Better Learning Podcast: Evolution of Classroom Design with John Myers
Welcome to another episode of the Better Learning Podcast my name is Kevin Stoller host of the show and owner of K-12; we focus on creating better learning environments for schools, colleges and corporate learning areas.
I’m joined with me today John Myers who is the Director of Marketing and Training for Haskell Manufacturing and John I’ve known you for a while, welcome to the show.
It’s good to be here, thanks for inviting me.
So, I wanted to have you on here because we have had great conversations over the years about this topic and about how we can improve learning environments and you know candidly, you’ve been one of the people that’s really motivated me too as well that really dig and because it’s not about the furniture and that’s what I’ve always learned from my conversations with you.
Well thank you, I appreciate that; this has kind of been my experience.
Maybe a good thing is for the people who don’t know you, if you could just give a little bit of your kind of career track of how you got into this world and set the stage for us.
So, I started my career out as an Interior Designer; Commercial Interior Designer more over 30 years ago so it’s been a long while but I’ve always had an affinity for an appreciation for what space can do whether it’s your work environment, your home environment and over the years, I’ve just gained a lot of knowledge and appreciation for of the creative aspect of the influence of space.
And about 10 years ago, I started focusing more heavily on Educational Institutions and at that time more specifically higher education and I just really developed an affinity for what I could actually bring to the table. And I knew that I was on to something when I got a phone call one day from a person at University who said I was referred to you because I understand that you’re an expert at creating high impact learning spaces.
I never heard that term ‘High Impact’ before and I’m like, “Oh wow! Very privileged” and went on to work without person and creating some really unique spaces.
So, it’s been a real fun journey and I can’t see myself in the world of commercial interiors if you will; doing anything for the rest of my career other than focused on education space.
So how much of your time right now is on education? Is it a 100% on education or are you still kind of getting some of the commercial aspects as well?
No, it’s a 100% on education environment and as I mentioned when I started out, I was focused very much on the higher ED side of the education world and in the last 5 years I really started expanding at out into the K-12 and early education as well.
Kevin it’s amazing difference even in those two worlds; the needs, the functions and the challenges that those two subsets of the education marketplace can be very different. So, I’m very indebted in learning as much as I can and being a resource in both of those arenas. And some of that trickles back into corporate America and every now and then you know, I’m engaged to carry on a conversation about a commercial learning space or a training environment in corporate America but I really spend almost all of my time trying to be the best resource I can be for educators.
So, when I talk to people about this who maybe are not involved in the education market as much as we spend all our time and I kind of use the– I feel like 20% of schools have implemented in some strategy to improve it; already where they’re still about 80% that if you walk in, they still look pretty similar to the way they would have looked 50 years ago, well what’s your thoughts on that?
I wish I had a good grasp of the percentages but we know that in fact I was in a national trade show last week and ran into a good friend of mine in the company that he works for still makes what I’ll call your commodity mainstream classroom furniture and she was sharing with me just how their business is very strong, there are there are many classrooms delivering every day of the week your traditional classroom furniture.
So, there are a lot of schools that we haven’t even begun to venture into the conversation around College 21st century learning, next generation learning environments or student centered learning spaces which I think for guys like you and me because we’ve focused on this as a career, there’s tremendous opportunity to serve and help and work with a lot of schools that are down the road that are going to be looking to somebody that can help them through this process and there is a lot of opportunity for schools to tap into the great understanding and research analysis out there.
A lot of schools that can afford to do it; just haven’t found the right key for the organization to do it and I guess what frustrates me; there’s one frustration about what we do, is oftentimes a school gets money that they can spend once in 30 years and they’re spending it on the way they spent it 10 years ago or 20 years ago.
And my number one message to every school that’s getting ready to make a purchase is, take a day at least– just stop and interrupt your thinking if you make sure that you’re making a very bask long term investment in your physical space.
And that’s a great point because I mean that’s definitely what we see as well it’s the frustration of the ones where you be like it is; I was talking about you are setting this up for the next probably 2-3-4 generations of students in that area and the decisions you make now; it’s sometimes easier just to kind of the status quo and say, “This is the way we’ve always done it” but it has such an impact on that end.
I’ve never thought of it from I think of it in terms of years, I’ve never put it in the context of generationally what you’re doing. And I am completely empathetic with the challenges that schools face either from a purely budgetary point of view or just the constraints of their curriculum is not changed in the way they’re delivering their content hasn’t changed, you really have to have all the stakeholders in the school district in alignment with change for it to really happen in the right way.
