What Should You Be Considering When Designing a Space for Staff Collaboration

Walk into any classroom that values collaborative learning for students and it is relatively easy to see the physical space is intentionally designed to support students learning from and working with one another. Tables replace desks, or desks are reorganized into pods or cohorts of students. Anchor charts abound, co-created with students, often with clearly articulated shared commitments, norms or rights and responsibilities displayed to remind everyone what we need to do within this shared space. Instructional materials are within reach for the teacher, to assist in teaching and learning opportunities with students. Exemplars and samples adorn the walls, to help provide a further layer of support for students.

Now think about how we design physical spaces for adults to collaborate in schools. In our work with schools looking to enhance their collaborative efforts, we have seen team meetings happen in classrooms and staff rooms not well-designed to support collaboration. Here are some of the things we’ve observed:

  • Notes may or may not be projected for all to see or to help keep the meeting focused
  • Leaders run in and out of the space, retrieving collaborative tools (i.e. role cards, continuum of support menus, etc.) that may have been forgotten (or worse, never used because they were not accessible)
  • Seating haphazardly arranged for the adults. It is not unusual for adults to make themselves physically distant in an unplanned space, or even not able to make eye contact with others in the room. Think about the meetings where some participants are seated behind or out of view of others.
  • Team norms never addressed, because they are not visually accessible

We recognize that physical space is not always at a premium in schools, particularly when it comes to adult learning. After all, spaces for student learning should take precedent. However, we urge school leaders engaging in purposefully establishing highly impactful collaborative structures and processes to consider purposefully designing a space for that purpose.

Please note that with the following examples and explanations, a space could be considered to be multi-purposed to support staff collaboration, as well as student learning, parent meetings, external partner spaces, etc. We encounter many conference rooms that serve multiple purposes during the day. As noted in all the examples, permanently visualizing individual student information or data is not an intended use for the space we are describing.

In a collaborative meeting space, consider the following:

Posting Team Norms

As shown in the following examples, posting the team norms for regular review and revisiting is incredibly important.

Norms need to be revisited and practiced regularly for teams, which is difficult to do if not visually accessible. Here are a listing of ideas that school leaders in Northern Gateway Public Schools crafted to help when thinking about how to effectively revisit, reinforce and practice the norms that guide how we interact together as professionals.

Other ideas we’ve encountered are using stand-up picture displays to make norms visible and portable, vinyl lettering for the walls for norms or framed sets of norms. We’ve even seen a blown up set up norms, with signatures from all staff members, symbolizing their allegiance to these behavioural commitments. Below is an example of tent cards placed around tables sharing norms and other visual reminders for team meetings.

Visualizing the School Supports and Tiers

There are two important considerations when thinking about a school’s developed Continuum of Supports and it’s utilization when discussing how best to support students:Visually Posting - just like the example from Connaught School in Medicine Hat, AB shown below, consider posting up the most highly impactful interventions, accommodations and strategies from the school’s continuum. It’s a great way to make these answers to the question “so what should we do?” within view of the entire team. We love the example from Central School in Taber, AB, where those tiers are a permanent fixture of their meeting space!

Ability to Project - Whether a TV that can be wirelessly accessed from any laptop, such as the one shown below, or a projector that is hardwired, it is vital to have some method of projecting notes, student information, etc. when staff are collaborating. This helps to ensure focus for the conversation, and allows all team members to access and contribute to documents being developed, student data being reviewed, and more. I can’t imagine a classroom now without a projection method and collaborative spaces for adults should be no different.

Team Goals, Schedule for Team Meetings, and Other Reference Materials

Artifacts and resources related to collaborative efforts should be posted for easy access and reference. Consider the following (shown in some of the previous and subsequent photos)

  • Team goals
  • Schedule for team meetings
  • Calendar of important school events
  • Standard agendas for team meetings
  • Team meeting roles
  • Artifacts from staff conversations

Displaying of Overall Data

A powerful message is sent when the direct results or intended results of our collaborative efforts are within our focus when working together. At Claresholm Elementary School, in Claresholm, AB back in the late 2000’s, a data board showed some of our key metrics and information that kept us aware of the fact that our work was not done yet, although progress was being made!

At one school, a number line across the top of the wall in their shared team meeting space represents the number of students currently at grade level in reading, with stars noting their progress over time. Within the first year of the school’s work, the stars tracking their progress showed a growth of more than 35% across their school. What a great daily reminder to see that every time the staff came in to collaborate, as well as the multiple data charts posted to track their growth and assist in ongoing analysis.

Storing of Resources

Whether it is collectively storing benchmark assessment/universal screen tools and resources (as shown below in the example from the late 2000’s at Claresholm Elementary School) or having other resources vital for collaboration (pencils, erasers, pens, team role cards), it is important to have this tools and resources within easy reach when collaborating. Is there a folder of questions we can ask in team meetings easily available? Are there discussion question cards we could easily distribute during difficult conversations? Consider what other tools and resources could be made available for easy access by teams.

Intentional Seating

No matter how the space is designed for seating, it needs to be thoughtfully set up for collaboration. Team members must be able to make eye contact with one another. Access to plugins for laptops needs to be considered. If some team members are on a couch while others are around a table, that is a great situation for a casual staff room conversation but not when the collaborative time is meant to be focused and purposeful. Be intentional when designing the seating for the space or potentially purchasing furniture. If collaboration is going to be viewed as part of the regular “work” of our staff, it needs to be designed in a way that reinforces the importance and ultimate functionality of that work.

Space for Written Thought

Is there whiteboard accessible for sharing ideas (or better yet, a whiteboard wall or whiteboard tables such as the ones found in staff collaborative space at Southview School in Medicine Hat, AB). Is there a flip chart available, or paper to stick on a wall to capture group discussion and brainstorming of ideas? It is important, when collaborating, that there is a space to capture the brainstorming or sketching out of ideas that may be generated from the conversation.

A Collaborative Space Planning Checklist has been developed, to help assist in planning and refining collaborative spaces for staff, particularly in relation to work connected to Collaborative Response. It is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather a list of considerations when establishing or refining collaborative team spaces. As well, further photos and samples of meeting space examples can be found in our Space Design shared folder.

We would love to see what collaborative meeting spaces look like in your school! Please email any photos, descriptions, questions or comments to kurtis.hewson(at)jigsawlearning.ca.

Author: Kurtis Hewson