School Design

This tag indicates the application of design principles to school planning and leadership.

A footnote to my previous “Design for Student Leadership”: Student Voice and School Design

Working on my never-ending doctorate (I’m on year 7, I note sheepishly), I recently re-examined one of my absolute favorite school design texts, Peter Senge’s Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education (Senge, Cambron-Mcabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton, and Kliener, 2000).

Recently I wrote about student leadership and what I believe to be the profound educative value of leadership experience. Then, while reading Schools that Learn, I stumbled across the following:

One last comment on why schools seem remarkably difficult institutions to change and where particular leverage may lie. Industrial-age schools have a structural blind spot unlike almost any other contemporary institution… (more…)


The Community Planning/School Planning Divide

One of my major concerns about the way the new schools movement has developed is that as new schools are rapidly created, there does not seem to be much attention paid on the ground to integrating school creation with community planning and sustainable design.

Schools are being created in communities all over the nation, but they are far too frequently drop-ins–schools that are created and built without any consideration of or connection to the short and long-term planning that makes for growing, powerful, sustainable communities (see the STAR Community Index: Sustainability Goals and Guiding Principles).

This new STAR planning index is the work of the ICLEI and is intended as a tool for local communities. (more…)

Don’t sort students, give them choice (college-for-all Part 2)

The Austin Polytechnical Institute, in Chicago, is an interesting American example of a school that conceives its mission as being as much “vocational” as “college prep.”

Located on Chicago’s West Side, Austin Polytechnical Academy (APA) is a college and career prep high school with a focus on manufacturing and engineering. Our students learn real world skills to help them succeed in college, careers, and life.

The school was featured in a recent article in the New York Times…



Nancy Hoffman, in a recent article for the Teacher’s College Record, discusses how many European educational systems effectively prepare students for employment and citizenship without emphasizing college-for-all. Hoffman explains that there is an artificial divide between “vocational” and “academic” learning:

But it’s not an either/or proposition and the job motivation may be a better and more effective route into calculus and scientific literacy than exhortations about liberal arts that often come across as “swallow it; it’s good for you.”

At the REAL School, we want to develop traditional “academic” skills and knowledge as well as student motivation by anchoring traditional subjects in the student’s real-world experiences as entrepreneurs and leaders in their communities. We believe that all students should have the opportunity to choose college, but we should also prepare all students to be confident, able, and skilled citizens regardless of whether they choose college, the military, or a specific career path of any kind.

Hoffman describes the German construction of vocational education, called Beruf…


Buildings Matter: an array of thoughts on physical school design

Physical (or architectural) school design is often confused with “school design” itself, but I have been trying to argue for a holistic understanding of school design (see “on getting to purposes”) in which physical design is one of the elements of broader school design. Physical Design will be an ongoing theme on this blog and here are some teasers… (more…)

Teaching Citizenship, Strengthening Our Communities

AEI recently published a report surveying teachers on the percieved state of civic education (Here’s a Rick Hess interview on the subject). None of the results surprise me, but I was a bit disappointed in the summary provided by Hess and by AEI. From Hess:

In recent decades education has come to be seen as the path to personal and professional advancement, the private purposes of schooling have assumed a heightened import…As the tangible economic benefits of schooling have become central to policy thinking, the teaching of citizenship has become increasingly peripheral. When citizenship is spoken of today, it is more and more in a “transactional” or vocational sense–with citizenship understood as the basket of skills and attitudes (how to shake hands, speak properly, and be punctual) that will help students attend prestigious colleges and obtain desirable jobs.

I have two concerns… (more…)