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Dream big, start small

Blog task #3 – reimagining the staff common room

August 18, 2014 by meghastie   

The context

The High school common room at my Pre-K – 12 independent school is used every morning for brief staff meetings (with Pre-K – 12 staff and the whole school support staff) and for weekly after-school high school meetings.  It is also used as a general staff break-out room for recess / lunch, and for some staff functions.  There are several noticeboards with information for staff eg rosters, daily staff coverage for absences, health alerts etc.

This room also has the capacity to enhance learning, as it provides a large space for staff to collaborate across the curriculum (a significant requirement in the International Baccalaureate program which is one of the two courses we teach from Pre-K – 12).

Two core components of the school’s Vision Statement are to –

  • “Engage, value, develop  and retain staff”
  • “Enable collaborative and vibrant staff and student learning through provision of excellent resources.”

and creating an environment that reflects those values is central to the mission of the school.

Three principles guide this process  –

  • Understanding needs within our unique context
  • A community-driven approach
  • Escaping the “system”

(Eden,Elliott, Matzke & Wu 2012)

Common room

What needs to be solved

  • The layout of the room is rigid  and reflects an attempt to meet the range of functions the room has to fulfil.
    • A series of large and heavy tables sit along the back wall , with backless benches on either side.
    • There are also four double rows facing each other of “comfy” (not really!!) armchairs. If you sit in the armchairs during meetings you have to either turn to the side, or, depending where they are, turn right around.  This is not comfortable for a 15 minute session (even worse if it’s 1 1/2 hrs!). There is also a large gap between the rows of “comfy” seating facing each other, so if you wanted to  hat to someone opposite you, you would have to lean forward to talk easily.
    • At the front is the space where messages are presented and people talk from.  There’s a large flat screen there that can be used during meeting times, and a movable lectern that people use as appropriate.
    • There is no way to navigate from one side of the room to the other apart from across the front section (where presenters stand).
  • There are 3 sets of noticeboards, all covered with documents.  2 are about 2m x 1m, the other covers most of the back wall – 4-5m x 1m.  There’s a lot of dense writing on all of them, they are located on walls, so on opposite sides of the room.  No titles / headings saying what is on what wall.
  • Lighting is bare double fluorescent tubes.

Design pillars

The need for a common staff meeting area

The need for a space for a big group of staff to relax and meet

The need to communicate information to a wide range of staff

The need for this space to be welcoming and comfortable, enhancing staff morale as well as effective communication

The need for collaborative space for staff across faculties and across the schools (Junior School, Middle School and High School)


  • The need to have a common staff room that is able to fulfil a number of functions
  • The shape of the room – including the placement of the doors – could not change without major renovations
  • Need to communicate to groups
  • Need to communicate about various administrative and safety issues to the staff
  • Budget – next to nothing – would need to rework what we have, with limited expenditure on new furniture etc (although more superficial changes might be able to be made)

The Design challenge

How do we make the high school staff common room respond more effectively to the range of different functions it fulfils within the whole school?

How might we…?

How might we make the room fulfill the vision statement of the school?

How might we create a story for this space?

How might we make the space more welcoming and relaxing?

How might we make the space more effective for communicating to large groups?

Can we move some of these functions to other spaces?

Can communication of some information be moved to digital (or other) forums?

Can the aesthetics of the room be changed to be more friendly?

How might we make this a more effective space for staff to collaborate on learning and community building?

In order to fulfill this we need to consider our approaches

How can we help staff reimagine their spaces and how they use them?

How can we generate engagement (“buy-in”) with this issue?

How can we help executive staff and decision-makers see the value inherent in community-building by connecting this process to the school’s stated vision?

How can we create opportunities for staff and other stakeholders in the common room to get together to brainstorm and ideate?

How can we provide opportunities to then prototype and experiment with solutions?

How can we seek feedback and further exploration that leads to solutions?

(IDEO LLC 2012)

My comments –


Helen Stower

Deborah Welsh –


Bennett, Paul, 2007  Design is in the Details  TEDTalks Retrieved from:

Brown, T, 2009 Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. Summary by Get Abstract. Retrieved from:; also

Eden, W.,   Elliott, A., Matzke, J., & Wu, J.  School design With design thinking: Alpha Cindy Avitia High School. Retrieved August 12, 2014, from

IDEO LLC, 2012 Design thinking for Educators , retrieved 27th July 2014

Design School  Stanford, (n.d.) Method Card: How Might We Questions. Retrieved August 12, 2014, from:

Engine Service Design & Walker Technology College. Dear Architect: The Vision Of Our Future School: Walker Technology College Retrieved 3rd August 2014


  1. Margaret Simkin says:

    Hi Megan, what a well thought out process. The image certainly indicates some of your constraints. I have read with interest some accounts of staffrooms ceasing to exist. I think there is a need for some “refuge” space as well as catering for other needs such as collaboration and staff meetings. Perhaps one of the problems is trying to cater for too many uses. Can some uses move elsewhere?

  2. says:

    Despite the area looking clean, neat and tidy it is evident that the area is restricted. The seating position has attempted to consider staff may collaborate in the area, however, walls, pillars and doors most certainly have made it difficult to create a flexible area.

  3. Shannon Campbell says:

    This sounds like a real challenge! The placement of the furniture is what really throws me off- it doesn’t allow for much collaboration (unless in small groups) and is not conducive to large meetings, as you were saying. What, then, was its original purpose?! It looks like they are several large benches instead of small individual chairs, which would have been nicer because there would be more opportunity to move the furniture around the room.
    At any rate, moving the benches in the middle seems like a must. I can’t tell from the picture, but I hope there is enough space to do so! And this task is something that can be mentioned at a staff meeting sometime, asking the staff to think of some ideas with how to rearrange the space and bring them to the next meeting, or asking them to collaborate quickly on the spot with surrounding people!
    Great design brief Meghan!

  4. Sharon Hanson says:

    A well thought out response to your design problem. Common staff rooms are always fraught with design issues. Have any of the staff given you feedback on your issues?

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