A common space at Beaver Country Day, complete with beanbag chairs and spots for collaborating

5 ways to create spaces that unlock creativity & encourage collaboration

We can set students on a path for success by unlocking their creative potential

It’s easy to focus on what we teach and how we teach, but where we teach is often overlooked.

We need to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist and for a world that is rapidly evolving. While no one can predict what the future will look like, we can set students on a path for success by unlocking their creative potential.

One of the best ways to foster creativity is to provide conditions in which all learners can develop ideas, solve problems, connect, learn, and adapt.

Here are 5 ways you can create spaces in your school that unlock creativity in students and teachers, encourage collaboration, and foster project-based learning.

5 ways to unlock creativity

1. Establish a “space matters” mindset
Spaces are important—they shouldn’t be an afterthought.

At Beaver Country Day School in Newton, Mass., we’ve designed all our spaces with our mission in mind and with our students at the forefront of every decision. Most recently, we completed our largest construction project to date—a three-story space that started as a library renovation and concluded as an active Research + Design Center (R+D) that supports multiple learning modalities, provides choice, and fuels creativity.

When designing our R+D Center, rather than predicting how our students and teachers would use the space, we asked them. We had surveys and focus groups and delved into the how, why, and where—where the members of our community like to work, where they feel most creative, and where they learn best. We also observed where our students were actually working and where they were spending their free time in the school.

Now that the R+D Center has been open for more than a year, we’re experiencing the space’s full impact. Our students are responding in ways we had not envisioned. From the day we cut the construction tape, they truly owned the space and we’ve watched as their mindset and skill sets have expanded. They are engaged, inspired, collaborative, empathic, comfortable with unknown outcomes, never formulaic, and open to ambiguity.

And all of this was made possible because we went into the project recognizing we were creating so much more than a building. We were creating a space for learning.

Make it work for you: You don’t need to undergo a large renovation or completely overhaul everything in your school. Recognize that physical space does matter. Ask your students for input on something as simple as the classroom. What would they change? If they could design the perfect classroom, how would it look? Where would they work outside of the classroom? By asking these questions, you’re instilling a space matters mindset and encouraging creativity.

2. Rethink the classroom layout
Close your eyes and picture a classroom. Chances are you imagine a room filled with rows, all facing the same way, with furniture that’s tough to move and a chalkboard at the front.

This is what classrooms have looked like for decades. Classroom design has not advanced in ways that support the type of teaching and learning schools need to provide for current and future students.

Setting up classrooms that place the teacher at the front of the room and students in rows of fixed furniture create conditions for repetitive, individual, and passive work. Work that is not conducive to creative thinking.

So, how do you fix this?

At our school, over the years we replaced individual student desks with flexible, wheeled chairs and desks that we can easily move from individual work to group work.

Simultaneously, we eliminated the front of the room by making all the walls in the classroom writeable and added simple and affordable technologies, such as the Chromecast. Accessible technologies allow students and teachers to focus on the content creation and enable them to think outside the box.

Make it work for you: If replacing furniture isn’t an option in your school, then move the furniture around. Enlist your students to help with how they want the classroom to look. And recognize the classroom doesn’t need to look the same every day. It’s OK to sometimes sit on the floor. It’s OK to sometimes not have a front of the room.

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