Innovative School Construction Fosters Student Learning, Teacher Collaboration

Innovative School Construction Fosters Student Learning, Teacher Collaboration
Posted on 08/09/2017
Photo of Superintendent Dan Troxell

Community members and parents who have not entered a school since they were students have the same reaction when visiting a Leander ISD campus: these schools look completely different than what I grew up with! Even in the past 10 years, advances in technology, educational research and behavioral science have made great strides in the way we educate today’s students.

Thanks to LISD’s forward-thinking community, we are utilizing those advancements to shape the design and construction of our new schools. We are creating an infrastructure around the way our students learn best, rather than retrofitting instruction into a one-size-fits-all building.

Years prior to building a new school, our facility experts and construction partners seek out successful innovations at other schools in our area, state and throughout the country.

We form “design charrettes” at the elementary, middle and high school levels — coalitions of school design experts, teachers, higher education representatives, business leaders, parents and community members — who develop blueprints for schools that increase efficiency, facilitate more effective teaching and better prepare students for post-secondary life.

Some of the design changes you will notice immediately. Schools no longer follow the “H” shape, with expansive hallways bordered by classrooms and restrooms or auxiliary rooms often at the opposite end. For our younger learners, this can feel pretty intimidating.

Instead, we now use a “neighborhood” model where classrooms — grouped by grade or subject area — form a circular shape around a shared open space. This provides a breakout space for students to collaborate in small or large groups, work on presentations, film projects or work individually, with furnishings to accommodate each of these activities.

The walls facing this shared neighborhood space is glass so teachers have increased ability to monitor students working outside the classroom. Teachers’ workspaces moved from the back of their classroom to the center of the neighborhood, which allows for additional student interaction with their own and adjoining classrooms.

Additionally, walls between classrooms can open, allowing for flexibility of use, co-teaching classrooms, sharing resources and increased peer interaction. With the many different ways a classroom or science lab or library will be used throughout the day, “flexible design” elements have been integrated through every possible part of the campus.

Science classrooms now feature lab tables that can be moved and reconfigured to allow space for a class to gather together and experiment, move or build. Libraries are no longer quiet sanctuaries, but places for student collaboration, creation and study, as well as an accommodating space for community meetings.

At the end of each semester last school year, Glenn High School used its library space to host Finals Week Frenzy. Staff kept the space open until 9 p.m. for two days and offered snacks for students who gathered to finish semester projects and study for final exams.

These schools are intentionally designed with more upholstered furniture, bean bag chairs and small group tables, creating an inviting, comfortable environment for student-led study. Or as one student put it, “It feels a lot more like home.”

And, remarkably, through more efficient use of space and resources, these schools are actually smaller than their older counterparts. Glenn High School has far fewer square feet and 17 fewer classroom than the high school built just eight years prior, which saves on utilities, supplies and maintenance expenses year after year.

I would invite you to visit one of our newer schools, to see the lively activity of students throughout the campus experiencing hands-on learning and collaboration, and to see teachers working as a collective on shared goals. These are the places where generations of LISD students will spark their passion for learning and chart their path to bright futures.