By Kelley Hundley, Diane Main, Karen McKelvey, John Miller


The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), the second largest district in California, serves nearly 132,000 students in pre-school through grade twelve. The district has an extremely diverse student population, representing more than fifteen ethnic groups and more than sixty languages and dialects. SDUSD has 107 traditional elementary schools, eleven K-8 schools, twenty-four traditional middle schools, twenty-eight high schools, forty-five charter schools, and thirteen atypical/ alternative schools that employ 6,600 teachers.

Over the past decade the district has undergone many changes, including some highly controversial policies in the area of school improvement. In an effort to improve student achievement, SDUSD recently adopted a different approach to professional development in its schools called Professional Learning Communities (PLC). This approach is also a growing trend in education throughout the United States.

Many types of PLCs can exist, but in the case of SDUSD, a PLC is a community of learners in which professionals (teachers, administrators, and all staff) at a school continuously collaborate and learn together in order to improve student achievement and solve problems. According to Hord in Professional Learning Communities: What are they and why are they important? the professional learning community is viewed “as a powerful staff development approach and a potent strategy for school change and improvement” (1997, p. 1). Teachers frequently work together to plan instruction, share their experiences and knowledge, observe each others' classrooms and provide feedback, review student data, and set measurable objectives for student achievement.

Implementing a PLC at any site requires many supportive measures. One of these measures includes having a physical space for professionals to meet on a regular basis (Hord & Rutherford, 1998). This design proposal for a Faculty Work Room arose to address this need and serves as a guide for all elementary schools within SDUSD. While this plan doesn't look at one school in particular within the SDUSD, it does keep one specific school in mind as a guideline for designing this work room. Curie Elementary (Curie) is located in University City, a suburb of San Diego. Curie was built in 1963. It currently serves 600 students in grades kindergarten though five. The school has four teachers in each of the lower grade levels (kindergarten-third) and three teachers at each of the upper grade levels, one principal, and ten classroom support/resource teachers. Curie serves as a prototype for faculty work rooms at other elementary school in the district.


It was important to consider the needs of all stakeholders in the design of this space-the district personnel, school administration, teachers, and other teaching professionals such as the resource specialists who would use this space. We began the design of this faculty work room by interviewing several teaching professionals via electronic mail and a blog. Also, Karen McKelvey, one of the design team members, serves as the subject matter expert since she teaches third grade at Curie Elementary.

We envisioned creating a space at Curie where professionals can collaborate, unwind, be creative, reflect, and be productive in one physically inviting space. While this space can accommodate whole staff meetings, it also provides a relaxed meeting space where staff can interact casually while getting a cup of coffee. A small work area adjacent to the larger space allows staff to run copies, laminate, cut, and collate papers. Network connectivity enables staff to check e-mail and access other online resources. A bank of computer terminals gives teachers a place other than their laptops to work on special projects. Comfortable, flexible seating arrangements abound for small grade level or committee meetings. The room includes a Promethean interactive smart board for whole group or small group use.

Currently, Curie does not have a suitable physical space where professionals can meet on a regular basis. Staff meetings take place in a vacant classroom originally designated for professional development, but which has since evolved into a classroom for supplemental science and art instruction. The room has several large rectangular tables and swivel-type office chairs. The room is dark, dirty, has poor ventilation, and is overflowing with classroom materials since there is inadequate storage. The furniture cannot be easily moved or reconfigured for small group work. Also, the room is too small to accommodate all thirty-five staff members. Bookshelves line the edges of the room and are filled with professional books and classroom resources. The bookshelves block the electrical outlets and staff members cannot plug in their laptops.

Staff meetings typically start with whole group activities and then require break-out sessions where grade levels move into small groups to work on projects. These group sessions typically occur in regular classrooms that aren't supportive of the type of collaborative work that needs to occurs in a PLC. The furniture is also fixed and often too small to accommodate adults comfortably.

Teachers currently do not have a space they can retreat to when their classrooms are in use. At Curie, the after-school daycare organization uses the teachers' lounge, rendering it unavailable for staff use. A small room off the current administrative office is designated as the teacher work room/lunch room, but once again, this room is too small and can only accommodate eight people. It is used by many people at the school including the Parent Teacher Association board members for meetings, and volunteer committee meetings.