And that’s a big task and I try not to have a negative view when a school buys the standard product they’ve been buying for the last 30 years because I recognize all the challenges around that. I just try to position myself as, look if you’re interested in what’s happening in schools today; there’s a tremendous amount of information resources and really capable people to help guide you through that conversation.
I’m hoping that when I come to the end of my career, I have been one of those people that’s been able to challenge schools to think about their physical space and how it can have a tremendous, really tremendous impact on student learning outcomes.
Well, let let’s visualize these for people because I think you do this as well as anyone in our industry of really helping people visualize what the difference is between kind of the traditional way where you have the teacher up front, straight road to what happens when we do get a more dynamic engaging active learning environment, what does that look like? How would how do you describe it and I’ll chime in as well and…
Feel free to interrupt me any time because what’s neat about our mutual experiences is that we’re walking down the same path; might be slightly different perspective but we’re challenged with the real impact that the right and correctly design space can have.
Now, I was thinking about this conversation before today and if I go back 8years-9years ago, in the 21st century classroom in the beginning of my real kind of Aha moments around this impact will be really based upon a chair. They do a chair what I call an active learning chair, could take the classroom out of a static row and column environment facing forward to a teacher, into a much more collaborative experience.
So, the kids just in a very simplistic way can go from watcher mode, to group work mode or collaborative mode whichever you want to use, it maybe in a discussion and back to lecture, all in one class room a very seamless transition.
And quite frankly, 8-9 years ago, that’s in some uniquely shaped tables were the only tools that we had to really begin that conversation with educators. Fast forward to today even now, it’s a completely different world in my experience with what I call ‘The hybrid classroom’ and the hybrid classroom is really what I’ve seen out in the marketplace products that we’re developing, products I see my competitors developing for that matter, lots of great companies out there are– there’s no one of 30 things in a classroom and that’s not a phrase I made up plagiarize that but no one– no 30 of one thing about how it is. No 30 of one thing, in other words we provide now multiple solutions that create multiple postures, multiple configurations, multiple comfort zones for students inside the classroom.
For example, you might have 10 active learning chairs, you might have 7-8-9 or 10 sit to stand units, some being back chairs, some soft seating, some configurable table and the students begin to have this ability to choose a comfortable posture.
Now, somewhere between a chair that moves and a hybrid classroom are many, many, many iterations; I reached this conclusion that there is not one right factor; there are so many influences that every school district, every educator has to I got to deal with to come to what serves their needs well. And as a manufacturer, versus a distributor or a design firm, we have this luxury of working across all of North America and you do too.
I mean I think you’re in your business you have to get that kind of luxury and what’s unique about that is, I can be in California talking to a school district and they have this really unique set of needs and I’m on an airplane in I’m in Boston Massachusetts later that week in a meeting with a completely different set of educators and a completely different set of needs and it’s truly fascinating how in that mix across North America, how different everybody’s perspectivism what creates a 21st century environment.
And so, we’re in constant struggle as a manufacturer to go, “Okay, how do we understand then design and then implement solutions that start to meet this broader set of needs that are inside the classroom environment?”
And that’s kind of– I feel really privileged that I get that bigger, broader perspective and as a national dealer, I think you get that too and you know and in your book is kind of an illustration of just the differences that people can’t comprehend.
And that I mean the way you explain it, that’s what I feel like really privileged as well to be able to have that perspective to be like, “Okay, we don’t have to just look at the districts next door to what they’re doing when we start looking at kind of this whole big R&D field of education of people that are trying things and we can learn from them”
We can learn what went wrong, what we would do different, the way you talk about this kind of those other options; I’ve heard people refer to as flexing but I mean I have always heard the term and I like that you’re with the student choice. They get to go into the environments and they are most comfortable learning in.
Well, here’s the thing, I’ve developed my conversation recently around the idea that technology is having an impact on the environment, your curriculum and pedagogy having an impact.
The physical space has an impact and now we have this whole idea of movement; what does your movement mean? What are the impacts of movement? That’s become just this new element, this new fascinating element in it is I begin studying out and learning how to realize there’s movement from a health perspective and that certainly something that’s an ancillary benefit to the learning environment, creating a better healthy environment by picking the kids up and moving.
But the powerful impact on brain science by standing for short period of time, that’s something we really didn’t have quite as much knowledge in the classroom 5-6-7-8 years ago. So, that’s informing us today, it’s informing Designers and Architects about the classroom environment.
And so that becomes a really neat aspect to the shifting design of the classroom and more recently, I’ve become interested in through interaction with the design firm out in California with the impact of students at risk and what it means to take it a child who has, childhood trauma or some adverse childhood experiences and then we put them inside a collaborative classroom and we expect them to have an immediate, “Oh that’s just going to set to that” and I didn’t understand or didn’t really know that there is this whole conversation now around “What does that mean?”
