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Designing Effective K-12 Spaces: Expanding the Potential for Learning

November 14, 2023 4 min read
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Learning is no longer limited to conventional layouts, and modern classrooms look nothing like those of just a generation ago. Supporting a 21st century approach to education means encouraging more collaboration and meaningful connections for students.

Every school year, leadership must address a variety of challenges in their schools. Recruiting and retaining talented teachers, supporting diverse learning capabilities, and maintaining student well-being are just a few of the concerns decision makers need to manage. From thoughtful organization to comprehensive comfort to creative classroom configuration, giving educators and students the support they need to be successful requires inclusive vision and steadfast commitment – and this type of transformation can feel overwhelming.

Misael Munoz, Director of Public Sector at HON, and his team connect with schools across the nation to create innovative classroom and teacher environments. Munoz reminds us not to forget about the impact that physical spaces have on a school’s culture. He adds, “At HON, we believe that designing an effective space requires a comprehensive collection of solutions. From student seating for all grades, to collaborative soft-seating, desks from seated-to-standing heights, tables, and versatile storage solutions. All our creations are aimed at fostering adaptable spaces that enhance learning, engagement, and creativity at every level.”

But planning for these K-12 spaces is much more than selecting desks and chairs. Here are three things to consider when refreshing your school’s learning environments:

Start with What You Want to Achieve as a School

The first step in designing a successful classroom isn’t about the design at all. Many make the mistake of hopping right to a blueprint or furniture catalog without first looking at the bigger picture. Start by questioning what you need and want to achieve as a school:

  • What type of culture do you want to create within your school? Are you hoping to better empower teachers? Are you looking to foster more collaboration among staff? Consider your annual and long-term goals.

  • How do you want your students to think and feel when in the classroom? Maybe you’re looking to create a space that feels more inviting to ignite large-group discussion, or perhaps you want students to feel a sense of privacy for independent learning.

  • What challenges can you identify among your classes? Poor attendance, distraction and anxiety can impede student success and hinder the learning experience.

  • What are the specific classroom requirements for your teachers? Consider their subjects, lesson plans, and whether they prefer mobility throughout the classroom or a stationary desk.

Find the Right Partners

If you don’t know where to go next, you’re not alone: Some schools opt for a one-size-fits-all layout for all classrooms to simplify planning, while others survey all staff members, often becoming overwhelmed by the volume of feedback. There isn’t one right path forward, so seek out trusted partners to guide you through the process.

HON, a provider of furnishings for K-12 environments, employs a distinctive strategy for collaborative problem-solving with every client. Munoz recently worked with a school leader who was under significant pressure by handling the process independently. Munoz recalls, “Observing their challenges as they wrestled with completing the project with minimal external guidance, we extended our reassurance, saying, ‘You have a team of experts at your disposal to assist you. Let us help alleviate the burden, and together, we can create a tailored plan that suits your requirements.’”

Designers and planners should be equipped with the tools to translate your vision into an actionable plan. Finding a local design firm, dealer or supplier who will both guide and challenge you is a critical next step.

Recommended resource: Blog: Clever Classroom Layouts

Design Flexible and Adaptable Spaces

Straddling the needs of today and 20 years from now might feel like an impossible task, but the right flexible design solutions can grow and evolve as your school advances. Outfitting your space with products that can be reconfigured means that you’re not stuck in one layout, and when a teacher moves to a new classroom, or you switch offices with a colleague, that furniture fits in any space.

“Leveraging mobile solutions allows you to reconfigure. You’re not stuck in one layout, like when you’re installing bookshelves on the walls or built-in, stationary desks. And creating this blank canvas for the future is the best path forward,” Munoz recommends.

Look for desks that are lightweight and mobile, bookshelves that can roll or stay put, and soft seating that fits together like puzzle pieces. These solutions can move throughout the year and are more likely to stand the test of time as classroom needs evolve.

Classroom design influences school culture, and both the teacher and student experience. Start by thinking about the big picture, then find the right partners to help you bring that vision to life with solutions that solve today’s needs and anticipate tomorrow’s opportunities.