Based on the above data and data gathered from additional teacher surveys (see Appendix A), we identified the following needs for the faculty work room:
  • A collaborative meeting space for whole staff meetings, grade level meetings, committee meetings and other small group meetings to discuss and plan things formally and informally
  • A space for individual planning work, for example a space where a classroom teacher can go to work (grade papers, plan lessons, review data, read) when his or her regular classroom is being used by others, such as for after-school activities and specialized content area instruction
  • An adults-only space, free of ambient noise, such as the noise from the playground
  • Several workstations to access e-mail and other online resources, and to review multimedia resources (i.e. videos) and tutorials, or work on projects on a large monitor
  • A place to do copying, laminating, chopping, collating, and other classroom material tasks that is separate but adjacent to the work room
  • A place to relax and drink a cup of coffee and get a snack
  • A comfortable home-like environment with lots of natural lighting, plants, and other features (such as an outdoor patio) to enhance physical well-being and productivity
  • A creative environment that provides privacy AND a sense of community
  • A communications hub to post written information, such as current objectives and motivational messages, for the members of the PLC


In designing our faculty work room we looked to integrate as many principles and formative ideas of modern learning theory into our environment. Our design merges the teacher's role as a professional, life-long learner with the transformative nature of establishing a professional learning community. Our goal was to design a space that offered educators a place for individual reflection, creative inspiration, and collaborative learning. We also wanted to provide areas for both formal and informal meetings with colleagues, visiting educators and community members, and parent organizations.
After reviewing our needs assessment and reading the requests from educators contacted for this proposal, we have created a space located within a larger staff building, that incorporates several key elements of good learning space design:
  • Flexibility - our space, and the technology within, provide multiple opportunities for the arrangement of meeting and learning areas
  • Sustainability - the design promotes satisfaction and comfort and generates pride amongst users
  • Integration of formal and informal spaces - both types are available
  • Connections - the open space promotes and encourages spontaneous connections with colleagues
  • "Memory Spaces" - easily reconfigurable learning areas
  • Accessibility - the design promotes after hours use and eLearning opportunities
  • Engagement - the various areas support direct engagement between educators through rich media (high bandwidth) interaction
  • Clean and Coherent - a comfortable learning environment with familiar touches of home
  • Energizing - natural lighting, green plants for air filtration, a water feature, and natural ventilation through high windows keeps the environment fresh
  • Textures and Materials - using numerous materials, textures, and neutral colors provides visual stimulus

We recommend creating four spaces within a space. Each space may overlap into other spaces and users will create new spaces as this design evolves and adapts to emerging technologies and new pedagogies.

Collaboration is the linchpin to the success of a professional learning community and our design affords numerous and customizable spaces. The open floor design and high ceilings promote engagement. Walking into the room from either entrance, users will see colleagues involved in various activities. We sought to create a space where staff could hold their weekly meetings and then breakout into small groups for grade-level or subject area activities.

The room can be configured to host 35 people in the central zone. Afterwards, with chairs returned to breakout locations, six groups can meet and collaborate throughout the space. Mobile storage cabinets, outfitted with acoustic fabric accents, can be moved into positions around the room to provide quiet spaces as needed.
Large work tables are available for each group. Electric guided track lighting will provided illumination, if needed. The large table in the central staff meeting area can be divided into three sections to create smaller groups. That section has a Promethean board with a built-in projection system and speakers. Two WiFi networks will be available to ensure high speed connectivity for laptop/portable device users.

Another space offers less formal opportunities for collaboration. Located near the mobile storage units, this area is equipped with a white board and a portable Huddleboard. The acoustic fabric on the cabinets can be used to post notes, information, and share posters.

Three computer workstations are available for use by staff at anytime. The design places emphasis on collaboration between pairs, but small group technology training was another consideration. A second Promethean board set-up is also located in this space. The board will have a video conference quality camera located on top of it to encourage teleconferencing. This will also be a space to complete distance education courses and other eLearning opportunities after the regular school day.

