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BFTP: What do our school building say about us?

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post March 26, 2009. Serving on teams which are planning our new middle school for the district and an addition to a wing to our current 7-8 building, I've been thinking about facility design again. This was a good one review for me. 

We shape our buildings; and forever afterwards our buildings shape us.
                             - Sir Winston Churchill

Architecture is an expression of its time and place. It reflects the values, power, and dominant elites of the prevailing social structure and the relevant position of nation states in the global context. It even demonstrates the attitudes of imperial powers to their subject peoples. Jack Diamond of Diamond and Schmitt Architects

To what extent do our school buildings show respect or disrespect for children? Do we adult overlords design spaces that purposely subjugate and control rather than encourage growth and individualism?

One of the ugliest buildings both inside and out has to be Minnesota State University's Armstrong Hall of Education.

Squat, square, and Spartan both inside and out, it's windowless, right-angled, and utilitarian classrooms couldn't have been exciting even when the building was new in 1964. Might one not expect graduates of this school to think in straight lines and exhibit one-right-answer mentalities? 

Designers of most educational spaces seem to concentrate on low cost construction, ease of maintenance, security, and visual control. Comfort, aesthetics, and inspiration don't much figure into the design process. Hey, it's just kids that will be in these buildings after all - what do they care?

Here are two pictures from projects I've been proud to be a part of designing. Look at the pictures as see if you note anything they have in common:

Give up?

While it's a little difficult to see, both media centers use curves in their design. The St. Peter media center above has a curved circulation desk that mirrors the curved lines of the greenhouse above it. The Eagle Lake media center has a curved couch (and its unseen story area is curved as well).

There are many other ways to show respect for facility users beyond creating interesting lines. Indirect lighting; varying elevations in ceiling heights; real windows and skylights; warmth-creating wood and fabric surfaces; and comfortable work/study/reading areas, both social and private. And of course, a place to display art on either a permanent or rotating basic.

Our students are no longer the captive, "subject peoples" they once were. Few students have to attend your school with the growing number of alternative education options like charter schools, home schools, open public school enrollment, online schools, and private schools from which they have to pick.

Shouldn't to start designing schools for people with choices? And for children we respect?


The Peter Principle revisited

The Peter Principle: people will tend to be promoted until they reach their "position of incompetence." Laurence J. Peter.

I've been thinking about the Peter Principle* a lot this spring. It's the time of year many in education start looking for greener career pastures.

When most people think about the Peter Principle it is as an explanation for why people are not good at their jobs. I've never been a total believer in Peter Principle, working with many people who know themselves, appreciate their personal skill sets, and strive to do the best job possible rather than climb a career level until they find themselves unable to perform well. I'd put most classroom teachers and librarians in this category - they like what they do, feel competent doing it, and know they are making a difference in the world. 

What I am bedeviled with are those wonderful people with whom I work who are career climbers and who have not yet reached their level of incompetence. These are younger, early or mid-career people who do great work at their current position and are looking for more responsibility, more challenge, and possibly more prestige, if not better pay.

As a supervisor and faithful district employee, I should be doing everything in my power to keep these folks where they are because they benefit the district. In creating a positive, flexible work environment, not micro-managing, and empowering whenever possible, I am proactive in this regard. 

But I also recognize that in an organization/department of our size, career paths are rather stunted. If a person wants more responsibility and greater remuneration, he/she will probably have to move elsewhere. I've long come to accept that we are sort of a farm team for bigger schools and even the private sector in producing good tech people. 

So when people in my department talk to me about other positions they've applied for, my question is always: "Will this new job offer you the opportunity to stretch, to grow, to be challenged?" and remind them that one has to make a hell of a lot more money to see much difference in the individual paycheck. If the job is bigger than the one they have, I'll do what I can to help them get it.

Doesn't everyone deserve the chance to rise to the level of their incompetence?

Any tips for keeping career climbers when you can't offer more pay or a lot more responsibility?


*The 1969 book The Peter Principle is now available as an e-book. I am going to re-read it. 

See also:

Career Evolution

Peter's Laws (The Creed of the Sociopathic Obsessive Compulsive)


Personalized PD for teachers?

 At a regional tech meeting yesterday, we discussed the Personalized PD graphic below, asking ourselves and each other what percent of our staff have "personalized" their own learning. The numbers were not encouraging. (We are an amazingly honest group, very will to share our challenges and failures, as well as our successes.)

My comment during the meeting was that it is unlikely that schools will move to a personalized PD model for staff. School culture traditionally gives the organization, not the individual, responsibility for staff training. Schools have common goals for all staff and discourage independent initiatives, and therefore prescribe a standard set of skills and knowledge for all teachers. And given the overburdened schedules of most teachers, the likelihood of finding time to pursue personal learning experiences is low.

But after the meeting I reviewed Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey's excellent chart that defines personalized learning:
And here is what I came away with...  We should try to move this mountain and change the culture of professional development, even knowing the odds. 

The de-professionalizing of teaching is already too common through mandated curriculum, teaching methods, and "best practices." Teachers are not trusted and are undervalued. And how can we expect teachers to move toward personalizing education for their own students if they themselves are not given the experience of learning in that fashion?

But perhaps the biggest reason we should move to personalized PD is that it shows we truly value teachers as human beings and unique individuals deserving of respect.

Can you think of a better reason for trying to move a mountain?

Here's a description of an earlier attempt our district made to personal PD - even before it was defined as such:
Now That You Know the Basics - Rubrics to Guide Professional Development 
Part 1, Leading & Learning with Technology, Dec/Jan 2000-01
Part 2, Leading & Learning with Technology, Feb/Mar 2001