no teacher's desk please

"No teacher desks" is one of those highly effective trends that started from the ground up, in forward facing schools, and then was seen to work so well that it has spread to huge numbers of other schools worldwide.

The spread is so significant that, when entering a school today, no teacher desks would tell you that almost certainly the school will:

  • be working collaboratively,
  • have thought about engaging their children rather than simply containing them,
  • have some awareness of effective new learning practices elsewhere.

I wrote about this trend back in 2003 as a part of work we were doing for CABE and for RIBA on emerging trends in learning space design. We made a good Teachers TV programme about it too. Since then, of course, the trend has emerged and this re-worked page simply keeps track of some of the many reasons for that spread of practice.

The short version then, was that a single point of focus dimished pedagogic opportunities, reinforced Dick Turpin (Stand and Deliver) teaching, bored the children, was cognitively inefficient (because the diversity of context needed to cement memory and structure taxonomies of understanding was absent), offered a (literal) barrier to effective team teaching and collaboration, imposed an unnecessary inefficiency of movement around children's learning, added the inefficiency of a setting where some children are forced to be a long way from the teacher's input, and constituted a frighteningly large (usually around 20%) loss of the learning space available.

Today you would certainly add the loss of space for writeable surfaces, the inappropriateness of a single point of focus in technology rich learning, the very considerable difficulty of supporting Stage not Age, and more. Perhaps importantly the ready availability of small tiered seating provides a much better opportunity for a teacher to speak to the whole group, without the distant corners being disengaged by remoteness as they are from behind the teacher's desk.

Here are a few recent references and readings:
Firstly, some teacher comments - interesting by the way that several of these "thought about it first," having heard the idea, for some time!

1. A brave teacher, on her own initiative, takes away her own teacher's desk. She documents, illustrates and blogs about this very honestly, here (thanks Leslie)

2. A nice summary of some benefits from ditching the desk, posted on the Edutopia site. "Is this room designed for me or for my students?"...

3. Another very honest narrative on the Inspired Classroom website from Elizabeth Peterson

4. One teacher answers the question: "Is it time to get rid of the teacher's desk?", in this case the answer "yes" is from Stephanie - in Singapore

5. and one more "No More Teacher Desk" this time from the blog of Mr Arakaki, a middle school teacher

there is heaps more of this on-line, going back about a decade, but these offer a sample; various authorities and researchers offer a view too - from many, I just selected this:

Good colleague Prakash Nair has a vast track record of transforming learning spaces and places, and institutions, worldwide. Here in a recent blog post of "TEN ways to re-invent Your School for 21st Century Learning" he summarises some key guidance for moving a school forwardIncluding: " counter this, decentralize the classroom by eliminating the teacher desk at the front of the classroom..." and more. A good read.

And finally - what happens to preparation and to the handy resources that all teachers need...? Lots of solutions (see the reading above) but I've found two things particularly effective.

One is a teacher preparation space - with much glass and thus clear transparency / visibility - alongside the learning areas. In Mark Oliphant College (in South Australia), where I'm honoured to be Thinker in Residence, each large home base has a teacher prep space inside - glass all round, but a place to leave marking and confidential notes, etc.

Second is a teacher's-treasure-trolley, compact and on wheels - many schools either commision these, or they hack together / mash-up something from IKEA, or wherever. The point is the useful day-to-day things a teacher needs are to hand and mobile, for whereever in the room the teacher needs to be, without all the hand baggage of wrecking the learning by keeping them in the barrier of a fixed teacher-power-desk.

teacher trolley

I had no sooner posted this updated page than a string of social media messages came in confirming the many that had dumped- the-desks and were delighted with the results. In many cases they did it a long time ago - confirming that trend. Here is an indicative one from Facebook:

facebook confirmation of no teacher desk


I'll try to add some images to all this at sometime, but Pinterest has a host of good examples...

this page created by prof stephen heppell 16/06/03, in line with work for RIBA and CABE on current school design trends; last updated Thursday, April 21, 2016 3:08 PM