The next challenge was to design an area for creative endeavors. This area is located next to the staff meeting area and its principle feature are its atrium windows. They are louvered at the top to allow for cross ventilation in consort with the high windows across the room. The will also allow a tremendous amount of natural light to enter the entire space and can be shaded if needed. The natural light and comfortable climate will benefit the room's users as well as the numerous plants and small trees found around the room.

Within this area we have created two semi-private spaces that can support up to four people each. A large table is used to unite two pairs of chairs. The individual chairs can be set up in any design to support creative exchanges, mind-mapping exercises, and artistic reflection.

A water feature is located near this area that will emit soothing sounds of cascading water. We see this creative space as an area where users might bring a cup of coffee or favorite beverage and a snack and reflect on the day's activity or, perhaps, connect informally with a colleague.

Too much open space can lead to a loss of privacy. We wanted to design an area that could be used for a private group meeting, or for a more formal presentation or interview. We've decided to modify a common boardroom design, but needed it to fit into the open space design as well.

The exterior has a glass double-door at the entrance and is surrounded on two sides with paneled walls made of acoustic fabric for sound-proofing. The panels are placed between wooden posts and are supported by iron lattice-work that give the illusion of suspension. This provides acoustic dampening of the machine room noise, a better flow of air, and users on both sides of the walls will be able to utilize it for posting information.

This room has a 52 inch LCD television monitor with a home theater sound system. The wall mounted monitor has available connections for laptops and other technology integration. High windows allow for a great deal of natural light and additional track lighting is in place. A second Huddleboard is available and this room also contains a podium. The conference table is a sectional table and can be divided into four smaller tables for more versatility.

Finally, the copy machine space is set off from the main room and is located behind the server room. Two copy machines, four large storage cabinets, two large tables, a butcher paper rack, and a paper cutter can be found here. Although a necessity, it was felt that the noise, smell, and general commotion associated with a copy room did not reflect the goals associated with this project. The room is designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. Bright, overhead fixtures, carpeting, and acoustical fabric walls are featured here.


Table 1
Audio/Visual Components of the Faculty Work Room
52 in. Sony Bravia television monitor
Supports Internet video reception. Used in the private meeting room and cabled to support screen sharing and various multimedia applications.
Bose Cinematic II Home Theater System
Used in conjunction with the above television monitor to support high quality audio.
Portable and stored in the private conference room, but available for use elsewhere in the associated learning spaces.
Promethean ActivBoard 2
One is to be used within the computer area to support lesson planning and interactive learning and collaboration amongst staff members. The second board is mounted on the wall in the central meeting area and is available for large staff meetings or for smaller group meetings.
Elmo P10 document cameras Picture_14.png
Two document cameras are stored in the mobile cabinets and can be used with the Promethean board projectors as needed.
Sony EVI -HD1 Camera
One HD video camera will be mounted on the Promethean board within the computer area to support video conferencing.
ClearOne Chat 150 Microphone
Conference room style microphone to be used primarily for video conferencing, but is also portable and can be connected to a faculty member's laptop in other areas where whole group communication is needed.
Small Podium
Small podium for private meeting space. Contains it's own PA system.

Table 2
Lighting and Acoustic Components of the Faculty Work Room
Smart Track Lighting System
Used throughout the entire space. This lighting system is programable and supports multiple configurations.
Acoustic fabric will be used on wall panels and tiles to minimize noise from different areas of the room as well as from the copy center.
Atrium windows to be used to allow natural light to fill the creative space and provide sunlight for plants and trees.

Furniture Elements

The private meeting space will be furnished with a table that can seat the staff comfortably in chairs on wheels. The large meeting table shown below is made up of several smaller tables and it can be broken down so that the small groups discussion is also an option in this room. If a podium is needed, the room will have one similar to the one shown below. It is portable and contains its own PA system.

The collaboration space will feature the chairs shown below for quick discussions and collaborative work. For those users who require a bit more privacy, the floorplan shows an independent study nook that will house these study carrels along with mobile chairs.

Tables and chairs for the creative work space will invite quick group discussion or social activity in the creative space. Please notice the flexibility the design offers here for this room as well.

