5 lessons from the classroom—for the workplace

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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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Variety is the spice of life—and work

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Nemo Bar and Trellis interpretation by Chuck Saylor, in the lobby of the Merchandise Mart

We’ve all been there, whether we’re studying for an exam, creating a presentation, or brainstorming for a big project: Gradually our minds become stuck circling around a single thought, or they begin wandering off entirely, into unrelated territory.

Clearly it’s time for a getaway.

“So often, great ideas and profound beliefs and actions seem to be fueled and found when we take the time to reflect in an inspiring place,” says Chuck Saylor, founder and CEO of izzy+. “It’s why people go to off-site retreats in the woods, or by the sea. It’s why they take sabbaticals in the mountains to free up their thinking and recharge the batteries.”

Of course, some real travel to the Alps or the Caribbean would be nice (as we wrote about in Part I of this series), but Saylor is actually referring to less drastic methods of getting away—without leaving the building.

“Culturally, we are losing that ability to go offsite and reflect,” Saylor adds. “So we need to create inspiring spaces within the work environment that allow us to have that revelation, to relax our minds, to achieve those ‘aha’ moments.”

Research shows that just getting some geographic distance from your desk can yield refreshing results. They key is having a destination that makes you want to get up and move. This year’s izzy+ NeoCon showroom is designed around a variety of “inspired destinations.”

“A variety of inspired destinations in the workplace naturally encourages movement, and that contributes to a healthier, more social and more productive work environment,” explains Rick Glasser, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management for izzy+.

The Nemo Trellis embodies the idea of inspired destinations—places that make you want to get up and head for a change of scene, whether to have a casual meeting or refresh your sense of focus.

Of the three Nemo Trellis installations in this year’s showroom, two (pictured below) are concept designs created by young designers who won the izzy+ design challenge that was introduced as part of the Valentine’s Day promotion. Lindsey Salazar of Archideas in Chicago created a Trellis that blurs the boundaries between outdoor and indoor environments, while Eda Muco of Dyer Brown & Associates in Boston used a translucent material to play with the idea of boundaries without walls.

Another, more whimsical Nemo Bar and Trellis concept (pictured at the top of this post) is installed in the Merchandise Mart lobby, where weary NeoCon guests can take a few moments to sit down and refresh. This interpretation of the Trellis has a wheatgrass roof and reclaimed barnwood panels, while a massive cross-section of polished maple serves as the Bar’s surface.

“When people encounter the izzy+ spaces, I hope they will smile, I hope they will be surprised, and I hope that it will provoke some inspiring thoughts within them,” says Saylor. “There is a time for work and a time for leisure and reflection, a time to be introverted and a time to be extroverted and collaborate. It’s all about a healthy balance, and izzy+ will always be on that journey to find the right balance and to create the products and designs that support and inspire people.”

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Above: izzy+ sales reps and the Nemo Trellis design contest winners, beneath the Trellis concept created by Eda Muco (from left to right Marty Smith and Eda Muco of Boston, and Melissa Huff and Lindsey Salazar of Chicago).
Below: The Nemo Trellis concept designed by Lindsey Salazar, creating a cozy cove for the newest version of the Lotus concept chair by Chuck Saylor.

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