It’s the start of a new school year at Long-View and things feel familiar, but at the same time, everything looks a bit different. Summertime was busy with a remodel of new space we recently acquired. We pulled out walls, re-thought the flow between rooms, and added our signature décor that looks more akin to a creative work space than an elementary and middle school, all in preparation for a larger student community and faculty team.
Getting new spaces ready for our expanded community meant another opportunity to continue to deepen our thinking about how space affects learning and how design of space can positively influence our community.
Long-View is a school, but we mostly think in terms of Long-View as a learning community. We typically refer to our kids as learners rather than “students,” as Long-View is not a place in which kids come to just do tasks that teachers ask them to do. As a community of learners we are always working together, side-by-side. Kids work collaboratively at whiteboards during math. Groups work on gathering data for a science investigation. Readers discuss texts and writers share drafts. The teachers work as a team, with some defined roles but mostly with a slant towards working at a high level as a diverse and talented team. Our spaces support these endeavors: large work tables support group projects, rolling whiteboards are brought together to create an opportunity for young mathematicians to work together, reading partners gather on red sofas in the library, and wide open floors are handy places to lay out an engineering project to review with peers. To facilitate collaboration — and to communicate that we are a community that values resourcefulness and creativity — all classroom spaces are shared, supplies are open and visible, materials are hardy and simple, a good part of the environment was built by teachers, and an occasional hack created by a child solves a community need.
The backbone of all of our academic endeavors at Long-View is discourse, and we are always discussing, deliberating, arguing, questioning, and wondering. Discourse is conversation intended to create new knowledge, understandings, and experience, building upon the prior knowledge, understanding, and experience of those in the conversation. We believe children develop their capacity to collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically when they engage in a regular, disciplined practice of discourse. This discourse-rich environment invites space design that is open and transparent and brings people together for face-to-face conversations. We circle together red sofas to create a “conversation lounge” when a group is in a discussion. We stand around two whiteboards to compare solutions. We gather in a small room when we want to brainstorm together.
Our new, expanded space at Long-View consists of big rooms and smaller rooms, but none are continuously designated only for one class or only for one teacher so you will typically find a group gathered based on needs or interests. Teachers plan next to kids who are working on math, and kids ask for help from teachers who aren’t actually the one leading the class. The simple, modern, and bright spaces strike the opposite chord from the factory-model classrooms with rows of desks and blue chairs facing one direction. They open us up, they bring us together, they invite conversations.
At Long-View we value “we” spaces more than “I” spaces. We value collaboration. Creation isn’t bound to just designated areas. Our default state is high energy. Our mode is casual. We value participation. And iteration. And imperfection. And we agree very much with David Kelly of IDEO and Stanford’s d.school: “Consciously or not, we feel and internalize what space tells us about how to work.”