Shortage of space is a huge challenge in many schools.
- Many secretaries have tiny cubby-holes for offices, and yet still their teaching colleagues act as if the school office is a handy all-staff working space.
- Many teachers have no workspace apart from their classroom – no office or dedicated work station where they can leave work laid out.
- At secondary level and above, many teachers and lecturers can’t set out their teaching equipment for more than a lesson or two. Like the students, they play ‘seek my next space’ around the campus, sometimes many times a day. Therefore they’re always carrying the tools of their trade. For non-teaching tasks they usually have somewhere they can call their own space, but for many it’s a cubby-hole on the wall for their things, and a shared bench space in a crowded workroom off a noisy staffroom.
- A rural teaching principal shares space with the secretary, sick children, and the rest of the staff. Not only does this one room masquerade as his office and the school office, but it’s also the sick bay and the staff room.
And here’s a situation that did improve – eventually. A small country school gained a new and dynamic principal. Before they could turn around, the roll went crazy: children began to enrol from the nearest town about 20 kilometres away. At first they used the empty teacher’s house next door as a classroom. (The new principal already lived in the region). That got too crowded. They squeezed 38 children with one teacher into the school library – and then couldn’t fit in any more. Finally they had to hire a marquee – and counted their blessings that it was summer! This hit the front pages of the media and embarrassed the Ministry into action. (You’ll know their policy of ‘wait and see’ before they action an increased roll).Rather belatedly, a couple of relocatable buildings finally arrived.
A couple of years later, the Ministry building programme eventually caught up. Until then, the space issues created huge challenges at all levels of the school.
Not only is space an issue in many schools, but some educational workers face bigger problems – they can’t persuade their schools to provide the gear they need. ‘My teachers would establish a good filing system if only they could convince the school to buy them a filing cabinet!’said Alison Smith, lecturer in educational management.
Of course some schools are so strapped for cash that they really struggle to get the right equipment, but putting it off because the money’s needed elsewhere is false economy. Inefficient staff can’t use precious teaching time as effectively, and therefore the students suffer. Either they won’t have time to prepare as well, or they’ll use extra time that impacts on their family time (putting the teacher under pressure). Easy to see why good teachers leave. With better work conditions elsewhere, wouldn’t yoube tempted to move on?
Some practical solutions:
I was running a course for Miep Carstensen, Gisborne Education Resource Centre. At morning tea she asked: ‘Could you suggest some improvements for our work areas?’
(I encourage you to do the same with someone from outside your environment. Outsiders, especially those with an efficiency or systems mindset, notice in a flash the layout and poorly positioned equipment invisible to you.)
- A bookcase with files that her assistant Jenny often needed was shifted to the other side of the room, beside the doorway close to Jenny’s desk. Now she has two steps from her desk to fetch them instead of at least six and is less likely to interrupt Miep.
- They shifted a second phone – that saves Miep standing up to answer it.
- Miep moved her computer screen a little so she wasn’t facing the customers Jenny serves; she now has her back slightly to them. Benefit – less unnecessary interruptions. Miep’s still handy when extra help is needed, but by avoiding eye contact she’s not drawn into as many casual conversations. Over a week this saves her an enormous amount of time.
- Next we looked at their small order processing room. Extra shelves freed up work space – we often don’t see walls as storage space.
What extra space can you find? What can be suspended from walls or ceiling? Could you create a mezzanine or loft for seldom-used items? It doesn’t have to be expensive – use a kit-set pull-down ladder for access.
The following clutch of ideas might also help get your creative juices going.
- What space is under desks and tables?
- Are there unnecessary doors? Could you take one off?
- Knock walls out.
- Make a counter out of tote trays.
- Move the work bench off the floor onto the wall – use the wall space to suspend it and free up the floor space.
- To save people coming into your space is there a window you can install?
- Put a wardrobe across a whole wall if you can’t get built-in cupboards.
- Use flat screen computer monitors –and gain more desk space.
- Create structural barriers with a compactus – and it’s storage.