I read an article this week in the Financial Post claiming that weather can have a significant impact on mood, outlook and even the economy. Winter blahs, feeling “down in the doldrums”, and seasonal affective disorder are examples of how environment can impact one’s outlook. Compare the optimistic energy exhibited by people on bright, beautiful mornings to the scenes of the same people “draggin’ their wagons” on dreary, wet days. Blaming the weather may seem like a cop out, but there is no question – light, warmth, and comfort (…along with the optimistic lens that such conditions usually provide) can inspire community spirit, motivation, and learning itself. In schools we also know that the environment of an attractive and well-designed space can enhance student learning.
Children are superb observers. They are also very in-tune with the messages communicated by the spaces around them. When I was a classroom teacher, I could never make even the smallest tweak to my classroom without students immediately pointing out the change. When they entered in the morning, they would undoubtedly say something like, “Hey, Mr. A, where did this or that go?” or “You moved that shelf” or “Does this mean we get to sit over here?” I could never introduce a subtle change without their eyes sizing up the space in which we would spend our day.
As human beings, we know intuitively that spaces matter. They impact how we feel, how we interrelate, and how we experience our day. Bland and disjointed environments hamper our creativity, connection and achievement. When it comes to school buildings, the impacts are important and the questions are obvious. For example, can more daylight in classrooms and corridors actually make students brighter? Can a school’s colour palette, circulation and flow “freshen up” test scores? Can the curve of a wall ( especially if it is alive!) actually guide students onto a path of higher learning? Can the availability of communal space and access to the outdoors invigorate collaboration and improve wellness and behaviour?
According to Henry Sanoff of North Carolina State University, “the physical environment [of a school] can be considered as a ‘teacher’ itself since space has the power to organize and promote relationships between people of different ages, to provide options, to promote choices and activities, to spark different types of social, cognitive, and affective learning.” He also believes that “the space within a school mirrors the ideas, values, attitudes, and cultures of the people within it.” When you walk the walls of a well-designed school, you can literally feel its lungs rising and falling in response to the needs of the students within.
At Matthews Hall we are a team of hard-working teachers and staff who care a great deal about the value of our work, its impact on our students, and the success of your children. As integrated beings, we also realize that there is no mind-body split when it comes to the school day and how it is experienced by our students – and our shared space is a big part of that!
What if we had a dream and a plan for how we might improve this important mind-body dimension?
Imagine the possibilities…and don’t forget to join us at The Little Prince next Thursday, May 9th 7:00 PM
Ric Anderson, Head of School