Creating Space for Change

Mar 16, 12 Creating Space for Change

Of course, my post is late…I swear I spent a lot of time thinking about just how I wanted to frame this very important imagination process. You will have to forgive me for the delay, I am currently in Vietnam on part of my four month Asia adventure and technically I wasn’t supposed to be working, but when I heard about this project there was no way I was going to miss out. So I am writing this blog poolside :)

What can we do for the education system in 2 years?

A whole lot!

I am always on the side of great imagination; trying and learning from mistakes than on the side of precaution and excuses. I know that the skeptism comes from somewhere and often the concerns are extremely valid, however I wonder how many things in the world were designed, invented, recreated or discovered by the cautious? I think 2 years is loads of time to try out all the great ideas that have already been generated here and all the ideas to follow. Of course each idea needs thought and collaborators, but together we are setting the movement forward.

I love the many ideas about classrooms without textbooks, re-examining the assessment structures, having coaches instead of lecturers, but mostly I am just excited to see the variety of ideas. Above all else I am ecstatic to see a variety of voices engaged in the conversation. I am not a certified teacher but a community educator, last year I started the Bad Kids Collective as a way to make space for discussion about the education system beyond teachers and the Ministry of Education to the community, the students, and the parents!

Now, to my actual proposed idea. Creating space for change. This space takes on many forms, it starts with allowing space for the voices, many opinions and vantage points – the time and energy it takes to actually welcome these voices can be trying, but it NEEDS to happen. And then there is the physical space, I wrote a blog a while ago called, Breaking Down School Walls, which talks about my feelings as an “outsider” walking into a public school. Schools are a place for curiosity, daily adventures, getting into trouble and learning from your mistakes; it is a place to keep you safe as you grow and change. What does that safety look like? Does it actually feel safe to students? To parents? To community members?

I propose taking a hard look at the learning environment we are creating. I know I don’t learn well in spaces where I feel confined, like I am constantly being watched, or where my voice is the least heard. I imagine schools where you can choose where you learn to address different learning styles, where classrooms are mixed by interests, vibrancy of learning is radiating from everyone in the place and the ideas are the writing on the walls.

I know there are at least a few people reading this cringing, hopefully a few who are intrigued and even more so who would want to join me on this adventure. I look forward to hearing ALL the points of view and even more so to actually prototyping it.

Talk soon,


About Jennifer Chan

I am the founder of Exhibit Change and Chief Bad Kid of the Bad Kids Collective. I am a student of life and a provocative misfit looking to better communities and systems through design thinking and participatory leadership. This means facilitating user centered conversations, prototyping the impossible and creating space for imagination.


  1. I think your ideas are awesome! I would definitely fit into your “bad kids collective”, but somehow managed to jump through enough hoops to find my way into the teaching profession! I have always been sensitive to the underlying messages sent to students, teachers, visitors by the structure and design of schools. There’s nothing like stimulating creativity, and thinking than off-white cinder block walls. I think a major problem is that people have an idea in their heads of what a school is “supposed” to look and feel like. I doubt there are many K-8 classrooms of individual desks in rows, but you wouldn’t know it by watching any television show or movie made in the last 20 years! The “symbol” of the 1950’s (?) school is so deeply ingrained in the psyche of North Americans, that even people who never experienced that type of schooling are “used” to it.

    It feels “right” to see a sign ordering visitors to “report to the office”. Why do school waiting areas “feel” like other waiting areas? There are no magazines, no plants, no water/coffee machines, no couches, no welcome signs. Basically, they are designed to tell visitors, “GO AWAY!”

    The school “fortress” design allows only the most determined people to storm its walls. These people are usually coming to the school for reasons that are not positive. They have an issue with a teacher, or the Principal, or their child is in trouble. This means that every person that walks into the school is treated with mistrust and unfriendliness by the staff. “Hey! Welcome to our school. You must be miserable to be here! How can I help you?”

    I don’t know if a design “makeover” would be able to signifcantly alter the paranoia most educators have regarding the “general public”, but it would be a good step.

    • you are welcome to be part of the bad kids collective!!!!

      While I was in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but notice the schools in the rural villages. The students are sitting in rows, facing the chalkboard and they all wear uniforms. And all I can think is, as long as we think of of our schools as fortresses, bells ringing and teacher led learning, so will they.

      This year, I am hoping to test the theory that participating in a design makeover in a school will in fact change the paranoia and the stale images of what schools are “supposed” to look like and move towards vibrant cultural hubs that are welcoming to the community surrounding them and if a few coffee machines and plants are going to start us off, then so be it!

      I welcome anyone who is interested in joining me to email me:

      Neil, I hope that when I am back in Toronto, we can talk more in person.


  2. Jenn, thanks for sharing your passion for renewed spaces–physical, intellectual and emotional spaces. It’s all important and your perspective as someone who stands outside the official schoolhouse will help us to keep in mind the ideas that we started to nurture a few years ago: the idea of the learning community, with an emphasis on community.

    Interesting that you start your participation here by talking about creating space. And it’s also interesting that Neil has jumped in with his insights. There’s connective tissue here in the person of Patrick Tucker, who has just received a cash award to implement some specific ideas he has developed around school entrances. Perhaps Patrick can provide us with some insights as to how his work is proceeding.

    On Neil’s comments: Interesting that you bring up the portrayal of classrooms in the media. I was listening to an episode of Glee last night. That means that I was working away while my wife was watching a PVR’d episode. At the change of every major scene there was a schoolbell. I thought about how this has also become a universal symbol of traditional schooling. When the bell rings, we all know what that means!

    Lot to talk about in your post! Let’s keep this thread going.

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