Some time ago, the internet-wide book club for The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros was challenged to consider what their ideal school would look like.

Last week on our professional development day, I had the opportunity to explore ways to transform our school spaces with a group of my colleagues, and I was reminded of this prompt.

I am, of course, assuming that I have unlimited funds and complete creative freedom with this endeavour, but here are the key aspects of my independent school.

          1.  Space

Creating a space that is not only conducive to but actually brings forth learning is one of the keys to a truly excellent school. There should be room for individual work, as well as collaborative spaces. There should be different types of seating – comfortable chairs, couches, exercise balls, bean bag chairs – and standing tables available for when you need to be able to move or fidget. (<a href=””>We spend too much time sitting down anyway.</a>) The lighting should be warm and inviting, not cold and fluorescent, with as much natural light as is possible. There should be plants around – did you know that having a good number of plants in a classroom can actually improve students’ focus, reduce headaches and impact people’s mental health and memory?

When I was doing my MA in English Literature, I spent most of my research time in my local Starbucks, which was located in a Chapters. Part of the reason was access to caffeine, sure; a lot, though, was because the space was inviting. There were tables that were large enough for me to spread out what I needed, or chairs where I could curl up and read. If I needed to move, I would wander around the Chapters, checking out new books or flipping through magazines. I enjoyed being there. Our classrooms should be places where students enjoy learning.

Which brings me to my second element …

          2.  Access

Creating an inviting space is only the first step. For our classrooms to engage students, they also need to be places with multiple modes of learning. There should be a classroom library with a balance of fiction and nonfiction books that will appeal to our students. We should provide access to technology for students (and teachers!) who don’t have it, and access to the internet for those who do. There should be magazines on a variety of subjects, DVDs on a variety of subjects, books on tape, graphic novels.

In short, we should be able to engage students in different ways at different times – and we should teach them how to access information in multiple modes, not just in those modes with which they are most comfortable.

This leads to my third “draft pick”:

          3.  Engagement

Having multiple ways of accessing information and learning is irrelevant unless that information is interesting and valuable to learners. Too often I hear students complain about the relevance of what they are learning in school to their “daily lives” – and in part, I think, that is due to the fact that we teach subjects in isolation. Our lives are not lived moving from Science to Socials to English to PE. We use our learning holistically, and in my fantasy school, we teach holistically as well. I can teach percentages by having students figure out taxes just as easily as I can with random numbers in a textbook, and I can teach the elements of non-fiction with various texts on current events that interest my students as well as I can with the texts out of the non-fiction anthology in our book room. If I can select topics that make my students (and me – I am a member of this community of learners as well, after all) curious, we will be much more interested in and effective at learning.


There is one requirement that must form the basis of these three, however, and that is safety.  Our students need to feel that our classrooms are safe places, where they can be themselves and make mistakes, and it won’t cost them their dignity or their opportunity to learn.  Our teachers need to feel that our schools are safe places, where they can be themselves and make mistakes, and it won’t cost them their dignity or their opportunity to learn.  Our administrators need the same from our district administration, and the district needs it from the government.  Without a sense that mistakes will lead to negative consequences, we are comfortable trying new things and really stretching ourselves.

If mistakes lead to failed assignments and no opportunity to make it up, students won’t try the more challenging learning opportunities.  They’ll do what they know they can be successful at.  If mistakes lead to being called in front of the principal and receiving a letter in their file, teachers won’t try new methods of instruction or assessment.  They’ll do what they know won’t potentially cause issues – even if they don’t believe that’s necessarily what’s best for students.

Couros emphasizes that we need to innovate inside the box.  For all that I wish for unlimited time and money, I know it’s not possible.  A lot of what I describe, however, are things that we can do, without significant investments.  Let’s create safe spaces (for our school staff as well as our students) where we can access a variety of learning opportunities in a variety of modes of communication that engage and empower us to take control of our learning.

After all, we are teachers.  We have done so much with so little, and we have transformed our students’ lives.  Learning changes the world – let’s keep learning.