Most of us would agree that a school’s main priority is its students and their education. As a result, we spend countless hours on lesson planning, differentiation, marking and feedback. At the same time, we don’t give enough attention to other, less obvious ways in which we might help our students.
Those countless hours that we spend on typical teaching tasks seem less of a burden when we have a comfortable workspace. Is it any wonder that so many of my colleagues have said that they prefer to mark and plan at home? We don’t need to be at work in our pyjamas with access to a comfortable sofa, but giving some consideration to teacher workspaces in a school could have a significant impact on productivity and creativity.
Here are some workplace features to consider:
Different kinds of spaces
How many times have you been trying to focus in an open workspace when there are conversations going on around you and your colleagues are trying to get you involved? Having a quiet space in which to work no doubt increases productivity, freeing you of distractions.
Have you ever been working in a quiet space with a bad case of teacher’s writer’s block? A common area is ideal for collaboration and creativity.
There are times we need quiet to focus and times we need conversation to generate ideas. Does your school offer spaces for both purposes? Are these spaces easy for all staff to access?
With all the research that’s been done on how colours affect our moods, there is no excuse for the importance of colour to be ignored in a workspace. Studies show that green and blue increase creativity; red is good for recall and attention to detail.
When school budgets are tight, paint is unlikely to be a spending priority. Consider other ways of adding colour into the workspace. Plants are a more affordable way of adding some green. There is evidence to suggest that they can also contribute to creativity. Look at the storage containers that line your office shelves: are they an unimaginative, sterile white? Could they be replaced with something more exciting?
Time dedicated to space
It’s great if you have a space that you like, but it isn’t much good if you aren’t given any time to dedicate to it. Departmental offices quickly become cluttered and claustrophobic when we spend all of our time on “the usual tasks”. We would be hard-pressed to find people willing to come in outside of working hours to tidy up and de-clutter.
Sorting, recycling and organising take time. Is there an hour or two at the start or end of the term that could be dedicated to tidying up? There’s no excuse for textbooks from the 1980’s to be collecting dust and taking up space. Photocopies of photocopies of photocopies from the 1990’s are completely unnecessary.
Thought should also be given to time spent in certain spaces. How much time do staff have to spend in common areas? Is there enough time for staff to collaborate in those spaces?
Who’s making the decisions about paint, furniture, plants and how it’s all arranged? If you want to have a staff that feel valued as part of a community, get their involvement in improving the workspace. Having a say in what may seem like small decisions in the grand scheme of things can make someone feel like they belong. When someone feels like they belong, they are more innovative and creative.
Sometimes I’m tempted to take my work home with me because I’m uncomfortable. We don’t all have ergonomically designed, comfortable, high back office chairs.
Consider having a variety of seating. Traditional work seating is perfectly acceptable and tolerable, as long as there are other options. What about computers at standing height or a couch or two to make marking more comfortable?
Also consider the height of computer screens. Are teachers able to adjust the height of their screens? Does the adjustable part of the computer actually work or does it need fixing?
Kevin Kuske has been quoted in numerous articles about workspace, saying that “when people are comfortable, they are more creative and productive”.
If we want to support students’ learning and help them achieve their best, then we also need to be doing our best to creative an effective workspace. By dedicating time and thought to optimising the workspace, we can be better at what we do.
What is your school doing to make your workspace productive?