5 lessons from the classroom—for the workplace

7403731050_9a1ee480de_zPhoto by audiolucistore

There’s no doubt that today’s school designs are taking many cues from today’s workplaces. But are there also important lessons we can learn from teachers and students, about work? We think there are!

For starters, here are five truths great teachers know that translate to the workplace. Once you get going down this road, you’ll probably think of even more. Share them with us in the comments!

1. Different people are, well, different.

Teachers have long understood that different kids learn in different ways. Most researchers refer to three different learning styles: Visual, kinesthetic, and auditory.

So what makes us think that we outgrow our natural learning styles when we become adults? Or that all adults work best in the same exact way? Workplaces, just like classrooms, need to consider different learners when designing their spaces—especially kinesthetic learners who need movement for their brains to function at their best.

For more teaching tips for all three types of learners, check out this post.

2. Energy is a positive thing—it shouldn’t be squelched.

Teachers know better than anyone that there are certain children who have trouble sitting still. And we all know there are certain times of day when it’s hard for almost anyone to sit still. Just reading the following description of a traditional classroom format is enough to make many (if not most) of us fidget and squirm:

Peek into most American classrooms and you will see desks in rows, teachers pleading with students to stay in their seats and refrain from talking to their neighbors. Marks for good behavior are rewarded to the students who are proficient at sitting still for long periods of time.” (The Atlantic)

But today’s best teachers, like Dawn Casey-Rowe who wrote the Edudemic post “Avoiding Back to School Brainfreeze,” know it’s possible to harness all that that energy rather than fight it:

By planning active classes, the can’t-sit-stills use their energy and add to the class…. Positive energy can be harnessed into learning.” (Or working!)

3. Spaces have the power to promote engagement.

Educational research shows that how the classroom is designed, and how much freedom children have within that space, can make all the difference in student engagement, which can make all the difference in student success.

In fact, according to a FastCoDesign article, research found that “classroom design could be attributed to a 25% impact, positive or negative, on a student’s progress over the course of an academic year.” 

Workplaces should take a cue from the research and consider how the design of our workspaces might be impacting engagement—and success—at work.

4. Offering choices increases ownership.

The link between “ownership” and “learning” is often overlooked, but it’s important, as Annie Murphy Paul explains in her post “Designing the classroom to enhance learning.”

“Design features that allowed pupils to feel a sense of ownership towards their classroom also helped them to learn…. Pupils benefited from a range of activity zones within a single classroom, allowing different types of learning to take place at the same time.”

In workplaces, offering a variety of choices of where to work is becoming increasingly important. That sense of choice and ownership impacts people in a variety of ways, from physical wellness and concentration to collaboration.

Another recent article at the website Edudemic encourages teachers to ask questions like these when they’re arranging furniture and setting up their classrooms:

“Is your management style and space designed to keep students quiet and in their place, or does it give permission and ownership to the students? What choices do students have about where and how they work? Do you want your students to feel free, creative and enabled? Or, structured, restricted and rule-bound?”

Those same questions might be good ones to ask within the workplace, as well—just read the above paragraph again, replacing “students” with “employees.”

5. Movement is the key to health—and learning.

“Give students the chance to get out of their seats. Movement does wonders for the brain!” says a fifth grade teacher in an Edudemic article about engaging students in the classroom. 

“Movement is the key to learning,” another article explains. “Students cannot sit still for very long before the blood and oxygen flow to their brains significantly slows down, thereby slowing down the learning process.”

And a 2008 study found that many children actually need to move to focus during a complicated mental task.

As we grow into adulthood, we definitely get better at sitting still, thanks to cultural norms and our slowing metabolisms. But that doesn’t mean we are completely different creatures than we were as school children. We still think and learn in different ways; we still have energy that can be channeled for good; we still like having options and ownership; and the spaces we spend most of our days in still impact our bodies and minds, for better or worse.

Most importantly, our bodies still function in the same general ways: Movement increases blood flow, which sharpens your mind—whether you’re five or 50, in a classroom or a workplace.

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Moving away from one-size-fits-all learning, technology & spaces

What does the future of learning look like?

In the minds of many, it looks high tech and new—a complex array of technology and apps waiting to be woven into traditional curricula and classrooms.

Others believe the future of learning should more closely mimic the ways people learned long ago—more collaboration, more Socratic dialogue, and more opportunities for hands-on discovery.

At izzy+, we think the key is balancing the two—utilizing time-tested person-to-person learning approaches, along with the best advances technology has to offer.

Brandon Reame, izzy+’s Market Development Strategist and education research guru, says schools and colleges just need to ensure that two critical components exist: a focus on people, and plenty of flexibility inherent in the learning spaces.

“The important thing is that learning needs to move away from a one-size-fits-all model,” says Reame. “The most effective learning happens when the students, along with their lives and circumstances, are taken into account. Sure, there are lots of trends in education, but if you just apply them across the board you’re not going to get great results. At the end of the day, it has to be about the students and their engagement. How do you leverage technology, pedagogy, and the learning environment to create a more engaging learning experience?”

Over the past few generations, a move toward one-size-fits-all education has gradually become a system that some compare to a factory, as a recent Fast Company article, “Replacing The Classroom-As-Factory With Collaborative Learning,” suggests.