It’s kind of like corporate America we’ve– this was an interesting observation so that the commercial furniture industry had their national trade show last week in Chicago. And we have for the last well how many years now taken away panel systems in corporate America cope with the open of collaborative office environment and created this you know everything’s about collaboration, everything’s about the open office environment and yet at this year’s trade show there were no last and five major manufacturers maybe ten that are creating the conference room that are completely sealed with doors and air conditioning and right.
And so, we took away all the privacy in corporate America but now we have to then create this pod for people to go back into to have some level of privacy to concentrate and as we’re learning about the differences in personalities, I have a combination of– I’m actually an introvert which makes people laugh when I say that; I said but I like being up in front of people and talking to them but probably in group settings, I tend to be more of an introvert. How do introverted personalities deal with collaborative spaces?
Now, we’re beginning to understand what about children who are at risk, who can’t just immediately transition into a group work scenario? And so, this idea of creating not only physical spaces but creating products in furniture that allows students to heads down time to get that mind of brain body breaks that they need before they’re forced into sitting down with 5-6 other kids who immediately go into a collaborative experience, is a whole new fascinating area where it’s like, “Okay, what’s my responsibility as a manufacturer or our company’s responsibility to start thinking about the appropriateness of the products that we create and what do those look like and how do those function inside the classroom”?
So, there’s a lot of unique things going on our understanding of a students, our understanding of learning is accelerating with technology costs dropping and becoming more affordable and I want to cache that by saying, “I still know there’s a lot of schools where my best friend is a Counselor in a school where there are still I think—3:1 from a technology perspective and none of the kids can take it home and you know it breaks my heart”
But the challenges we do know that, “Okay, let’s fast forward 5 years from now, where will technology be? we’re all understanding of how kids learn in the physical environment be, how our understanding of collaborative work versus individual work could be”?
And then most importantly, the investment in the products that physically support all of that and the need for that to be able to change down the road.
I mean really, I say answer the question of like, “Who is really driving the innovation?” And I used to always say I felt like the college is driving innovation and I think the corporate and is pushing it down to K-12.
But I don’t think that’s the case anymore; I think there’s a kind of innovation in K-12 in and I feel like the corporate is actually really driving a lot of that and doing a lot more research and understanding that if they’re going to bring in the younger generations and even the differences between the millennial generation and the ones that are now graduating from college like the differences and those generations– I feel like also real are actually like really trying to actively figure out how to create the right environment for those groups and it is fascinating to know that the whole open concept is really kind of getting reversed here.
Did you go to the show ups?
I didn’t go, you were there?
Yeah absolutely, you know you think you know what’s going on in your own business and these pods, I don’t want to call them and these pods, rooms, the physical rooms with doors windows and ceiling built in, it’s all built in but everything comes in one space; everything from a 1 person to like maybe 4-6 person pod.
When you open the door, you go in, you close it– it’s like I was having a test with a friend of mine and he was outside and he was talking really loud like, “Can you hear me?” you can barely hear!
Again, we have these trends and these trends shape the way we do design furniture and create spaces and then we begin to realize, you know it’s not that trend?” and then we you know we go back and forth. So, I think the neat thing about the classroom environment and learning spaces is, we’re going through that right now. We’re gaining this experience over you know x-amount of years now about what we’ve done. And again, the first classrooms I started working on, I was just excited when somebody bought a bunch of chairs.
Just the introduction of a wheel or a caster how much of that?
And a chair that swiveled 360o which I still tell educators is one of the most powerful thing you can incorporate in your furniture. The belief of the student in a seated position to see every aspect of the room or to face whoever is talking is super powerful, very little saying right but very powerful.
Exactly, I mean yeah, I am willing to be able to see all you know I can utilize offline walls and the one that I was has just the whole idea of letting people make eye contacts with each other. I bet some either, there’s so much power in that where if you look at all the traditional stuff you know so hard to turn around the most you want when also speaking in kind of setting that habit for the rest of their lives.
Well, the last edge cases trade shows that we were at about 9months ago now, there were no less than four school districts that came through said, “We have eliminated teacher’s desk in the classroom, there is no front, it’s gone!” And now, I’m not suggesting that’s the right trend, and I’m not even remotely suggesting that but from an observational perspective, I have to secure that and go will you know why did you do that? And where’s the teacher stuff and the Teacher? And it just was a fascinating thing that you know there are attempts to embed the teacher in a classroom space where there’s no front anymore to the room completely changes everything about that classroom space and potentially, everything about the students experience in that space.
