In Space, No One Can See Your Screen

It may be stretching the definition of changing a space “for learning” but it has been bugging me for a while and, if nothing else emerges from INF536, it motivated me to make a long overdue change to my and the College’s working space. This is a long and bitter story (cue violin solo) about changing offices and a lack of meeting and conference spaces. It’s interesting that, as my school developed a policy of increasing parental contact regarding our students progress and well being, no one considered that we would need more of such spaces. So…having recently been appointed as the Assistant Principal (having acted in the role for a number of years) I felt the sense of ownership of my personal space required to make changes. I began by individualising my office (drawings from children, sufficiently impressive curriculum documentation on my noticeboard, etc.) but didn’t make any changes that used the space effectively or considered the emotional journey of those who interacted with me. My desk (like Batwing’s wings) was like a shield of screens and, anyone coming to see me had to sit at my desk and we would talk over the screens (often discussing suitably weighty matters with the top of the heads of shorter students and members of staff).

My Principal (a previous Graphic Design teacher who was clearly more sensitive to such things than I with a Humanities qualification – a “novice” designer) would regularly point out what message this was sending to people who wanted to see me. In considering Brown’s concept of “ideation”[1], here was an opportunity to eliminate this less than welcoming environment and create another working/meeting/conference space for the school.

But how to reclaim the space? First of all I considered the constraints. There was a finite space in my office (with many of my overtures for knocking down walls and, quite frankly, annexing other staff member’s offices being, quite rudely I thought, rebuffed). The desk was immovable and, as hard as I tried, the things sitting atop it (printer, phone, desktop) couldn’t be moved anywhere and I needed the bookshelf. Secondly, I considered what was within my power to change. The filing cabinet in the corner of my office was traditional but barely used now. Materials that were once placed in such iron clad space eaters have moved to more convenient electronic storage. I rationalised the files (i.e. threw them all out!) and had the cabinet removed.

The space created by the removal of the filing cabinet allowed me to move it into the corner. Suddenly I had space to work with.

I searched high and low for a table that would fit the space I’d created (There’s now a homeless pot plant) and stole a chair from our Conference room (I’m genuinely interested to see how long it takes for anyone to notice).

Before

Before

After

After

Over the last couple of days, as I (the user?) have modified my working habits to fit the new space, I’ve noticed an almost immediate change in the way communication occurs. There seems to be more open ended discussion and less pontification. Is the change in me or the space?

A Desk  with a new viewpoint

A Desk with a new viewpoint

[1] Brown, T. (2009) Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. Summary by Get Abstract. Retrieved from: http://www.getabstract.com

5 thoughts on “In Space, No One Can See Your Screen

  1. What a great change that is!

    I was flabbergasted at the number of screens on your desk though – what are they all for?

    And I think it is a “space for learning” because many cultures consider the parents as the “first teacher” and imho it has potential for being the first and continuing teacher if there is good and continuing communication between the school and the home. Often parents can give information that has the potential for unlocking ‘difficult’ children, which together with pedagogical knowledge and experience across different children can make a real difference. And it all starts with a receptive dialogue where neither party is “hiding” as you yourself pointed out.

  2. Food for thought.

    I have been struggling with a screen I set up near my desk to enable students to complete a catalogue search, and ask questions should they need help – but realistically it is a barrier to other communications – I should remove it.

    Currently simplifying spaces.

  3. #bestblogtitleever

    (cue celebratory trumpets)

    I really liked the point you made about the way a physical space can change / influence conversation, as well as the ways in which we function within them.

    I work at a high school as part of the behaviour management team – responsible for the year 7 and 8 cohorts. Generally, my students (I’m hesitant to use some the vocabulary from the readings in Module 1.2, such as “clientele” and “customers”) need a mother-type figure to turn to when needed, and taken to task by when absolutely necessary.

    When my students are in my office, we’re face to face, without anything (like a desk) separating us. My colleague who is responsible for the year 9 and 10 cohorts however – very different students, and parents – authoritatively addresses people from behind a massive and somewhat imposing desk. Both spaces, although completely different in design and function, work well for what they were designed for – to maximise the impact and effectiveness of our individual behaviour management strategies.

    Less is more, so they say, and I don’t think I have ever been into an admin office that had a secondary table, like the circular one in the photos. Can that also be “rationalised”?

  4. Great post, Andrew. And I agree…that it is a great title! I tend to agonise a bit over titles, but never seem to nail it quite like that.
    I particularly liked the fact that you let go of your filing cabinet (often referred to as cockroach towers in my neck of the woods). I’ve known many a teacher who has struggled to move on from physical files. May they find peace.
    So, I suppose my question is about what happens when people first come in to your office. Are the immediately drawn to the table and chairs (you stole) to have a chat, or do you need to direct them to that space?
    Looking forward to seeing how it works out!
    Kath

  5. Great change Andrew. The way you approached the constraints of your office has led to action rather than procrastination. The iterations of design thinking are evident and you are now at the stage of watching the replay according to Kuratko (2012) Play, display and watch the replay.

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