Reame says technology provides a variety of tools to help move teaching and learning away from a factory model. Technology, after all, allows people to learn anywhere at any time, at their own pace and in their own way, accessing more information and connecting with more people than ever. The challenge, however, is to make sure these new approaches are applied in meaningful ways and in tech-friendly, flexible learning spaces.

“Technology is more mobile than ever, and students are more tech-savvy than ever,” Ream says. “Those changes generate a greater need for new, inspiring learning spaces that offer lots of flexibility. There needs to be a mix of formal and informal learning spaces, with opportunities for small groups to gather, professors to guide discussions, and people to relax and catch up on reading and thinking on their own. Integrating technology isn’t just about having places to plug in. It’s about how people learn and interact.”

Because learning, at the end of the day, is about people, just like izzy+ has always been about people first, not furniture. That’s why we think this sentiment from the post “Are Kids Really Motivated By Technology?” is a great one for designers, teachers, parents and everyone to keep in mind as students across the country head back to school:

…finding ways to motivate students in our classrooms shouldn’t start with conversations about technology. Instead, it should start with conversations about our kids. What are they deeply moved by? What are they most interested in? What would surprise them? Challenge them? Leave them wondering? Once you have the answers to these questions — only after you have the answers to these questions — are you ready to make choices about the kinds of digital tools that are worth embracing.

The Dewey Connection Cart and 6-Top Table help instructors integrate technology into the classroom while ensuring students are able to easily converse and collaborate.

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Several Dewey 6-Top Tables can be pushed together for flexible, collaborative set ups. Dewey Connection Carts and Lecterns help instructors integrate technology.

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Comfortable third spaces, like this one featuring Harter Forum lounge seating, are critical in learning environments because they accommodate both informal gatherings and solo study time.

The power of inspiration: Beyond bad posters & sappy songs

Inspiration. It’s a word that can easily drift towards Cheeseville, thanks to bad “inspirational” posters featuring eagles flying into the sunset, and songs like that sappy 1984 hit by Chicago.

But the truth is, we not only love being inspired, we need it. Without inspiration, our dry moments would grow into deserts, and the walls we hit would become insurmountable. We can’t always keep the ideas flowing, the good moods soaring, and the creativity generated simply by reaching deeper inside ourselves. Sometimes we need to reach for inspiration beyond us.

Put simply, inspiration is something that moves your emotions or intellect. That movement can get us over a hump, shift us out of a rut, or just knock us off-balance enough to help us see things in a new way.

What inspires you? Or, to put it a different way, what do you do when you’re feeling uninspired and stuck? Do you seek out certain people, or maybe a different setting or activity?

Michael Smith, owner and lead at DesignVox in Grand Rapids, Michigan, doesn’t hesitate when asked what inspires him.

“I’ve got to have a certain amount of recreation and outdoor adventure in my life,” Smith says. “Being outside is a huge deal for me, as well as learning new things.”

Being on the move is a theme for Smith. He loves traveling to see new art, architecture and theater, and he tries to keep his design studio staff moving, too. Whenever he can, Smith makes plans for a team of designers from his studio to work together at his cottage near Lake Michigan. Once, the entire office even went to Chicago to visit museums, cook together and hang out.

“Getting a change of scene is an important part of staying inspired,” Smith says.

Even within the no-walls office space, people move around depending on their changing projects, teams, and other needs. Smith himself no longer has a designated desk in the office. It’s all about connecting people, opening communication, and keeping things fresh.

Allison Roon, an interior designer, adjunct professor and long-time izzy+ consultant, also relies on inspiration—and puts it into action—daily. In particular, travel, people, and great design inspire her in both her life and work.

“In order to be creative, you have to rejuvenate your creative juices,” Roon says. “Experiencing different settings and cultures is essential in having a larger wealth of design context to draw from. I love to explore bigger cities and hang out in social places with inspiring interiors. ”

That social piece is important to Roon and her work as an interior designer, whether she is traveling or at home in her usual setting and routine.

“Learning from others is always an important part of life,” Roon says. “And being a good life-long learner and listener is an essential part of being a good designer, because it’s all about listening to your client and learning from their perspective. To be a designer you need to be a people expert! Spaces are for people. Human-centric activities help me create better human-centered places.”

Some other izzy+ friends and employees shared with us what inspires them. We’d love to hear from you! Add your inspiration to the list, by leaving a comment!

– My team is comprised of a group of amazing, creative people, and my view from my desk is of a beautiful Michigan fall day. I’m inspired…and lucky. 🙂 – Laurel Pfister, E-marketing Specialist at izzy+ in Spring Lake, Michigan

– When I am able to forget myself, I recognize the ‘inspired’ work that has taken place.  – Gary Howe, an educator, photojournalist and social entrepreneur for public spaces in Traverse City, Michigan

– I’m inspired most by the open road, the kindness of strangers, good conversations, and the hope of tomorrow.  – Emilee Shake, Sales and Marketing Specialist for a print center in Champaign, Illinois

– My most compelling moments of muse often happen while traveling. The mixture of solitary instrospection, diverse people-watching, and the very concept of transit is incredibly rich.  – Melanie Kahl, K12 Education Knowledge Manager at Perkins+Will, Chicago

– izzy+ inspires me because I love my employees that work for me and love the company. I enjoy going into work and putting out good quality products that improve people’s lives.  – Brian Keeton, an izzy+ Production Facilitator at the Florence, Alabama plant