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

3. Look to the hallways
Students need multiple spaces that drive the creative process and performance and are designed to support different stages of iteration.

At Beaver, our hallways have become active learning spaces where learning spills out of the four walls of the classroom. Students can sit in small groups on benches, plug laptops in, bring portable whiteboards out, and pin up drafts and drawings on tackable surfaces. It’s a place to spread out.

We have also moved away from zoning spaces for specific departments: There is no history department office or math wing. Increasingly, we are asking teachers to collaborate with each other across disciplines and divisions. If we continue to silo teachers according to discipline or grade level, we inhibit opportunities to engage in creative collaboration.

Make it work for you: Get creative with how you think of the space in your school. Take the class out into the hallway, go sit on some steps, head outside. Bringing students into new spaces gets their creativity flowing and encourages collaboration.

4. Have teachers work alongside students and vice versa
Students benefit from working alongside teachers and teachers benefit from working alongside students. They look to each other for inspiration and have the space to engage in real conversations.

At Beaver, students and teachers share meeting spaces. Meeting spaces are designed to support different modes of meetings, ranging from an informal meeting space with soft seating called “The Living Room,” to a more conventional conference room with chairs around a large table called “The Board Room,” to a space equipped with elevated stools around a high-top table, ca;;ed the “Think Tank.” Students observe adults meeting and working, and they have access to the same spaces with the same room-reservation system and are comfortable meeting and working in similar ways.

Make it work for you: Go to a shared space to do your work. Rather than simply always sitting in your classroom or the faculty room, go to a place where the students are working.

5. Create an environment of choice
We learned students want to work in spaces that allow for time in groups to generate ideas and for time alone to focus. In creating research and design levels in our new structure, we strove to establish an environment with choice to support different brain modes, like active group work and individual thinking time. In addition to creating flexible, open, collaborative spaces, we provide private, individual space with reduced visual distraction and ambient noise.

An additional catalyst for creativity is a library with extensive materials. Students use multiple materials for iteration and rapid prototyping, so having everything from foam boards to cardboard to Legos available ensures there’s no limit to their creativity in a project-based learning environment.

Make it work for you: We do our best work when we place the student at the center. It might take a few iterations before you find a setup that works for you and your students. When we designed our new space, we set up sample furniture in various locations and observed how it was used. Some of it was an instant success; some a major flop. By taking the time to watch, we learned a lot about our students, our teachers, and who we are as a school today—and where we want to go.

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