One of my first tasks in my new position in Forreston is to take a 29' X 21' space and turn it into a professional development room for teachers. I was not given a clear budget amount. I was asked to dream it, propose it, and worry about the finances later. So, I fired up my copy of Google SketchUp Pro (Illinois schools and educators have access to a FREE license) and I came up with the design idea at the top of this post (a larger image is linked here).
To get a little feedback, I put this image up on my Facebook page. My Facebook network is filled with current and former teachers, friends from college, family, etc., and their feedback was very interesting. My attached message to the post was "Here is my proposed design for my teacher professional development room. I am considering ditching the smartboard though."
From a long time educator and personal mentor, Bob Hayes:
It appears you are going for collaboration. You're right smartboard seems superfluous. More important to have wifi and electricity for laptops. Inviting room.
From a relatively new educator, Regina Aniolowski:
Leave the smartboard.
From a parent and cousin, Natalie Morhart:
Kayla and Emma love the smartboard.
From a cousin and professor, Larry Massey:
Are you sure that's all that will fit in there? I mean there's still some actual open space left over... LOL
From a colleague and EdReach contributor, Scott Meech:
Like it ... Serious thoughts ... Ditch big furniture for mobile ... Storage should be close by but outside as the room should be completely immersed in learning and collaborating. Paint walls with idea paint.
My reactions varied to this feedback. First, why does my school district need this space? I believe in sending a clear message to the staff about the importance of professional development. I believe that educators need a place away from their classrooms where they can focus on their own growth in formal and informal ways. I believe that comfortable environment promotes collaboration. I believe that sometimes you just have to create of what you want to be a part. It is worth noting that this school is in a very small town. The closest Starbucks is 31.5 miles away. The closest McDonalds is 11 miles away. No where is there a place for a teacher to just easily get away. Taking from the design concepts of those restaurants (McDonalds, in particular, is performing a major overhaul of its restaurants), as well as what I have personally witnessed in Google's Chicago offices, I wanted to create an oasis where people want to be. While the main purpose for this space is professional development, it also becomes a second teacher's lounge in a town where the local coffee shop is also the gas station.
Notice the different size tables and chairs. This allows for different types of conversation to take place. Notice the pub-style high chairs at a small table that allows for quiet conversation for two to four people. These small tables may also be easily rearranged. Notice the large lounge chairs and the low table in the middle. This is great for prolonged conversation, long term work, or single reflection in a comfortable space where you could have four people sitting and not engaging each other, yet not feeling they are on top of each other. The standard table is actually two tables that may be used together or rearranged for smaller groups. The chairs around the table are your more conventional nesting chairs on rollers. The mobile whiteboard, located in this image near the low chairs, may be used anywhere in the room, but may be easily seen from any of these chairs.
The wall space presented a particular problem. First, I went with an accent wall. Typically, accent walls should be the first wall that greats the person as they enter a room. I also chose a feng shui friendly red color. Three of the walls are cinderblock, which do not lend themselves to being painted in Idea Paint. Idea Paint allows any flat surface to become a whiteboard (a table top could become a whiteboard just as readily as a flat wall). The one wall that is cut away is drywall, which would be perfect for Idea Paint. With about five or six Idea Paint kits, we could cover the entire wall. And since there are the mobile pub chairs and tables initially placed in front of that wall, the wall is not permanently impeded with large furniture. I say "initially" because who is to say the room will stay in this configuration. This furniture could be changed over at any time by the users of this space.
I do disagree with my colleague, Scott Meech, that I should remove the storage from this room and focus on the learning. Not pictured in this mockup is a sink in the countertop (I just could not make it look right). I also think it is important to have the coffee maker, and the refrigerator stocked with various drinks. I believe that food and drink helps to bring people together. Not only does Google do this for their employees, but I also saw this in the Downers Grove South professional development room. Note, I did not place a vending machine. It is a refrigerator where teachers can get free drinks. If treated with professional courtesy, teachers will act like professionals, I believe.
Probably the most controversial component of the room is the interactive whiteboard. I actually did struggle with whether I should include this device in the room. This school district is moving towards a 1:1 model with iPads, partially due to the 35% Free-Reduced Lunch (FRL) numbers, where Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) would only perpetuate the digital divide. If moving towards a 1:1, would an interactive whiteboard be an appropriate piece of equipment to install now? There are plans to have eight interactive whiteboards installed in various classrooms in the fall, so there would need to be appropriate professional development. A colleague and EdReach contributor, Judith Epcke, recommended an Epson interactive projector. And since the main 1:1 device will be iPads, there is less need for additional electrical outlets due to their tremendous battery life.
Thoughts? Feedback? I also need a name for this room. I do not want to just call it "The Professional Development Room.