Space2Learn – a blog for teachers, by teachers

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Space2Learn is the joint idea and effort of Sean Bellamy and Mark Reid, two teachers who believe passionately in global citizenship education. This blog is a repository of ideas, stories, concepts, and solutions about the features and design elements of learning spaces in schools and communities around the world.

The drive behind Space2Learn emerged from a coffeehouse session at the 2017 Qudwa Global Teachers’ Forum. The session at Qudwa was part of a stream of forum-style discussions, each moderated by a teacher. The published topic for this discussion, “classroom design”, provided an interesting and conflicted means to start the conversation.

In a room set with rows of chairs, there was an observable and uncomfortable irony: talking about dynamic, modernized teaching and learning in a room arranged for a stand-and-deliver lecture. Adding to the conflict was the reality that several participants teach in community, outdoor, and unconventional spaces. As a group, we agreed to reframe the session away from ‘classrooms’ and toward the infinite number of spaces where teaching and learning takes place.

The key messages emerging from the session included:

  • recognition for Indigenous perspectives on place-based learning;
  • value for the learning space as a teaching tool; and
  • capacity for the learning to reflect supportive living spaces familiar to students.

A month has passed since Qudwa and this blog seeks to continue to the conversation. Space2Learn blog posts are written by educators who seek to share the stories of how they use their learning space in response to learning goals and challenges faced by both teacher and students. We hope you’ll consider contributing this effort to collect and share your perspective.

A Space to Learn, Live, and Love in Sierra Leone

Miriam Mason-Sesay, Contributing Author

Freetown, Sierra Leone

The conventional wisdom is that the best place for any child growing up is in their family.  In an ideal world, where that family is financially stable and the family has the wherewithal to care for the emotional, social and welfare needs and rights of a child, then this is clearly the case.  But, what about when the family is two or three adults who are surviving as subsistence farmers, palm wine tappers or fishermen who rarely see cash and are already trying to cope with a dozen or so more dependents?  Is adding another mouth at the table, another body needing clothing, shelter and healthcare really likely to result in a life that is truly best for the child?

Far too often in Sierra Leone, this results in a less than positive ‘men pikin’[1] situation where the child becomes cheap labour and is viewed as an additional burden to be treated with as little joy and love as one would expect a dependent burden to be treated with.

What about, if instead of a relationship of total dependence, a relationship of interest and kindness can be maintained by regular visits and interactions between the child and her/his relations?  What if the institution where the child lives, learns from the best of family life, to provide a secure home, a space where kindness, encouragement and love are the norm?  A place where the child is valued as a member of a community, learns about her or his rights and responsibilities? A place there the child can easily access their welfare rights as well as social and emotional support while maintaining a relationship of concern with actual family relations?

This is the environment that EducAid has endeavoured to create for its most vulnerable, young family members.  For many of our children, EducAid is a place to learn to live and love just as much as it is a place to learn maths and English.

How do we manage this in a resource-constrained context?  Our learning spaces are also our living spaces.  Our schools have to be flexible spaces that can be adapted for many uses.  Traditional classrooms have groups of around 30 students encased in four walls and at the end of the day, the room is locked up and unused until the next morning.  In EducAid, we need spaces that can be home to a great variety of activities: family meetings, lessons, after hours games, whole school debates, sleeping, eating and learning.

EducAid Lumley is a great case in point.  My mother in law’s vegetable patch was the only available space when, in 2005, EducAid was obliged to move out of the rented house we had been using up to that point.  The space was sufficient for one spacious room but not more.  When it was impossible so spread out, we went up.  Now, this unfinished building is learning space for over 500 young people during the day and living space for over 100 who do not have safe homes to go to where they can continue to study.  The girls stay on the top floor.  The boys are downstairs.  Smaller spaces have been carved out of the 2nd floor to create the ICT room at one end and a science lab at the other end.  To add space, we have windows that open completely, transforming the corridor / veranda along two walls doubling the lab’s size.

The blackboards that get used for small group explanations and demonstrations also double as cupboards where the live-in children keep their bag of clothes, their property and their sleeping mat and mosquito net.

