School Design and Philosophy

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Schools are always striving to be innovative in educational technology, curricula, teaching techniques, classroom management, behavior plans, and more, but it’s rare for a school to create innovation through architecture. Japanese architect Takaharu Tezuka describes a kindergarten school building that he designed in his 2013 TED Talk entitled “Best Kindergarten You’ve Ever Seen,” in which architectural decisions were based on the kind of learning environment they would create.

The circular Fuji Montessori kindergarten building just outside of Tokyo features wall-less classrooms around the perimeter of a large courtyard. The roof of the building functions as a track on which students can run and play. The design allows students the freedom to move in and out of instructional spaces and to move when needed. Trees grow in the courtyard and through the classrooms to allow children to interact with nature while in the building. Another structure that is a part of Fuji kindergarten is 16 feet high and made up of platforms and steps, some without guardrails, for children to climb. This allows students to learn through taking small risks and to learn to help each other. The design of these buildings reflect the school’s values of exploration, freedom, cooperation, movement, and nature.

The spaces we teach in can be incredibly important, whether it is Tezuka’s Fuji kindergarten building that reflects the philosophies of Montessori education, or a state-of-the-art, high-tech school like Northern Beaches Christian School that provides a cutting-edge education in digital music and technology. However, the majority of us teach in standard school buildings with walls and limited technology. Not many of us are in the position of having a building, schedule, and school culture that would allow these educational philosophies to be implemented so easily. That just means that we have the opportunity to apply some creativity to find ways to make our philosophies a reality in our classrooms.

One element of the Fuji building that caught my attention was the structure of platforms without guardrails that allows children to take risks and face danger with the support of their nearby teachers and classmates. Learning music is full of risks and danger. How can a teacher create an environment in a standard classroom that not only helps students find the courage to take risks, but motivates them to try things that could be perceived as dangerous (to their ego, confidence, etc.)? Maybe the way the furniture is arranged, or how the students are grouped, or how much direct instruction versus cooperative learning techniques are used will affect this part of a class culture. It will depend on the space, the teacher, and the students involved, but it is a worthwhile consideration.

Even if we can’t have a building designed by Tezuka to reflect our teaching philosophies, we can learn from him and the educators at Fuji kindergarten to not allow ourselves to become complacent with the status quo of learning spaces. Teaching is a career that requires and allows creativity in so many areas. Although we may be limited by the walls of our classroom, we can exercise our creativity within those confines in creating a space that will allow our teaching philosophies to become the way our students experience learning.

 

This post is a writing assignment for a MOOC offered through the University of Sydney (Australia) entitled “The Place of Music in 21st Century Education.” It is available free of charge through Coursera. I highly recommend it!

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