences, manufacturing, information technology, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, and Mathematics) and Automotive Tech. The District envisions that the Regional Learning Center will allow business, educational, and community partnerships the flexibility to come into the school, and in turn, enable students to learn at these business and partner locations in the broader community.

The school design was “zoned” to allow the Gymnasium, Performing Arts Center, and Regional Learning Center CTE spaces to be connected in a highly interactive community zone, supported by the Student Commons. In addition, the design team reviewed an approach to the flexibility of the facility within the spaces themselves, highlighting ways to pursue a core and shell approach to flexibility. While the space is built to last 50+ years, the equipment and functions within the spaces will change over time, so whenever possible, that flexibility was intrinsically built into the building.  

As we consider the next steps in community partnerships, it is increasingly apparent that relevancy to real-world needs is crucial in the design of our buildings. Whether it is support of the holistic needs of students, or a need to address a skill or need of the “new economy”, our buildings themselves need to become partners at the table who are agents of change. Gone are the days where a gym, theater, or media center is the only space impacted by after-school use. Programming needs are changing both in school curriculum and “after hours” needs; recognizing that learning is a 24/7 endeavor. 

By embracing the needs of students and their families, the surrounding community, and valuable community partners, schools can position themselves to continue gaining support through impactful service. At the end of the day, if it forces us to re-think the way we create a school, the resulting design will likely be all the better. 


Lisa Johnson, FAIA, LEED AP, is the Education Leader and Principal at DLR Group’s Northwest K-12 practice. She has devoted much of her career to integrated facility design, project management and leadership. Lisa has worked across different building types and practice areas, including the design and management of learning environments for K12 and Higher Education clients, to the design and management of corporate and retail facilities.

The Future of Learning

By Michael Meiners and Jonathan Matta

What if? How might? Why can’t we…
What if the first day of school was something that we sprinted to, regardless of grade? And what if we raced towards that first day because what lived inside of the school was a system so well designed that it biased towards a student of one, and his or her authentic pursuits for that academic year?

Again, why can’t it be like this?
Constraints. Not just the ones we can see, like cinder block walls and asbestos laden floors, but the hidden, latent constraints, that really rattle the vision of true, human centered learning. It is the culture of learning itself. A culture that dates back to an industrial revolution that we are so far removed from.  It is the fear of change, a fear of surrendering authority, a fear so paralyzing we fall prey to the promise of easy gimmicks and quick fixes and buzzwords.

While the constraints are real, there are ways to overcome them. But here’s the bad news: They are hard. Anyone wishing to really transform anything better be ready to fight for it. And they’d better be ready to struggle, to be thought stupid, to be knocked down...and to get back up.

We, as two evangelists for human-centered learning in the 21st century, see the possibility of change. We know, from the research (and from our own experience) that a child in school now hoping to navigate the world beyond their classroom walls will require connection to purpose, the ability to risk, to think flexibly, to reflect honestly, to prototype, to bounce back from failure, to collaborate naturally, and to recognize and seize the opportunity to contribute to something larger than themselves. And they’ll have to do it by solving real problems where no one knows the answer ahead of time and do it without anyone else setting it up for them. If this is what the ‘real world’ is like, then everywhere we look we’ll find raw materials for deeply meaningful, highly effective learning and growth.

The problem is: in our current cultural understanding of “school,” the skills listed above aren’t primary to the experience. At best, they’re touched on occasionally in the classroom. If we’re lucky, they’re extracurricular. Most often, they’re not there at all.

Lack of experience in the skills needed in the “real world” puts unnecessary pressure on the student, and on society as a whole. We consider this an emergency. So we’re writing to recruit more evangelists.

Below is Mike’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Education” (it’s incomplete because we’re always learning). These are the guiding principles that spurred the creation of Hackstudio, a “support system for authentic pursuits” that operates in Evanston, IL. These principles are intended to prod the stewards of learning environments to begin the hard work necessary to make learning more meaningful and effective by connecting their institutions’ goals and purpose to those held by the students they serve.

We don’t have all the answers. What we have are ideas and the will to test them. If you're reading this article it's because you have a connection to the world of education. Join in. Now, more than ever this world needs contributors. Whatever your role in this industry, whatever your feelings about what's presented below, promise us one thing: That you'll do something about it.


We’re all different and we’re in this together. A student is not free to thrive if they’re struggling to survive. Make the space between people your first priority. When everyone can reasonably expect to be seen, accepted and valued as they are, when they have the freedom to fail publicly and feel encouraged to share their unique personality and value with the community, then-and-only-then can we worry about what they’re learning. If you lose your grip on this culture (or you’ve never had it), STOP EVERYTHING and cultivate it. No time? You don’t have time NOT to.

Orthodoxy is attractive because we get a sense of security from the idea that we’ve found THE ANSWER. But when you decide you’ve got it all figured out, you stop growing. The world is always changing. We are always gaining new insight. Instead of hitching our wagon to the NEXT BIG IDEA, let’s apply the best available ideas to each student in front of us.

Standardization is for making repetitive tasks more efficient. Actual learning is not repetitive and it’s not linear so it’s not standardizable. Imposing “efficiency” on the natural process of learning requires the replacement of real learning with repetitive tasks that produce the appearance of learning. See “Rote is an accelerator”.

Everyone’s different. There aren’t 6 intelligences, there are 7 billion. A student in her element is focused and inherently motivated. Customize the experience to fuel, and get out of the way of, the student’s internal learning engine.