After evening study, benches get packed together and mats placed across them to form a bed.  Tables are upturned on each other to facilitate the hanging of mosquito nets.  The electricity, which has been on for the previous 3 hours to make study time possible, is turned off.  Silence slowly comes as over one hundred youngsters get their beauty sleep.

I sometimes come in late and make my way through the tangles of sleeping teens and, too often for my liking, find groups who have woken each other up for additional study during the night – gaining an education in Sierra Leone is a life or death issue, determining who will flourish and who may too easily be marginalised forever.

Yes – our schools are schools, so they are learning spaces, but they are so much more than this too!

[1] ‘Men pikin’ translates as ‘minded child’ i.e. foster child and happens a lot where children are left when parents die or are incapable of providing for them.  It happens informally and with no supervision – it can work wonderfully sometimes but at others it can be severely abusive.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid’s work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans please go to 

If you are interested in supporting our work in any way, please to go:

Miriam Mason-Sesay trained as a teacher at Cambridge and taught in the UK for eight years before visiting Sierra Leone – at that time the poorest country in the world. She was moved to relocate there and open a school for vulnerable children: ex-combatants, orphans and child-mothers. EducAid Sierra Leone, her nonprofit, started with twenty children and now educates over 2,500 students across nine primary and secondary schools. Due to a high emphasis on equality the participation rate of girls in secondary school is double the Sierra Leone average. Miriam leads a teaching team of 150, two thirds of whom are past pupils. Miriam is a Varkey Teacher Ambassador and 2016 Global Teacher Prize finalist.  

A Space for Kindness at School and at Home

Nam Thanh Ngo, Contributing Author
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

After returning from Dubai, where I attended the 2018 Global Education & Skills Forum, I continue to think about the story heard from three students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Each shared their experiences surrounding the recent school shooting. As I heard these children recount the deaths of their friends and teachers, I could not hold back my tears. In Vietnam, we are fortunate that there has been no such attack on any school. School violence, however, is still the sadness of many people in my country. I was faced with the question of how I can end school violence. I drew the conclusion that only when human beings treat each other with kindness, empathy, and sympathy, can society enjoy sustained peace. Teachers must do more than simply talk with the students about these characteristics. So, I’ve engaged in celebrating and teaching kindness in my own learning space while launching a project focused on promoting acts, thoughts, and words of kindness in learning communities around the world.

The students’ school day begins with 15 minutes spent listening or watching stories of kindness. Some children became emotional as they recognize the power of kindness in these videos and stories. It is encouraging to listen as they share their thoughts in response. While most students have experienced lessons on kindness, it is not enough to be limited to thinking or talking about kind actions. Teachers, as I do each day, must expect our students to demonstrate kindness in their actions.

We take time as a community of students and teachers to identify and discuss acts of kindness at home, at school, and in the community: helping parents or friends, keeping a clean environment, or taking good care of oneself. This changes the concept of kindness into something students can understand and demonstrate. I challenge students to take concrete action to show kindness in different places, such as school, home, public places. This is a prime example of how the space to learn isn’t limited to school. Parents appreciate seeing photos of students’ kind acts and, in cooperation with the parents, kindness is becoming habit in their daily lives. This partnership is seeing nearly every student engaged in consistent, frequent acts of kindness. We celebrate this at school by posting photos of students’ kind actions (photo above).

The students I teach are 10 years old and enjoy moving around and being active as they learn. I’ve designed the learning space to have adequate room for students to interact and play as part of their learning. One game that we play is called “Love Words” (see photo right). Students place a piece of paper on their backs so other students can write positive and kind words. Students smile as they read and experience the kindness shown to them. It is a natural part of encouraging a supportive and kind community of learners.


Learning about kindness towards people and the environment is a fundamental aspect of teaching students lessons focused on the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is a joy to know that they are using these lessons in real life, both now and in the future. For example, one student took action to pursue SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. She spent her weekend traveling to a contaminated water supply in Vietnam to teach people how to use a filter water as well as reducing pollutants to keep the water cleaner.

The Everyday Kindness Project
  “I feel I am useful person.”
  “I understand parents’ hard work.”
  “I’m happy to help everyone.”
  “I’m proud of myself.”

These are the words of students who are participating in the Everyday Kindness Project, my strategy to scale up teaching and learning about real acts of kindness carried out by students. The project invites teachers to engage their learning spaces as a place to experience and envision kindness in the lives of students. In my experience, children have gained a heightened sense of awareness about their parents’ struggles, their parents’ concerns, and the concerns of others around them. Many have shown a change of interest away from isolating activities and screen time and toward spending time together with family and sharing responsibility for housework.

These are the great effects that the project had during 5 weeks. Students described how it felt to to see the smiles of their parents and to see their parents happy. More importantly, students described feeling more engaged with their family and discovered how they can contribute to life at home. I invite you to visit the project website and explore kindness connections between your students experiences at school and at home!

Nam Ngo Thanh works as primary school teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He is a Microsoft Learning Consultant and Varkey Teacher Ambassdor, having been a finalist for the 2018 Global Teacher Prize. He has authored multiple articles, and been nationally and internationally recognized for the implementation of creativity and the integration of technology into his teaching. Nam was also named Educator of the Year Asia 2017 and the winner of the 2018 Global Collaboration PLN Award.

A Space to Hack (but not in a bad way)

Mark Reid, Space2Learn Co-Editor
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

During years as a music teacher, I never lost sight of the fact that I would teach a student for the entirety of their high school experience. Unlike my colleagues in science, math, or social studies, I was the one-and-only band and choir teacher in the school. As some students take five years of social studies with a different teacher each year, the connection between music teacher and student-musician is quite long-term. The benefit of this is significant and frequently elicits the “with great power comes great responsibility” challenge – one I gladly accept. It is pretty encouraging, then, when these kids grow up and engage the leadership skills they’ve learned and mimic the community engagement we model. Having learned in a space that celebrated leadership, it is no wonder that students create meaningful spaces for others. Such is the power of education.

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of being a judge on a panel that would pick the winner of the 2018 edition of nwHacks, “Western Canada’s Largest Hackathon”. The invitation came from Jason Smith, a former student. He is easily described as a social motivator – his excitement about something is contagious and inspiring. What he and his peers on the organizing team may not have recognized is that this for-students-by-students learning experience established a space for participating university students to collaborate, improvise, innovate, and respond with a focus on making our world a better place. For a few examples, it is worth taking a look at the published list of winners. Despite the overwhelming currency of blockchain finance (pun intended), it is worth noting the many solutions to food security, accessibility, public safety, and education developed during this 24-hour work period.

I was impressed that this competitive space was free of dividers, barriers, or any form of isolating element. Intentional or not, the organizers sent a message that collaboration is critical to a better future. Mentors from sponsoring companies and institutions, including Google, Microsoft, Scotiabank, and Hootsuite roamed the room providing advice and making connections with the technology solutions that participants needed. Major League Hacking, a well-organized network of hackathons, brought equipment that participants could borrow. All this, in addition to coordinated meals and the occasional game, to make sure these hackers could sustain themselves through the entire 24-hour work period.

Photo courtesy nwHacks via Facebook

The whole experience reminded me of the three critical capacities that my good friend and edu-hero, Jelmer Evers, described to me as requirements for independent efficacy: tools, time, and trust. The organizers created a space that would facilitate engagement on multiple levels, recognizing both short-term needs and long-term possibilities.

It shouldn’t be lost that this event was organized by a group of individuals who are also full-time students. I can’t help but wonder what prior experiences informed their thinking as they developed such a highly-productive environment. How are teachers making the context of their choices known? This only reinforces the need for teachers to talk to our students about our own design processes. It is common practice to ask students to share their learning with teachers, but how do we make it more common for teachers to communicate how we design learning spaces, assessments, instructional experiences, and professional learning? I’d argue that this is how we inform a future generation of what it takes to make change, to empower, and to engage.

Mark Reid is a former Top 50 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, Varkey Teacher Ambassador, Qudwa Fellow, TeachSDGs Ambassador, and the 2013 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year. He specializes in facilitating dialogue that connects policy and practice. With a background in music education, Mark has experience in the classroom and as a provincial curriculum coordinator at the BC Ministry of Education.

A Social Justice Theatre in California

Estella Owoimaha-Church, Contributing Author

Los Angeles, California, USA

Editor’s Note: When it comes to learning empathy, learner diversity provides opportunity for students to share experiences and build relationships with a broad range of people. As much as high school “isn’t real life”, I’m confident that Estella’s students are coming very close to real lift as they share their learning space with an incredible diversity of peers–students whose identities and experiences include cis-male, cis-female, trans-male, gender non-conforming or non-binary, lesbian, gay, bi or pan sexual, English Language Learners, immigrants, naturalized citizens, biracial, multiethnic, Indian, black or African American, Native American, white, Lantino/a/x, catholic, baptist, jehovah’s witness, hindu, vision impairment, asthma, anxiety, interaction with the justice/correctional system, substance use, chronic absence, learning challenges, and emotional challenges. Please take a moment and re-read that list word for word as you start to peek through the curtain of this social justice-aware learning space.

The space in which I teach is home to the study of both theatre arts and English Language Arts. This post describes and illustrates several of the design elements I’ve crafted and employed in the space.

About Me Wall/Awards
I display family pictures and personal accolades. An entire wall behind my desk is covered with such items. I believe this helps make the kids feel at home and convey to them that I am at home with them. I also believe that, as a member and product of the same community they are from, sharing and displaying accolades helps to model success.

Theatre students have a board that features student leader photos, their vision, mission, pillars, their program notes, and other information about the theatre department. This board is important as it reminds young thespians of their responsibilities but also of their accomplishments. Students design/ed the theatre program and production calendar; seeing their vision on the wall is a daily reminder of their goals and their wins.

The room is covered with colorful posters. There is hardly any blank space on the walls. This is to stimulate students while in class. But also, most things on the walls are content related. This serves as nice reminders of important concepts while working. In addition, there are several positive affirmations on the walls. This is just to ensure students see something positive each day, regardless if they read the same poster daily.

SDG Wall
Theatre students designed a wall over the summer as a team. Since taking on several global projects, they have come up with a new phrase: “All the world’s a stage so act well your part.” This is a combination of the famous Shakespeare quote and their motto for the International Thespian Society. On this wall there is a large map, the universal declaration of human rights, and the SDG’s. These are great reference points for the students’ art in service projects which must feature an article from the UDHR or an SDG. It is also a visual way for students to catalog their global projects.  

There are at least 3 calendars around the room. This is to help keep students on track and mindful of important dates. This helps to promote self regulation and positive study habits.

Student Work
Students work is featured on a large bulletin board in the back of the room and along the whiteboard in the front of the room. This is a way to boost students’ confidence as well as model mastery of content.

Student Gifts
One of my favorite things to post around the room are student gifts. Whenever a student travels with family and brings back a trinket or writes a kind note, I make a special place for it in the room. I think there are more of these around the room than there are actual content related posters. To be honest, I just like showing these things off. If I had to think about it, I guess the rationale for doing so is to make kids feel at home and appreciated. Some of my favorite pieces are a hand painted turtle a student brought from Mexico for me and a hand drawn cell phone that a student tricked me into confiscating.

Student Talking Pieces
In our room lives a box of personal items students brought in from home. These items are used during share circles or restorative justice circles. If ever tensions are high and we need to talk, we gather in a circle and the sentiment behind each item is shared. Students are able to add to the talking piece box whenever they feel it’s necessary.

Senior Wall
On this wall, seniors share a master to do list and a collaborative vision board. The quote, “There is enough sunshine for everyone.” lives on this wall. Earlier this year, seniors worked together to create a single vision board that represented each of their aspirations. Every senior has their picture on the wall. This is a visual reminder of where we are all headed and a way to hold one another accountable for our goals.

Collaboration Pods
The room is broken into l shaped pods of four. This helps to facilitate collaboration and allows me to easily pull up a chair for small group instruction.

