What Spirit Shall It Have?

Exploring the heart and soul of school communities

Students decorate benches they constructed for an outdoor classroom.
“A critical pedagogy of place challenges all educators to reflect on the relationship between the kind of education they pursue and the kind of places we inhabit and leave behind for future generations.” — David Gruenewald, The Best of Both Worlds: A Critical Pedagogy of Place.

“What spirit shall it have?”

This is the question Francis Presler examined in the superb text “A Letter to the Architects” before the construction of the Crow Island School, built in the 1940s to foster a child-centred education in the tradition of John Dewey. The school’s design has stood the test of time and some eighty years later, Beth Hebert, a former Crow Island principal, says

The building still speaks to children. It says, ‘This is for you. We knew you were coming.’

So whether you are building, rebuilding or just reimagining learning spaces, consider asking, what spirit shall it have? New or old, what makes learning spaces responsive to community needs? How do we foster a stage and setting for learners to act, create and care for their schools? I’ll use two themes from the “Design Down” process by Jilk & Copa to explore these questions. I am once again indebted to pammoran and Ira David Socol for generously sharing resources for this inquiry. Their book, Timeless Learning, continues to inspire and inform my practice.

“How will you know when school matters to kids? They will tell you through their work beyond curricula, in what they create and share with the world, in how they treat each other and what they do to make their communities a better place for others, and in their pursuit of learning not as mandated but as they desire.” — Timeless Learning

Community: Leave it better than you found it

What if each community member shared a collective responsibility mindset for leaving their school better than they found it?

The aggregation of marginal gains in action. Each small, interconnected student project that activates dead spaces contributes to the building and sustaining community. It is impossible to walk around our school and not see the legacy of past students. Care and love are evident around every bend.

Spirit: A school must be a home of opportunity

The kitchen is the heart of a home, an interconnected living space that nourishes the bodies, minds and souls of friends and families. Do such spaces exist in schools? Should they? Could you identify a space that is the heart and soul of your school?

“The heart and soul of a school? The humans in it.”

Pam Moran believes spirit is born in “spaces that sustain a sense that agency in and ownership of learning matter.” This message was echoed by learning environment specialist Ira Socol who believes school should be a home of opportunity, a place where learners collaborate, communicate, and connect to the world.

Creating spaces for collaboration, storytelling and mindfulness was front of mind for students who designed and built a new outdoor classroom for our school.
The recent transformation of dead space into an outdoor classroom that embraces its natural gifts. Project Reimaginate has been a great source of pride for the learners who have contributed to our many projects over the past few years.



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Abe Moore

Education blog. "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say" - Flannery O'Connor