The faculty work room contains Migrations Square mobile chairs from Brayton International. These include a rotating set of casters on the bottom of each chair, enabling it to be turned and moved for easy re-arrangement. These also have retractable desk surfaces, perfect for laptops, notepads, or other items. Each chair has its own storage space where a user can put belongings and move them around easily when moving the chair. These chairs offer both durability and comfort. Users can quickly and easily arrange these chairs to all face one direction for a large-group meeting, and then re-arrange them into small groups or pairs by simply rotating and rolling the chairs to a new desired location within the room.

Table 3
Furniture Components for the Faculty Work Room
Large Meeting Table

Meeting room
To be used for private meeting space among faculty and staff. Formal agendas and messages from the district office and will be addressed in this space.
10 tables
40 chairs
Table and Chairs

Creative workspace furnishings
These furnishings encourage social activity and creative thinking. These tables and chairs invite small group discussions and a more relaxed atmosphere.
Individual Study Carrel

Study carrel

These fixtures are for those professionals that require a quick and quiet workspace to complete tasks, whether they be grading papers or checking their email via the internet.
Lounge Chair

Lounge chair for Creative Space
Found in the creative space because of their adaptability, these chairs can be moved around for breakout discussions that require note-taking of connectivity.
Migrations Square Mobile Chairs

Durable and comfortable seating. Features rotating set of casters on the bottom of each chair, retractable desk surfaces, below chair storage. Easily rearranged into many different configurations.

Migrations Square Mobile Chairs
(some features)


Interior wall panel (with sample posted notes)

Private Meeting Room Details

Faculty Work Room

General concept
The intention for the space here is to invite the staff to enjoy work. The rich colors, plush furniture, natural light, and adaptability will encourage teachers, paraprofessionals, and office staff to visit the space quite often, thereby encouraging more and more collaboration within its walls. Perhaps members of the staff will find it to be an escape from their classrooms. Current pedagogical research purports that students can learn a great deal, or perhaps even more, from peers in the classroom. This workspace is a model for such collaboration. If the staff welcomes and understands the purpose of the fresh design of the space, the theory can infiltrate to the classrooms as well. The teachers may try to imitate the design in their classrooms for the same effect.

Meeting Space/Staff meeting area
This space is designed for direct engagement. Presentations for staff meeting will be held here, so there will be enough furniture to accommodate potentially forty people at one time. There will be little need to change the setup as any collaboration or small group discussions will take place in the adjacent spaces. The room will be equipped with presentation tools such as a ceiling-mounted projector, a pull-down screen, wireless capabilities, and conveniently placed outlets. In the smaller group Meeting Space area, power is accessible in the center of the table for laptops. Also, staff can share information from their laptops on the screen by plugging into a mobile device located on the top of the table. The presentation walls located in both the Meeting Space and larger Collaborative Space will be accented with rich blue slate color to accentuate the presenter.

Machine Space
Here will be the machine/equipment users need to prepare lessons and deliverables such as copies and laminates. This room is not intended to be collaboration space or even a place to socialize, as it will be noisy. No other furniture will be in this space other than the machines and associated cabinetry. The color is to be neutral. As the blueprint shows, it is adjacent to the shared administrative offices and the creative space, but with sound-proofing fabric so as not to disturb thinking or collaboration close by.

Creative Space
This space is intended to foster spontaneous connections among users as its design imitates the home with comfortable work space. It will be equipped with comfortable, plush, and movable chairs and tables for an adaptable work environment. Users can form small groups for discussion or use one of the nooks for independent study. Fresh greenery will energize the space and invite users to it.

Collaboration Space
This area is an extension of the creative space and is also intended to be more square footage for breakout space from a larger staff meeting. There is more movable furniture here to form ever-changing small groups. However, the room has space with memory so that all furniture can be placed back in the same spot. It is an atrium-like environment that lets in natural light from a south-facing wall of windows. The flooring here is a natural hardwood. The floor offers not only a contrast of color from the openness the windows provide, but also helps control the temperature.


We will use a Google Form survey to gather information and reactions to the space when it is in place. We want to get feedback on a number of items:
  • How often do you use the faculty work room?
  • Do you use the new faculty work room more often than you previously used the faculty area(s) it replaced?
  • What is your favorite thing about the faculty work room?
  • What, if anything, would you change if you could?
  • Do you see other faculty members more/less/about the same as you did before this work room was put in place?

