I recently read an inspiring blog post by an educator who shared an experience her principal gave the staff at the beginning of this past school year. The experience centered around this video which I believe started as a super bowl commercial a few years ago, but I’m not 100% on that. Underneath the obvious humor of the clip there is a very important question – why settle? Do we do things the way we’ve always done them because it’s comfortable? Maybe even expected? Or, do we follow our passion and ‘be more dog’?
The video appealed to me on two very different levels. The first being that I’m a dog person and not a particular fan of cats, so I got a kick out of the contrast between the two 🙂 The second level is one of much greater importance and it connects to a recent experience I had when our new building was a finalist for the Learn By Design competition at SXSWedu. Allow me to explain…
When the folks at VLK Architects submitted our building for the inaugural SXSWedu Learn By Design it was a distinct honor to just be a part of the group of five finalists. Our building was in the experiential category, which meant the design of the building itself impacted the experience of the students, and adults, that used the space. Being a part of the presentation team was also an honor, but perhaps in hindsight it was more of a challenge. Trying to explain how the design of our school has changed the experience of learning and teaching at 7000 S. Third was tough. The panel that was judging consisted of three architects and one educator, so explaining our ideas in both of their languages was important as well.
During the Q&A section I was asked about the design of our learning spaces and how it has impacted test scores. My answer was something along the lines of we acknowledge the importance of test scores but we are much more concerned with the student experience. As I reflect on the question that was asked that day, and the answer I gave, I think it underscores the philosophy of our building committee; we never sat down at the design meeting and made design decisions based on what would result in better test scores. We didn’t know it at the time, but what we were doing for the nearly 1 full year of design was asking how do we become more dog? How do we go about creating a building that doesn’t settle for what has always been, rather focuses on what learning can be?
Our Project Advisory Team wasn’t looking back, we were looking forward; we wanted to make sure our new building was one that would keep up with our kids and drive our teachers. We wanted our learning spaces to flex and evolve as our children did the same. We wanted the spaces to bend to the needs of our learners instead of forcing us to constantly devise ways to teach beyond what a building would allow. We weren’t willing to settle for the way elementary schools have always been built, we wanted to be something more. That is what the SXSWedu design competition was about, but more importantly that is what Condit’s design team was about.
So have we become more dog? I’d like to think so. We are utilizing our flexible learning spaces in ways that we weren’t able to before, we are improving upon the practices we were utilizing under the relative constraints of our old building, and kids are having learning experiences previously not possible. While I don’t expect to go before a panel of experts each year to describe the innovation happening in our building, I do expect to have 750 very discerning young people each year who demand innovation to happen. I look forward to working as a school community to make sure we don’t let them down.