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Will Schools be like WeWork?

Re-opening schools this fall is far more complicated than meets the eye. My best guess is that at some point many schools will try a hybrid approach – a balance of days in the classroom and days at home, which seems reasonable – for a while.

But will we ever go back to “old school” ways? Do we even need to? Or will the classroom design evolve to use space on a ‘as needed” basis? Just as many businesses have adopted the WeWork model to avoid unnecessary overhead and offer greater flexibility to employees, could schools follow suit? Are school learning spaces destined to become like WeWork? Will there be “touch down” and “huddle” spaces where there used to be classrooms? Are there examples from the business world that we can apply to this situation?

There are some interesting thoughts captured in this article…and I grabbed some themes that are relevant to the school conversation:

  • We need to create a stable and secure experience for students both mentally and physically. Obviously, this is the primary consideration, but the whole “experience” needs to be thought through with these items in mind. Is remote learning (or WFH) stable? Secure? How do we ensure it is and, just as important, that all stakeholders know it is? Social cohesion and inclusion are also a major concern here – mostly focused on the students. But what about the teachers, staff, and administrators? Senior school administrators are challenged here in the same way business managers are. And in a mostly remote environment this is even more difficult to achieve.

  • How do we ensure a school and life balance while ensuring individual purpose and contribution? We all know how important this one is! In an “in person” school setting the “balancing” is done via the schedule. Bells ring (do they still have those?) and you move. The last bell rings and you go home, or to practice, afterschool job, whatever. But as we all know from WFH experiences, it’s easy to get out of balance. This is where organizational values and purpose can have a big impact. How can the education system foster these amongst all its stakeholders?

  • One other great point raised in the article: Organizations can build on the trust they have earned during the spring of the Covid crisis. Big caveat – “if” they built trust during the crisis. Many schools struggled with online learning in the spring, and some students just flat out disappeared. Trust is a big issue – maybe the biggest after health.

One topic I haven’t seen covered much is the individual experience of the learner or the teacher. With the advent of Zoom/Teams we now have the ability monitor, measure and, hopefully, manage the student experience. These collaboration tools now allow us to gather tremendous amounts of data regarding student participation and perhaps, drive engagement – leading to a great learning experience. I think engagement leads to the results most people want, but how do we present this information for teachers and administrators in a way that they can use? What about privacy? What about the teacher's engagement experience? How do we leverage these systems and the data generated? Can they drive that as well?

The education system as a whole has a great opportunity to nail it as the schools get back to the business of educating. They can earn the trust of the community, students, and teachers by “reinventing” themselves in ways that possibly embrace some WeWork concepts. Hybrid work and school might have some advantages…less time in traffic or on a school bus anyone? Flexible workspaces might lengthen the lifespan of some of our aging schools. De-densifying might be a great thing long-run for education. Smaller classes, less emphasis on simply showing up, and more emphases on really being present can’t hurt. But this will take a shift in mindset and a willingness to embrace new ideas – on the part of all stakeholders. In the end, it’s about creating an educational “experience” for all parties.

WeWork concepts, if applied properly, might be great in education. And the free coffee might be welcomed by all the teachers!

Drop a line below to let us know how you and your kids/students are doing with the reopening. How is the experience so far? What are you liking and where are you struggling?


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