Innovation in Learning Study Group

East Coast: Communal Spaces

By: Melissa Fellows

Spaces have the power to influence people but people also have the power to influence spaces. After the first two days of our trip, I am banking on the latter. We have had the opportunity to see several extraordinary facilities alive with the hum of learning and filled with the promise of what’s to come. Structural changes to our building will take time. I am hopeful that we can use this time as an opportunity to experiment, shift mindsets, and push the envelope of possibility.


I was struck by a sign on the wall at the Harvard I Lab that said: “Communal spaces take communal effort.” The sign was located in open meeting and working space and was hinting at idea that everyone needed to clean up after themselves. I took the sign to heart and chose to think of our school as a communal space. How can we take the spark for student-driven exploration, authentic learning experiences, and desire to nurture student passion and come together as a community to fan the flames into something much bigger?

When visiting the Field School today, we asked a team of teachers if the new building has impacted the way that they teach and students learn. They told us that they collaborate more now and use technology more seamlessly to engage students. These are outcomes we can accomplish by shifting philosophies as well as physical spaces. How can we use our current spaces differently? Could schedule changes facilitate greater collaboration? Can we leverage the #ObserveMe movement to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones? I believe that digging deeply into questions like these is the communal effort that our communal space needs.