The U.S. Department of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education had already recognized our schools in Kildeer Countryside Community Consolidated School District 96 in southern Lake County, Illinois, for academic excellence. Still, our district administrators recognized several years ago that significant changes needed to be made to our classrooms, and better technology needed to be acquired, in order to help our students develop the skills mandated by today’s educational standards including effective communication and collaboration.

To that end, we turned our attention to rethinking and redesigning our classroom learning spaces to fit the 21st century needs of our students.

Asking the Right Questions, First

We started by asking ourselves an essential question: “What does 21st century learning in a classroom look and sound like in a district committed to high levels of learning for all students?”

Students aren’t the only important component in the equation—we had to focus on teacher and technology needs, too. We also asked “What would teachers have to know and be able to do in order for students to think and interact in new ways?” And if we turned the tables and we were observing students in a cutting-edge learning environment, what would we see and hear?  And in what ways would technology be a catalyst or support for this type of engaged, forward-looking teaching and learning?

We knew we had obstacles to overcome: heavy furniture, the inability to collaborate with multimedia tools, students in rows led from the front of the classroom, and even more compelling, there was an obvious lack of what we called a differentiated learning atmosphere.

Taking Learning Walks

Once we acknowledged our obstacles, we really stepped into high gear.  We took teachers, administrators and school board members to other districts for learning walks. We formed a committee of these stakeholders as well as community members to evaluate our needs. We met with our technology team to plan and design multimedia infrastructure and as well as expected best practices. Then we gathered feedback from all parties and redesigned future classroom learning spaces using this compiled data.

Our data in year one showed that 1.) Teachers love lots (LOTS!) of board space; 2.) Students collaborate in a multimedia environment throughout the classrooms and 3.) Mobile furniture maximizes group flexibility and minimizes the loss of instructional time.

So now that the past has met the present, here’s what else we learned:

(Next page: 5 critical lessons learning redesigning learning spaces)