When you have a burning desire for something, your brain automatically seeks out and absorbs what it needs to get there. Ignite that fire.

A deeply fulfilling life is not a zero-sum game. It comes from a good relationship between:
- you and yourself,
- you and others,
- you and your work,
- you and something larger than yourself.

No one can keep you from getting these things by getting there first. They all start with you.

1) Technology for its own sake is a closed loop. It doesn’t move anything forward.
2) If you know where you want to go, however, the focused use of technology can get you there faster.
3) School is a technology.
4) (See 1.)

A teacher can’t make a lesson mean something to the student. She can only present a lesson that already does. 

Like a car, it’s of little use …
- If you don’t have anywhere you want to go,
- If it doesn’t take you where you want to go,
- If you can get where you want to go without it.

School isn’t preparation for college. It isn’t even preparation for life. For students, school is life. Don’t waste it “preparing.” If school can help a student with something she needs right now, it’ll mean more to her and she’ll learn more.

Building weaknesses results in a world of mediocrity. Everybody’s different. This is good. If we build strengths, we’ll build a world where everybody’s an expert in something different. Then we can fill each other’s holes.

Wherever possible, let students act on their ideas. If they’re wrong, they’ll find out faster and the knowledge will stick better. Abstractions are derived from concrete experiences in the world. The real world does not present itself in abstract problems. It presents itself in real problems. Wherever possible, let students discover the rules by running into them, then they can abstract them for use in other real problems.

Today, information moves faster than school. Stop trying to stay ahead of your students and fall in behind them. The world we’re “preparing” them for will be ancient history by the time they graduate. Instead of giving them information to store and regurgitate, direct students to find and make use of it. If anything, grade them on resourcefulness. When they graduate, they’ll need to be able size-up situations, determine what they need, find the right partners, build their own knowledge and skills and apply them all in real time. Better get started now.

Memorization helps you solve routine problems faster. It’s for quick output when the solution is known. New problems require creativity. Creativity requires understanding.

FAILURE IS A GIVEN! (It’s QUITTING that’s not an option)
The famous words, “Failure is not an option,” were uttered by Gene Kranz, flight director for the Apollo 13 mission, talking about the ultimate goal of bringing the astronauts home alive. When you’re doing something no one’s done before, interim failure is a given so the path to the goal has to stay open so you can find your way. Watch the movie Apollo 13 and count all the failures they overcame to get the astronauts home. Because they knew how to acknowledge, absorb and process and iterate these failures in the interim, they were able to succeed in the end.

…so they can absorb the bumps along the way. Fix the goal. Put the path in the hands of the student. Let them go anywhere. Just insist they arrive at their goal.

They’re not always the goals of the school, but they’re there. And that’s where they’re learning, whether you like it or not. Discover, understand, and teach to the student’s goals.

Anyone who’s tried knows you can’t build them to spec. But if you provide the proper conditions and nourishment and then wait, they’ll grow healthy and strong on their own. However: no mix of conditions and nourishment will turn a hydrangea into a boxwood.

Real learning is messy. As the mess meets the world, the world pushes back naturally. Things that work, work. Things that don’t work, don’t. It’s as simple as that. Nothing needs to be added or removed. The mess just shows the student’s natural and appropriate point on her journey toward order. Removing the mess means removing the medium for growth. Anxiety over the mess makes things messier.

Children have different needs for healthy growth than adults (and 5 year olds have different needs than 7 year-olds have different needs than 14 year olds).

Human beings are meant to “pulse.” Research has shown that people function better when intensity is followed by recovery. If school time is used well, the student will be heavily engaged. After school is a time to recover, connect with family and explore other things. Tomorrow’s another big day.

It accelerates learning. That’s why human beings do it instinctively.

You play basketball. You play chess. You play a character in a play. The people who engage in these endeavors have no lack of desire to work and can be very serious and intense. It’s not frivolousness that makes it play, it’s autonomy, sense of purpose and opportunity for mastery that makes it play. Play builds you up where drudgery depletes you. What if more people played math?


Jonathan Matta is the Vice President of Education at KI, a contract furniture manufacturer that invests mindfully in education-based solutions. Jonathan champions a human-centered design mindset that frames authentic transformations in the future of learning.  His investment in creative leadership and designing for behavioral change within education is born from his own children, which we will oft reference as “NoElle+”. www.ki.com

Mike Meiners is founder of Hackstudio, a “support system for authentic pursuits”.
Hackstudio is a TEAM of people working together to inspire each other to get DONE. Everyone agrees to take responsibility for achieving what matters to them and to share the million little setbacks along the way. By sharing generously as we work, we learn that what stops us stops everyone. Then we use that understanding to push ourselves and each other over, through and around our obstacles. www.hackstudio.com

Jul 14, 2017

Editor's Update

Welcome! In today’s fast-paced environment, it’s important to have information that is timely and actionable. The Education Market Association (EDmarket) is committed to helping you increase your knowledge of best practices and understand effective methods of maintaining and optimizing learning environments. 

With that goal in mind, we are pleased to introduce EDspaces Insights, your monthly update on the top trends in educational facilities. Each edition features original articles by industry thought leaders on a wide range of issues about planning, design, financing, construction, capital improvement, maintenance, and operations. Insightful analysis will help you understand how developments in pedagogy, technology, and the education industry impact learning environments. 

We invite you to join the conversation on transforming educational spaces for 21st century learning. If you would like to contribute content or have comments on this new EDmarket publication, please contact me


Adrienne Dayton, Editor
800.395.5550 ext. 1031