So, I find it fascinating the different pedagogy that school districts will have in an attempt to really improve the outcome of the students. I would have seen that I mean you’ve heard of such a thing where the Teachers don’t have desks at all?
I mean that’s one of the first things we talk about is you know typically our process is kind of like the way you describe this we started like, “How do people learn?” you know that some are more introverted and need that kind of like salutary time, others need more of the group or verbal you actually need to say it out loud; I really material to really sink in and then the ones you know you have the auditory so you can we start just and then the individual learners and then there’s the ones that actually detect there are the ones that is never going to get it until they just get their hands on and do it while they learn and they you know fail at first but then learn how to do it and if you start with our conversation, now it’s, “Okay, how do we create environments for all of these types of learners? Or maybe say for certain things like you know this is the subject only supports a couple different ways to learn” and you start looking at conceptually what that does and we start then looking at the concepts of the layout of the rooms and one of the first things I do; I’m going to get the I think what the teachers is that, in traditional classrooms, it’s anywhere from 15%-25% of square footage is dedicated to the Teacher and if you can open that up, then it really opens up the doors to a whole bunch of other things that you can do in that classroom.
You’re right, it is fascinating because well if the teacher don’t have that space, then what do you need to do you have to have a larger prep or areas where they are more like a shared or shared office where they can keep their personal items and have more like one-on-one conversation; we definitely have seen the idea of the Teachers are now moving serenely throughout a classroom and they may have like a mobile podium or something that has some of their stuff on a device that they can use that technology to use on screens. I mean it sounds like you’re saying similar things?
Yeah our new student sit-stand desk is being quickly adopted by Teachers as their primary desk as well. So, I see where Teachers got more of their content on digital device they need less storage you know to have something that I did just a ball that they can either sit down or stand up or roll around the room gives them a lot of flexibility now that’s a huge shift for a lot Teachers to go from having a big desk when you’re sitting out with students which again, is not a bad thing, I don’t think it is at all.
But creating an alternate solution or an alternate solution, an alternate option if you will, is certainly something that I think is of benefit if it’s there and so they if they choose. And when you mentioned the amount of square footage that you dedicated to the teaching area in places like California where I think it’s still 960sqf of the standard classroom of California somewhere in that range. And they have a lot of challenges you know shifting their pedagogy to meet some of these next generation learning concepts just because the physical spaces isn’t there and the standards have to start you know they go start thinking about you know changing the standards or changing something instead of building a potential space that might be outmoded 5 years from now.
I always asked a school district this, “Do you know where you’re going to be with your technology and your pedagogy 10 years from now?” and the answer is always “No”. Okay, why would you buy a solution that you’re going to have 10 years from now that has no ability to shift or change or adapt? Whatever that’s going to be and you know usually, I get that blank stare whenever I talk about that.
And I know that sounds selfish but I believe it’s true; I just really– it’s a shame to me when those dollars are spent and schools constantly giving you new dollars to spend on technology, a lot of schools, I shouldn’t say all but you know as well as I do they get a budget for a like few point, ask the last generation.
So, I try and stand in that gap of, “Don’t pull the trigger without knowing what you’re doing; at the same time, do something. Do something and think it through” One of the worst things I think a school can do today and what we make and sell chairs for them; it’s only a large order for chairs, it’s awful, awful, it’s exciting I can remember we celebrate.
And I’ve seen individuals in a school district say, “We’re going to buy a lot of those chairs” they haven’t really collaborated with their own team, their own Teachers, their Curriculum Directors to say, “Is that the right solution for everybody?” we should be thinking about you know four or five different solutions he would be focused on the shifting understanding, you know whether a steam or summer school?
You know we’re all different; whether it’s math or history or English, you know the challenges of every class is unique and specific. So hopefully as manufacturers, distributors and architects and designers out there, we’ll gain a really bigger understanding of what a good hybrid long term investment can be for a school district. May be to talk about and we’re trying to desperately trying to drive the cost out of our products to without losing functionality so that we can reach a broader audience as well not a big challenge and a big challenge.
So some anyway because a lot of our listeners they can either be teachers or administrators or us in the industry or as Parents, I’ve seen success kind of at all levels of I always say like, “All it takes is one person to drive that change” I mean what would you suggest like for someone who is like, “Okay, I get it, I totally want to do it by you know this so this like it’s moving a lot of things in other political aspects or funding aspects, what would you recommend to that someone who is like, “I want to make a difference; I’m going to get started.”
