Currently Reading

Behind the whiteboard: Collaborative spaces set teachers up for classroom success

Education Facilities

Behind the whiteboard: Collaborative spaces set teachers up for classroom success

By Santiago Rivera | Gensler | June 25, 2018
teachers in a coLab
teachers in a coLab

Teachers spend countless hours creating an environment for students to thrive in. Students are not the only ones who benefit from a supportive school culture. As lifelong learners, teachers need spaces to develop too. The teachers at Grant Avenue School in New York recognized this, but with 464 students and a busy schedule, there was little space for opportunities to learn from each other. Fortunately, there was 500 square feet of underutilized space in an old science storage room. The room was transformed from storing books and science equipment to become an active hub where colleagues share ideas and experiences.

The transformation began when the not-for-profit organization Change for Kids connected with Hillmann Consulting and Gensler to create a place for the teachers to call their own. The organization was already working with the teachers to maintain a strong culture. The project was familiar territory for the design team. Through initiatives like EDU 2.0 and Community Impact, Gensler supports not-for-profit institutions with volunteer activities, pro-bono projects, mentorship, and other activities that give back to the community.

The teachers’ dedication was clear from the beginning when they shared their experience in a visioning session. Their mission is to create the best setting for their students—no matter the time and energy it takes. A community of empowered educators translates to inspired students in the classroom. Research shows motivation plays a critical role in guiding the direction and quality of learning behaviors in students. (How Learning Works, S. Ambrose). The space simultaneously benefits teachers and students.


Image © Gensler.


Known as the Teacher coLab, the rejuvenated space takes inspiration from academic incubators in higher education. The programming elements are just as applicable in an elementary school setting. Collaborative spaces like this help educators come together to share knowledge and enhance their skills. The multifunctional space facilitates think tanks, coworking areas, and acts as a forum for knowledge exchange between colleagues.


Image © Gensler.


The design supports teachers throughout their day in four zones. Each functions for a specific behavior in the program. The “Power Up” zone offers a pantry to connect around with colleagues. The “Collaborate” zone provides tables and writable surfaces for meetings and team-based learning. The “Focus” zone helps teachers reflect and have time to themselves. The “Unwind” zone is a living-room style space where teachers engage in thought-provoking conversations in a more relaxed environment.

It is important to combine school spirit and comfort in teacher-centered spaces. The space features bright accent colors and engaging brand elements to offer a respite from the loud corridors and busy classrooms. Today, Grant Avenue teachers power up before the first bell rings, exchange ideas with colleagues, complete lesson plans, and relax—all in one place.

Small interventions and dedicated programming better prepare schools to have a positive experience for both students and teachers. Designers may provide guidelines on how to use the room, but in the end, teachers make the space their own to bring new ideas back into the classroom.

More from Author

Gensler | Sep 4, 2020

The office building of the future should be an essential part of its community

When the dust settles, the office is going to look and feel like a different place than the one we left in March.

Gensler | May 12, 2020

Understanding the touchless workplace

In the workplace, digital solutions and platforms have eliminated some of the noise by improving guest check-in, conference room booking, company communications, wayfinding, food and beverage service, and more.

Gensler | Mar 27, 2020

Designing healthcare for surge capacity

We believe that part of the longer-term answer lies not just with traditional health providers, but in the potential of our cities and communities to adapt and change.

Gensler | Mar 18, 2020

We are in the midst of a paradigm shift for higher education

The question for higher education is, what will the university of the future look like?

Gensler | Mar 15, 2020

Designing office building lobbies to respond to the coronavirus

Touch-free design solutions and air purifiers can enhance workplace wellness.

Gensler | Mar 15, 2020

In the face of the coronavirus, workplace wellness is key

Here are a few considerations employers should keep in mind in creating plans for a healthy and effective work environment.

Gensler | Feb 11, 2020

Want your organization to be more creative? Embrace these 4 workplace strategies

Creativity is the secret sauce in the success of every business.

Gensler | Oct 17, 2019

Doubling down on our commitment to resilience

With hundreds of millions of square feet of buildings and interior design projects in the pipeline annually, we believe our impact and role in reducing energy demand is critical.

Gensler | Jul 15, 2019

Hospitals are moving into their communities

Below are five strategies to improve access and patient experience.

Gensler | May 20, 2019

How the Internet of Things will transform airport environments

Connected devices and their wealth of data have led to significant improvements in operational efficiency and passenger experience in airports.

More In Category

How open is too open for you office?

Our data reveal what is truly going on in the current workplace, with insights on how workplace design can deliver new value to organizations.

Magazine Subscription

Get our Newsletters

Each day, our editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.


Follow BD+C: