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five steps to creating a great learning environment.

Here's some helpful tips to make effective changes in the classroom - from educators in the know. At Furnware we love working with schools to create inspiring learning environments that deliver now and into the future. To achieve this, it's important we understand the exciting learning possibilities currently taking place in classrooms around the world.

If you're thinking about adapting your classroom to a more dynamic and innovative learning space, here's some really useful, practical advice from teachers we've had the pleasure of collaborating with.

Step 1 - Speak the same language.

There are various terminologies associated with creating a flexible learning environment and it’s important everyone knows what they are – starting with the teachers. An ILE or flipped classroom has unique meanings to each specific school, so until everyone agrees on what each term means, it shouldn’t be shared with students and their parents. It’s important to be on the same page at the start and really define your terms to ensure immediate understanding and engagement.

Let your Learning Practice guide your design.

Step 2 –  Practice makes perfect.

When changing to a flexible learning environment, it’s important to think about how the Learning Practice fits into the physical space. This guides the design and how it's to be used, not the other way round. The environment should support and promote the learning practices.

Step 3  –  Factoring in success.      

Before making any decisions about your new learning environment, it’s important there’s a mutual understanding of the goals and successes associated with the space. Much like children who need to understand their success factors in order to achieve the next level, all stakeholders need to agree on the fundamental elements to create a space that supports active and collaborative learning. 

Step 4  –  Space: The final frontier…  

The primeval metaphors of the campfire, watering hole and the cave from David Thornburg’s Campfires in Cyberspace are terminologies often thrown around when thinking of designing flexible learning environments. In theory, they're fairly self-explanatory but can often lead to confusion when applied practically to your physical spaces. Refer to the panel below for ideas about what to consider when creating these key spaces to meet the needs of your individual learners.

Don't forget to reflect how the process is going but also celebrate the successes.

Step 5 – Reflect and Review

Along your exciting journey, it’s important to stop and review how things are going – a race to the finish line could mean you're missing out on invaluable reflection and review time.

Are you meeting the success factors agreed on in Step 3? Are your stakeholders happy, or is there room to improve and fine-tune? Remember, it’s an ongoing process, but don’t forget to celebrate success along the way and take time to appreciate all you’ve achieved.

Spaces to suit the task:

  • A space for buddies to work in pairs.
  • A space to collaborate in groups of three/four.
  • A space for larger group collaboration eg. brainstorming or wider discussion.
  • A space to work alone.
  • A presentation space for small, medium and large groups.
  • Display spaces, TV screens, projectors, wall displays, writeable walls or table tops.

Spaces to suit the learner:

  • A nook or cranny with few distractions.
  • A high space which affords an overview of a room.
  • Low surfaces such as kneeler tables or floor cushions.
  • Reclining spaces, high levels of comfort.
  • Standard table task areas with emphasis on ergonomics and comfort.

Checklist - Do's and Don'ts.


  • Put pedagogy first – think about the educational benefit of each new learning space and how it will be used.
  • Collaborate and communicate with all the teachers working on the vision to ensure effective change.
  • Agree on the terms that you want to associate with your space: collaborative versus co-operative planning, flipped classrooms, MLE/ILE, digital collaborative environments etc. Once everyone is on the same page with the terminology, it makes it easier to share with stakeholders.
  • Ensure you have a robust change cycle system in place, such as a coaching and mentoring culture.
  • Know your success criteria.
  • Engage your stakeholders in the process.
  • Evaluate your practice.


  • Use new furniture as treats or rewards.
  • Label spaces with name tags.
  • Be put off by difficult learning experiences – change is never easy.
  • Shortcut the process, worthwhile things take time.

Backing things up with a bit of research

Work with children not to run from wrong answers.


Carol Dweck’s TED Talk The power of yet is an interesting presentation around using the phrases “yet” or “not yet” -  in regards to children not running from wrong answers but rather engaging with the process.

Change management

John Hattie’s Mind Frames study into the efficacy of different factors on education outcomes allows teachers to evaluate the impact they’re having in the classroom and how successful they are. The mind frames can also be used as part of an ongoing coaching and mentoring programme to increase classroom effectiveness.

Daniel Kim’s Levels of Perspective gives great understanding around maximizing leverage - by developing key mental models for leaders that play a vital role in the realisation of the school’s vision and goals. Simply adding in new furniture, without addressing the fundamental reason for the furniture, is unlikely to graduate beyond Events to become Patterns of Behaviour or Systems and Structures.


Huge thanks to our contributors:

Ro Hill (Deputy Principal, Parkvale School)

Tamla Smith (Deputy Principal, Mahora Primary School)

Patrice O’Connor (Deputy Principal, Te Mata Primary School)


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