The Jar
On my desk lives a jar. Kids try to “get in the jar”. Whenever a student says something that is so hilarious, instruction stops and we all laugh, we write it down on a post-it with a timestamp and put in the jar. To be honest, some of them are probably not that funny; several of those you had to be there moments. But, in that moment, to us, it’s pure gold. One time a student was called soft. I can’t remember why that came about but her response was, “I’m not soft. I’m as hard as a raw noodle!” And the space exploded with laughter. It was an awesome moment and we saved it in our jar. If ever we need a laugh or a smile, we can go through the jar.

Department Rules
Our theatre department functions on a few basic rules. These are posted around the room as visual reminders:

  1. Good people before good actors and techs
  2. Don’t deny
  3. Watch each other’s backs
  4. Make each other look good

These remind thespians that our goal is never to be the star or celebrity. Our mission – as they have designed it – is to build community through quality performances and service. This requires we function as a strong ensemble; no egos and no divas allowed.

Community Contract
English students at the beginning of the year draft their own community contract based on the declaration of human rights. Students create a scroll and each person signs it. Then I transcribe and place in their syllabus. This living document is posted at the very front of the space. This provides students with buy-in on day one of the class and let’s them know that they have a great deal of power in this space; it’s their space, ultimately, and they should work hard to make the best of it.

All in all, pretty traditional, I’d say. For theatre–to be honest–we try to leave the room as much as possible to work. When theatre student move the room around, it disrupts the English students’ routines. Out of respect for them, if drama has a lot of play to do for the day, they will work in an open space that allows for circles.

Estella Owoimaha-Church holds Masters in Language Arts & Literacy and teaches theatre, empowering youth to use art as a service tool. She is passionate about arts advocacy and human rights education; training teachers in these pedagogues. She recently received the CTA GLBT Safety in Schools Grant. Estella, above all, believes in art as a transformative tool to heal communities, build bridges, engender empathy, and cultivate compassionate youth leaders. Estella was a Global Teacher Prize Finalist in 2017.

A Place for Global Citizens in Palestine

Fidaq Zaatar, Contributing Author
Al-Khansa Primary School
State of Palestine

The students I teach are first grade students, all 7 years of age and all female. They come to school despite the level of poverty they experience, the family and social problems they face, and/or the psychological pressures they suffer because of the political situation we live in. Despite all this, I consistently employ various methods that promote joy and hope and a more meaningful life. These methods include structured play, music, drama, active learning, storytelling, games, and dissemination of health and cultural awareness.

Our learning space is home to the common collection of subject area learning that students in Palestine experience. This includes Arabic, mathematics, science, national and civic education, religion, and sports education. Most of all, I teach them how to love life. Students learn how to achieve their hopes and are determined to challenge these dreams as active members of society.

I have implemented an initiative called “children of the day – future leaders” based on planting seeds essential to the students of the first grade who will grow to become global citizens.The flexibility of the learning space supports the teaching methods and learning strategies I teach. This supports cooperative learning, is encouraging critical thinking, and creative thinking. Tables with wheels, a large carpeted space, and natural light all contribute to the students affect toward the learning. This design element is critical to supporting resilient, independent learners.

This is a learning space that produces global citizens. These are students who are cultured and creative, responsible, collaborative, respectful of diversity, champions of justice and peace, are true to their values, and focused on knowledge and skills to make a better life. The design of our space includes opportunities for students to cultivate leadership, something they will someday use to contribute to society.


Fidaq Zaatar believes in the sanctity of education and the role of the teacher in building and developing the community, which drew her to work in the education profession. She started teaching in 2000, in a village in the eastern city of Nablus, working as a teacher for the second grade for five years. After that, she was transferred to Al-Khansa Elementary School for Girls. She has garnered many important achievements and recognitions during her career, including being named a Global Teacher Prize Finalist and a Qudwa Fellow.

A Science Lab Outside

Naomi Volain, Contributing Author

Los Angeles, California, USA

I’m a natural science teacher. The concept of Space2Learn really resonates for me as I wanted to go to space – as in outer space – to explore and learn. I applied to NASA’s Educator Astronaut Corps and was in the top 10% of finalists. While I didn’t get to go to space, I have made sure that students get outside of indoor classroom spaces into the local environment.

