01 SES 08 B, Leadership, Pedagogy and Professional Development
This study is part of a three years research project which explores learning environments. There is a growing body of international research dealing with school and classroom architecture and design, not least European research (e.g. Sigurðardóttir & Hjartarson 2016; Stadler Altmann 2015; Woolner & Clark 2014). One of the issues that has occupied educationalists in this field is to what extent, and in what ways changes in the environment may influence the enacted teaching and learning (e.g. Brooks 2011; Cotner et al. 2013; Sigurðardóttir & Hjartarson 2016; Veloso et al. 2014; Walker et al. 2011). Hence, these studies indicate that it is not possible to predict the outcome of changes in a specific learning environment – teaching and learning are complex processes in which various factors (school culture, pedagogies etc.) and actors (stakeholders, teachers, students etc.) interplay (Blackmore et al. 2011; Gislason 2010, 2014; Higgins et al. 2005; OECD 2013, 2015; Stadler Altmann 2015; Woolner et al. 2012; Woolner & Tiplady 2016). The learning environment as such is not a solid and permanent unit, instead it is in continuous process of construction by designers, school leaders and policy makers, but also by the teachers and students who spend time there on everyday basis.
In this paper we focus on principals, school leaders and architects who are involved in planning and constructing new learning environments. The aim is to explore what a ’good’ learning environment represents to these stakeholders and their ideas about how a good learning environment can be achieved. The main question guiding the research process is: What are the primary goals when school buildings are to be built or reconstructed, and what are to be avoided? Drawn on the results, we discuss possible didactical implications of their visions, including implications for teacher-student interactions and relationships.
The study has a socio-spatial and socio-material approach (c.f McGregor 2004) and is carried out drawing on theories on spatial, material and regulative aspects of education, teaching and learning (Bernstein 2000; Gislason 2010, 2015). By ‘learning environment’ we refer to the physical, social and virtual environment, but also the educational environment in a broader sense. Furthermore, we consider learning spaces (in school and elsewhere) as areas where power relations between groups such as staff and students are under construction and negotiation – as social relationships in process. Consequently learning spaces have the potential to transform relationships (c.f McGregor 2004).
The study is relevant in so far as there is a great need for new school buildings and school spaces throughout metropolitan areas of Europe. Many schools are in need of renovation, and in particular in urban areas, they suffer from lack of space. This situation should be considered in the context of continuously augmenting national and supranational demands on schools regarding pedagogical development and increased student performance (e.g. OECD 2013, 2015). School leaders and principals around Europe are committed to create learning environments that optimize students' learning and desire for learning – to create ‘good’ learning environments of tomorrow where students are not only passive recipients of knowledge but also co-creators of knowledge.
The study draws on interviews with principals, school leaders and architects involved in projects concerning construction and reconstruction of school buildings. We sought for a varied selection concerning the participants’ role in the (re)building projects as well as a geographical spread over the nation. At the level of municipalities, interviews where held with officials and architects, and at the school level, interviews were held with principals (n 20). We contacted the participants through the network “Forum bygga skola” [Forum Building School], which is a network for administrators, architects, school leaders etc. interested in and/or involved in projects concerning construction and reconstruction of school buildings. We conducted individually semi-structured interviews with the participants (by phone, interviews were between 45 and 60 minutes). We asked questions about their ideas about good learning environments and their experiences from working with (re)constructing such environments. Interview data was analysed by the use of qualitative content analysis (Krippendorff 2004) conducted by the researchers in team work. The process was mainly inductive. After two overview readings, we condensed the text in order to generate core thoughts. These core thoughts/articulations were then sorted using Gislason’s (2010) theoretical model of interconnected dimensions of school and classroom environment. The model provides a framework for school design research, as it makes the distinction between a) organisational aspects (teaching, pedagogy, scheduling etc.), b) ecology (building and spatial design, technology etc.), c) staff culture (values, teacher role etc.) and d) student milieu (motivation, social climate etc.) (see model Gislason 2010, p129 adapted from Owens & Valensky 2007). We then thematised the condensated text in each dimension and related the themes in the four interconnected dimensions to each other (What did the stakeholders emphasize the most/the least? What was omitted?). Through the process of analysis we additionally payed attention to power relations in terms of control and regulation (Bernstein 2000).
Preliminary results: A guiding principle among the stakeholders working with school design was the idea that the physical environment (buildings, classrooms etc.) should support the organisation and pedagogical ideas of the teaching – physical environment should be ‘functional’ to pedagogical ideas and methods. Organisation of teaching and pedagogy was thus emphasized as superior to the other dimensions of school and classroom environment/climate when visioning new learning environments. This idea applied to all categories of interviewees. ‘Staff culture’ (values, teacher role etc.) and in particular student milieu (motivation, social climate etc.) were dimensions given less attention. Drawn on the results, we discuss possible didactical implications of their visions, e.g. implications for teacher-student interactions and relationships.
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