Professional Learning and Physical Constraints

I was honoured to be invited to facilitate a workshop for Canadian World Studies teachers around the topic of inquiry-based learning.  As I began to plan, I realized that they were scheduled to be in a very small meeting room and no other space was available.

As a facilitator I had a few choices. Let the physical space stop me from doing what I think is essential (providing hands learning experiences) and create a sit-and-get presentation, decline the invitation because I couldn’t do it justice…

OR, become innovative within constraints (one my favourite big ideas out of George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset book ).  I chose to be creative with my physical space and use the hallway, as well as the power of Google Slides to collaborate within the confines of the small space.

There were more than a few eyebrows raised as I was setting up my inquiry stations and putting up images and QR codes on the walls of the hallway. And I knew that we would have to be relatively quiet considering the Accounting Department works primarily on that floor. I had to move some of the furniture, of course as well.  As District personnel walked past, I wondered what they were thinking.  A few of them asked and others just paused inquisitively to look.


This experience has me wondering a few things:

Is learning visible in all aspects of our school organizations?  Do all stakeholders, regardless of role, who work in our educational system know what this looks like and is it important that they do?

How many of our physical spaces (in schools, in District offices) which were created so long ago, prohibit true collaboration and exploration?  And if they do, how can we be creative with our physical spaces so we see opportunities instead of obstacles?

What’s more important in a learning organization: a little noise, some moved furniture, or tape marks on walls or active hands-on, learning experiences?

If indeed we want teachers to move towards learner-centered classrooms, then doesn’t our professional learning need to model this stance no matter what room we are in?

What do we say when we walk by teachers’ rooms  or by hallways when active learning is happening? Do we think things are out of control, or do we recognize that learning and collaboration is sometimes messy and noisy?

In the end, I think the teachers appreciated the opportunity to move, discuss, share, and wonder.  And I was glad that I didn’t let physical space stop me from modelling what inquiry looks like (though I might try sticky tack instead of tape next time) 🙂

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