Space2Learn for my students has always been outside. Once they get outdoors, their eyes can open up to the world. I feel strongly that if we bring students outdoors they’ll become more keenly aware of the land, water, air and biodiversity that surrounds us. At that point their curiosity awakens and they more actively care about the Earth’s sustainability.

Placing their feet directly on the Earth makes them global students. The student’s learning space is the surrounding air conditions, what’s in the distance and close up, and in the space between students, as they observe and ask questions. All of this, however, has to be grounded with strong content, competency development, and rigorous expectations. Getting your students outside is fantastic, but you have to be highly organized to make it more than a walk in the park. Here’s a strategy to communicate to students and guide your outdoor education work…

  • Safety concerns/organization – so no one gets lost
  • Objective for the outdoor learning space lesson
  • Student tasks and outputs – students must produce something in writing, data collection, drawing, etc.
  • Reflection – what did it all mean, anyway? Why do we go to outside places to make meaning of our world?

High school science students learn outside. Why not learn science where the science naturally exists? Biology, botany, ecology, environmental science are just some of the topics to explore. I’m inspired to see students engaged in outdoor activities using the strategy above as the conduct cloud observations, tree measurements, biodiversity mapping, soil sampling, specimen collection and more.


Naomi Volain is a natural and life sciences high school teacher. Her hands-on, highly interactive classes focus on environmental literacy and outdoor education with curiosity and rigor. Her awards include the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science, Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators and 2015 Top 10 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize. Naomi is writing a webpage dedicated to plants as solutions to environmental change. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

A Discussion in Abu Dhabi

Mark Reid, Space2Learn Co-Editor

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

“Careful the words you say. Children will listen.” – Stephen Sondheim (from Into the Woods)

The Qudwa Forum in October brought together a number of wonderful diverse conversations in close proximity to one another. It was a really fulfilling experience examining elements of education systems from around the world. Amidst the progressive dialogue, the Coffeehouse Session on “Classroom Design” challenged the notion that classrooms are a universally present component of the learning experience of children. As I’ve previously written, we know this isn’t the case. One simply needed to ask participants if any of their teaching occurs in a space other than a classroom. The response was staggering. Responses included “a room in a brothel in Mumbai”, “in the open space in a village in Mozambique”, and “wherever we can find a place that day”. These are pretty powerful messages about the diverse realities for education worldwide.

Now that a summary of the coffeehouse session has been published, I thought I might provide further detail about the session’s content. I should also complete a partially-captured thought about architects and their role in designing schools. What is absent from the summary is the initial point about the title “Classroom Design” being assigned to the session. It was really inspiring to hear participants readily agree that our language would exclude the term ‘classroom’ to take a more inclusive approach.

The important expectation for the session was that participants must link a design element with a particular learning goal. Impressively but not unexpectedly, every response met this with agreement and participants offered quality perspectives. Mike Wamaya, for example, made his point through establishing a powerful paradigm that “the students are the school, not the structure”. João Couvaneiro described students arranging themselves for collaborative and supportive work by forming themselves in groups as if they were constellations.

The message that tied so many perspectives together was the idea that the value of a learning space is enhanced when it has a familiarity to it. If students can relate to the space, they are more likely to feel connected to both the space and the learning. Mirroring the community into any learning space isn’t a significant challenge, but does take some mindful effort from both students and teachers.

Before I end up with a stream of questions or criticisms about an architect’s role in designing a school, I’d ought to complete the thought that was captured in the summary. I was being sincere when I commented that an architect (alone) is poorly equipped to design a school. Traffic flow and acoustics are just two critical and procedural considerations for design of a school building or learning space. The intelligent design is found in pedagogical factors, the capacity for space to guide or encourage natural gathering places, foster collaboration and interaction, and maximize the learning space footprint. This means considering how learning seamlessly continues from within a building to beyond its walls.

