The Universal Truth: “Seeing is Believing”

See it. Believe it. Learn from it.

By Nathan Strenge

For millennia, humankind has followed a universal truth: “Seeing is believing.” When we witness with our own eyes the marvels and innovations of the world, our perspective undergoes a transformation. Today, I invite you to embark on a journey that speaks to the power of seeing something radically student-centered firsthand.

Imagining Vs. Experiencing

Education is evolving in many ways, and the physical environment must align with the grand visions we have for authentic student-center learning. Where traditional classrooms once reigned supreme, the Learning Communities model is illuminating a new path for educators worldwide. Many people understand this in theory but have a hard time processing exactly what this looks like. 

Take a moment: Try to picture a variety of dynamic spaces purposefully designed to foster active, engaging, and collaborative teaching & learning.

What came to mind? Was it hard to imagine?

Many find that picturing something without firsthand contact can be extremely difficult. Perhaps you’ve experienced this sensation yourself the first time you embarked upon a place you’d only seen pictures of in the past. If you have, you likely understand there’s something about being in a place that simply cannot be replicated through descriptions, pictures, or even videos. There’s something magical about being immersed in a place.

It’s no different when we try to appreciate what’s possible in schools.

Global Learning Commons

Recently, Fielding International introduced the Global Learning Commons – a network aimed at bringing together innovative educators and leaders. To truly comprehend the power of radically student-centered environments, we facilitated our inaugural trip to one of our recent projects: South Clearfield Elementary in South Clearfield, Utah.

South Clearfield Elementary stands as a beacon of modern educational methodology and design. Serving a diverse K-6 public school student body, with 70% qualifying for free or reduced lunch, it’s a testament to the school’s mission to provide equitable opportunities for all. The decision to implement Learning Communities was driven by a desire to grant students more autonomy throughout their day. The school environment is captivating with inclusive Learning Communities and a welcoming school heart. The entrance embodies a family room with a fireplace and nature murals that showcase local scenery, fostering a sense of belonging and reverence for the natural world. Its design is accentuated by superior acoustics, ample streams of natural light, and breathtaking vistas, ensuring a serene learning environment. The school also boasts of pronounced indoor-outdoor connections, blending the boundaries of learning and integrating nature’s tranquility into everyday lessons. The building is a learning tool for sustainability, as it produces more energy than it uses.

Witnessing the Future of Education

The first Global Learning Commons took a group of educators, district leaders and facilities directors from Ann Arbor Public Schools. They are working on how the physical environment can be a catalyst for transformation, and came to see South Clearfield with specific look-fors in mind – they wanted to see flexibility, empowerment, collaboration, and integration and work to understand how environments and systems can work together to support the goals.

By their own testimony, the experience was transformative. The facilities staff delved deep into the architecture of a Learning Community school, while educators exchanged invaluable insights from teachers and the students of South Clearfield.

Robert Kinghorn, South Clearfield’s principal for four years, remarked, “Kids are showing mastery in so many ways.” He added, “Our grades are connected as communities, not just as a bunch of isolated classrooms.”

One young 2nd-grade teacher, a product of South Clearfield’s embedded Teacher’s Academy, passionately shared, “Teaching is so hard to do in isolation” and mentioned how much she’s able to learn by being in such a collaborative environment. The Academy she went through is part of South Clearfield Elementary, a collaboration between several local teaching colleges and universities; it plays a pivotal role in ensuring that budding teachers are seasoned within such innovative environments.

The students, brimming with autonomy, were enthused about the myriad spaces they could explore and inhabit during their school day. The joy they felt was almost tangible, with one Kindergarten teacher at South Clearfield sharing, “My favorite thing is the flexibility. I have options to bring kids to different places.”

Yet, it wasn’t just about flexibility. The educators were particularly vocal about the challenges and rewards of moving from solitary classrooms to this vibrant, collective domain. But the overarching sentiment was clear, as voiced by a 3rd Grade Teacher talking with her peers, “All of our students benefit from all of our strengths.”

Why Experiencing Is Essential

It’s critical to understand why physically experiencing this shift in educational spaces is so pivotal. Most adults in America have grown up with the conventional classroom model, making it difficult to fathom anything different. The Ann Arbor facilities team was no exception. However, upon immersing themselves in the space, one member commented, “Actually seeing the building, it feels like less of a leap.”

Another added, “I was really impressed by the acoustics. I wasn’t expecting that.”

In the words of an Ann Arbor Principal, “A virtual tour or pictures don’t do it justice.” This emphasizes the unmatched value of being present, absorbing the ambiance, and feeling the palpable difference.

One Ann Arbor leader’s reflection sums it up, “It is so important to see the student agency at work! Hearing from teachers and administrators who validate what you are seeing is really impactful. Being able to experience a school environment that is focused on student-centered learning allows you to take back real stories for your team and gives a glimpse of the future for your school.”

The Potential of the Learning Community Model

The Global Learning Commons isn’t just another initiative; it’s a beckoning to the future of education. It provides a series of engagement platforms, including monthly virtual engagements, cohorts, and invaluable in-person school visits. It’s about learning, sharing, and evolving. And, it’s free to join:

Answering the Call

The time to act is now. The future beckons with a promise of a reimagined education system, one that truly caters to the unique potential of every student. As Margaret Mead beautifully expressed, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

So, come be a part of this change. Join the Global Learning Commons. Witness the magic, believe in it, and let’s shape the future of education together.

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