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New Kitchen…. Same Taste?

October 28, 2018

IMG_4926One of the most significant shifts that Saline has made as a school district in recent years has been the commitment to changing the physical features and layout of the various learning spaces. To visit any of the school buildings over the last several years, one might notice that the vast majority of the classrooms and learning spaces do not resemble a traditional classroom from the 19th or 20th-century. Gone are the neat rows of desks with the teacher delivering all of the instruction. Saline’s educational leaders have researched, visited, and then adopted methods for creating a variety of flexible learning environments within the brick-and-mortar classroom spaces. In some cases, those learning spaces are outside of the school buildings in  Visitors will now see a variety of furnishings that include different seating, writing surfaces, and teacher workspaces in varying types, and styles of arrangements. In very few classes will one see student desks in rows facing in one direction.

Many of these adjustments have been based on sound instructional strategies that have roots in educational research. Also, many of these approaches have been based on student feedback. An essential part of the redesign included gathering student input. It has been a critical part of the process for the adults to actively listen to the students regarding how they learn. In Saline, we have the good fortune to have the Foundation for Saline Area Schools to assist by providing financial resources. The community support is also evident and appreciated. These resources have afforded us the opportunity to purchase furniture, infuse integrated technology, and use old-fashioned elbow grease for painting and redecorating the classrooms to make them warm, welcoming, and inclusive of all learners.

The concern that I once had was that we would end up in a scenario where we had a new kitchen, but we were serving the same food, and our meal tasted the same. The notion that by changing furniture alone one could improve learning outcomes was a concern. Ultimately, the Saline faculty would have to learn how to utilize the new environments to positively impact student achievement. Considering what strategies, methods of delivery, and student input would be most impactful for their students was of primary concern.

Throughout the first couple months of the school year,  I have been watching and asking questions to try and assess the extent to which we have legitimately changed practices and improved student outcomes by leveraging and re-inventing the learning spaces.  Understanding that moving the needle away from standardized assessments has not been the only goal with this transition, the state-mandated evaluations have been, traditionally, the only way to measure student achievement. Instead, we are focused on the whole child and increasing each student’s level of engagement in their own learning.   I am confident that we are making progress to live the vision of Student-Led… Future Focused.

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