Well, I think number one is to engage the right stakeholders in the school district whatever the case might be. You might just have a small standalone private school versus somebody using a you know 40-50-60-100 school district. Whatever the case is, who are the stakeholders from a K-1 perspective, from a technology perspective and you know possibly even from a funding and dollars and cents perspective to say, “Okay, we need that team to begin developing a strategy” and you know the strategy they come up with, it might take them a couple years to implement it to the final.
Well, but having the right stakeholders number one and then number two, don’t look for the easy button, there isn’t one button you push and the furniture shows up in color and it’s crept. Engage professionals who have experience and ask them about their experience, ask what they know, ask them about the challenges they faced, ask them about the mistakes they’ve made, ask them about the successes they’ve had. Because the fan you want to do more than anything is engage people in this investment you might get to make only once in a long while; make sure you’ve got the right team outside of your own stakeholders who can support that process and who are they and how do they help you get there?
I’d like to think I’m one of those cards in that wheel that can honestly help people but as a manufacturer, we don’t have everything as well; I can’t supply 100% of the needs of a school district; so you’ve got to have a great distribution channel, you’ve got to have great manufacturers. If you’re building a school from scratch, obviously you have to have great architects and designers who also understand this category.
And there are some really wonderful talented people out there at all those different levels and when you build the right team, you’re going to have success.
So if somebody did want to reach out to you, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?
Sure, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ll send the show notes to you as well so people can see that there. I appreciate; it was good having a conversation with you and seeing some of the trends talking about— I think both of us are kind of on the same page.
I mean like whether we worry about it or not I think we we’re really passionate about wanting to see the next generation and all the kids have these opportunities to environments that makes their learning cells better
I’ve always valued that sensibility that you brought to the table as well and it’s not just about making a sale but it is because I always feel like when I think you’re the same way, if I get it done right with this team of educators, I’m able to take out experience in a very positive way talk about it next group of educators and that’s when and about educators is when it gets done right, you’ll love sharing their story and they love sharing those successes and it’s very different in corporate America and a little bit different and higher ED; it just a really wonderful experiential component to K-12 educators and I can probably say also on the higher ED side, if they want, when that success is done, when they’ve kind of figured out the DNA of their next generation learning environment, they love to share that if I can be part of that, if I can bring that success of that client onto the next client after a very unique thing in any world of business to do that; you don’t see that in corporate America. It’s not heard of for one business to share the best practices of their first products.
And so we get to do that and we’re part of that process and so, each time we hit a home run and it works, we’ve worked with the right team of educators and you know we put them in a great learning environment, we get it we’re going to share that and or we have the luxury of one I think we just did a classroom makeover contest and the school that won, they go on our website www.haskelloffice.com and you’ll see some videos on there, I think they’re up there now.
I’m just about we interviewed the kids, we talked to the Principal, we talked to the Teachers and you know there are very, very challenged school district they have no money for furniture and so this became a really big deal and you know just to see how impactful just some pieces of furniture have on Teacher and the kids, it’s pretty cool you know you know people in corporate America go, “I mean, I got a new chair, I got a new chair desk, that’s great” They don’t have the same level of excitement that’s probably a big kirk you and I get.
Sure and I know you get involved in like we need to or where we’ll where we feel like it doesn’t and when the furniture is delivered there, I mean right and it’s the whole impact then of like OK well it’s or any training or professional development and us going and learning from now because they were most of our education comes from was why you put it in there and then we find out they use it in a totally different way that we never even thought out that we can now share with the next school that are thinking about it.
By the way, it’s a great point where it you know he said what can a school district do for somebody do in the other side of that equation is, you create a professional development experience around in finding people like you or me who are part of the equation that are willing to come and talk to all of the team members once they get their furniture about how to use it in a way, there’s not a right way to use of that there’s a way to use it in the right way for each one of them, they can have the highest impact in their classroom.
And I’m shocked, I’m willing to do that a lot and very few people they just don’t take me up on it and that we’ll do that after you install the product; give us an opportunity or come in; we’ll talk to your Teachers about how to use it correctly. So, the moment you can do that, it’s just an amazing experience.
Very well, for the listeners out there, if you’re not already a subscriber to the show and you’re listening on the phone, go ahead and hit subscribe. If you are listening online and you can sign up for the email notifications for future episodes.
And I would ask that it any letters out there or that they have recommendations of who we should have on the show or different topics reach out make suggestions if you think you’d be a good guest, reach out as well and again my contact information and shows will be in the show notes here and John I really appreciate you being on the show, I mean not all of our conversations are or are about the topic you know like but I know most about here. So, I appreciate you being on and to this conversation.
My pleasure, thanks for having me, it’s been wonderful.
Well thanks everyone, for everyone who isn’t involved in education really appreciate what you do because what you’re doing does make an impact and we just want to help you be a part of that.