I invite you to read the posted summary from the Qudwa Forum and engage colleagues in some conversation on this topic. It may require making some time to connect with colleagues and focus on this topic. Students see how we construct and value a place for them to learn. They watch and they listen to how we establish, relate to, and engage the learning space. I would challenge you, then, to invite students to be the architects of their own learning space design. This is an excellent way to democratize the learning experience, which I know will make Sean Bellamy proud!

Mark Reid is a former Top 50 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, Varkey Teacher Ambassador, Qudwa Fellow, TeachSDGs Ambassador, and the 2013 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year. He specializes in facilitating dialogue that connects policy and practice. With a background in music education, Mark has experience in the classroom and as a provincial curriculum coordinator at the BC Ministry of Education.

A Democratic Space in the UK

Sean Bellamy, Space2Learn Co-Editor

Sands School
Ashburton, Devon, United Kingdom

Learning, like healing, needs buildings within which it can happen successfully.

The Sands School welcomes children aged 10-17 from a range of social backgrounds and abilities, who have chosen to study in a Democratic School, but who often come to this space because they have high levels of anxiety, issues with self esteem or confidence. In this space, students learn psychology, ecology, and history, while experiencing the value of mentoring and group/team-building work.

I have always appreciated that the building has been controlling us as much as we have been controlling it. I believe that your learning space can be another teacher. And it can also be a place where a child can day dream and be lost in their imagination, be inspired and where they can heal. The space I’ve designed encourages a sense of homeliness, amity and excellence.


By luck and design, it is at a’ Human Scale’ and the rooms and dimensions of the building encourage the people within it to react at a human scale as well. Classes rarely get larger than fifteen children, but then the rooms can only accommodate that many comfortably. And those children, who founded the school with us, loved the small rooms and the friendly atmosphere they created. One can often walk into lessons where there is as few as five and occasionally just one pupil.

Visitors often comment that the school has the feeling of a small university; that the children behave with great independence and initiative. Maybe this is something one can more easily learn in a small school where the conventional enormous economies of scale, that create places that are both impersonal and frightening to children and disempowering for all, do not exist.

Individuals can influence small buildings; no one gets lost and the movement from classes is easy and natural.

This building defines us as a family of learners. The amity created by the scale of the property allows noise, smells, events and even moods to be commonly felt. Information moves around fluidly and the feeling of common ownership is made possible by the very size of the enterprise. We, students and teachers alike, all feel that we own it and we all therefore care more for it.

Sean Bellamy is a Top 50 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, the co-founder of Sands School, the Phoenix Education Trust, IDEC and an Ashoka Foundation Change Leader. I specialize in Human Scale and Democratic Education and work with the South Korean Ministry of Youth Health and Democratic School start ups.

An Auto Shop in Jamaica



racy-Ann Hall, Contributing Author
Jonathan Grant High School
Spanish Town, Jamaica

Automotive Technology deals with the knowledge of how motor vehicles function and how to repair vehicle parts and systems. Students also learn workshop safety, how to use various tools and equipment, and basic mechanical engineering.


Students enrolled in Automotive Technology range from age 14 to 17 and 95% of enrolled students are male. Many of these students struggle with basic reading and comprehension skills and face socioeconomic challenges.

The learning space is small, but manages to seat 30 students. Students are taught theory lessons in this area, with seats focused towards a white board. Practical lessons are done in the workshop.

Our workshop is small and our resources are limited, but we manage to get the work done. There is only one motor vehicle for the students to work on, so we take work from outside to fill in the experience gap. This provides students with real-life experiences and converts the learning space into a point of connection with the community.

The space has one computer and a projector but the remaining technologies are specific to teaching and learning about automotive parts and systems.

Students love our learning space despite the challenges and limitations. It is an important example of the community being reflected in school activity.

Tracy-Ann Hall received a Teaching Diploma in Automotive Technology from Vocational Training Development Institute and a B.A. in Human Resources Management from University Collage of the Caribbean. She currently teaches Automotive Technology at Jonathan Grant High School in Spanish Town, Jamaica. A strong advocate of hands-on, inquiry-based learning, she involves her students in a variety of community service, problem-solving, and technology-infused activities.