The other evening, I met up with some colleagues from Australia and they reminded me I had visited a school that had introduced a totally different way of approaching the way their staff worked.
ESSA is in the Manchester region and was a new build. It was also totally online, in the sense that all staff and students worked off iPads and mobile devices. Texts and resources were served up in digital form through large presentation screens and individual devices. The classrooms were equipped with a full range of technologies to support the teaching and learning processes, and the agile physical environment was further enhanced with walls painted with whiteboard finishes, flexible furniture and a variety of storage options. The only place where digital devices were not used was the library containing resources and literature in hard copy. This space was placed in a prominent position, reminding students that all resources were valuable supports for learning.
All the students and staff were assigned storage lockers. These lockers were placed in a large atrium. Everyone had a locker in this area. Behind reception, in a central part of the building, was a communal cafeteria. Staff worked, met and socialised in this area alongside the students. The space was large, with refectory style tables, and of course the Wifi was fast. There were no staffrooms, and since the entire school was housed under the one roof, staff and students could work anywhere due to the connectivity of the Wifi and the flow of the physical spaces. These way of working was part of the design and processes of this academy from the start.
By means of contrast, I visited a school in Melbourne a number of years ago. It was a substantial, well established school with plenty of buildings spread across a large property. In one relatively under utilised section of the property a decision had been made to set up a large, open plan work area for staff. It should have worked in the sense that there were sufficient funds to plan an effective design, there were teaching areas nearby and there was one (of a number) library on the floor below. The space was large enough to accommodate a variety of working spaces and activities. However, it was like the Marie Celeste. The staff had not taken up the space. Why? Location was a factor – it was centrally placed but to only one section of the school. The staff had many other alternatives and they chose their traditional haunts. There was no specific reason, pedagogically or social, for introducing the new way of working for staff – no purpose for the change other than it was a new idea for a spare space.
So, it would seem it is easier to introduce new ways of working in a new build. It is easier to design new types of environments in a new build. It is more effective to have a driving purpose for making changes to the ways staff work before introducing them to new environments – new physical conditions support change that is led by people.