Building Design

School design covers virtually every part of education, from policy-making through construction, from curriculum planning to public relationships. The people involved, the resources used, the finances included, and the outcomes expected can all be part of the design of education.

Design Includes A Lot

The ways that different components throughout the education system are designed are as varied as the components themselves though; having students meaningfully involved in them requires learning about the diversity throughout them. (Milne, 2006; Beattie, 2012)

The physical plant of schools must be designed, from siting the school building to determining hallway widths to identifying the number and styles of seating throughout the rooms and so forth. In a similar way, curriculum must be designed to meet the goals it has in mind, too. For every part of the design of schools there are socio-economic and political undertones, sometimes talked about but often not. Students need to have basic understanding each part of a design process in order to be meaningfully involved in it.

Formal school improvement as mandated by federal and state/provincial laws varies across the United States and Canada. Oftentimes, the design element of school improvement is grounded in data collection, aggregation and dissemination. Through Meaningful Student Involvement, students can serve several roles in this planning and design process. They can be sources of data, idea generators, data gatherers, solution confirmers and agents of change who implement action. (Kushman & Shanessey, 1997)

Applied Learning at its Best

In 2010, students in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program at Omaha North High School in Nebraska led a design process focused on a new building for their studies. The students created detailed plans based off charettes with their peers and advised by experts, and presented the plans to the district school board. However, faced with a low budget, the district could not afford to construct the building the students designed.

Working with adult school leaders, the students presented their designs more than a dozen times, until a wealthy benefactor who was inspired by their commitment and enthusiasm stepped forward to provide significant funding for the project. (Sherwood Foundation, 2014) Today, the same school is considering building a student-designed football stadium in the school’s inner city neighborhood. (Duffy, 2014)

Understanding the breadth of school design is a key to understanding the education system.

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Published by Adam Fletcher

Adam is the founding director of SoundOut. An author, speaker and consultant, he has worked with K-12 schools, districts, nonprofits and others for more than 15 years. Learn more about him at

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