There would also be a rating-type question that asks staff members to rate various aspects of the faculty work room on a scale of 1 (deplorable) to 5 (fantastic). The features, areas, and functions of the work room would be evaluated using these types of questions.

Another area of special interest to us is success of trainings, meetings, and other formal gathering opportunities that occur in the new faculty work room. A part of the evaluations of all these sessions will ask how the session was different (better, worse, or not at all) because of its taking place in the faculty work room as opposed to the previous location(s) for such meetings, trainings, etc.

In addition, we will have a "graffiti space" that "decorates" an area of one wall. This will be a large traditional whiteboard with a variety of colored markers. We will invite people to leave each other notes and to leave general feedback about the faculty work room. The school administration will keep track of how often the board needs to be erased to start with a "clean slate," giving an indication of how much use the room is getting.

Click HERE to visit our slideshow presentation online.
Click HERE to listen to the archived recording of our presentation.


Andrew Milne Interview (2009). Learning Spaces: Design Matters. Retrived

Brown, M. B. (2003). Learning spaces: more than meets the eye. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 26(1), 14-17.

Hord, S. (1997). Professional learning communities: What are they and why are they important? Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL).

Hord, S., & Rutherford, W. L. (1998). Creating a professional learning community: Cottonwood Creek School. Issues about Change, 6(2), 1-8.

Johnson, C., and C Lomas. " Design of the Learning Space: Learning and Design Principles." Educause Review 40.4 (2005): 16-28. Web. 18 Jul 2010. <http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume40/DesignoftheLearningSpaceLearni/157984>.

Lackney, J. "33 Educational Design Principles for Schools and Community Learning Centers." School Design Studio. TypePad, 01 08 2007. Web. 18 Jul 2010. <http://schoolstudio.typepad.com/school_design_studio/33-educational-design-pri.html>.

Menko Johnson, Paul Benton, and Charity Longberger Interview (2009). Learning Spaces: Design Matters. Retrived http://sdsu2.wimba.com/index.html.pl?launcherlink=1&credential_2=&channel=_sdsu_s

Tom, J, K Voss, and C Scheetz. "The Space Is the Message: First Assessment of a Learning Studio." Educause Quarterly 31.2 (2008): n. pag. Web. 28 Jul 2010. <http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/EDUCAUSEQuarterlyMagazineVolum/TheSpaceIstheMessageFirstAsses/162874>.

Appendix A
Teacher Surveys

We asked teachers via e-mail to share their dreams for a faculty work room.

Here was our initial post:

Full disclosure alert: I am part of a team for a graduate school class, and we're designing a faculty work room (probably elementary school, but I am not sure yet) as a new "learning space" that takes advantage of what we're learning about how people learn and work together.

You're all teachers. What would your dream faculty work room look like? Furniture? Technology? Colors? Lighting? Amenities?

What do you (or would you) use the school's faculty work room for? How would this change if the design of the work area were different?

Here are some responses:

Cay ("Kai") said:
This is my IDEAL Faculty Work Room, a room with:

1) An espresso or tea machine such as a Keurig system
2) A craft corner with a Cricut machine, fabrics, craft papers, art materials, paint, etc. in an organized cabinet/drawer system
3) Bose speakers and an iPod dock
4) A lending library of novels and books
5) Clean, cozy eating area
6) Couch and table area with lamps and a cozy carpet
7) A technology center with the latest computer, printer, laminator, scanner, binding machine and four state-of-the-art copy machines with unlimited use
8) A check-out center for technology materials such as video camera, laptop, protable LCD projector system, digital camera, complete Microsoft and Adobe software use, etc.
9) An iJoy massage chair in a cozy corner
10) Bathrooms with multiple stalls

Marty said:
My thoughts pertain to a work room not a faculty lounge or hybrid lounge work area. My ideal work place, which we would use when we share our classroom space, would not have the copy machines in it and if there were grading devices like scantrons around, they would be in a separate area away from the main work places. Ideally, there would be a small area nearby, but not inside, that had the usual coffee, refrigerator, etc. that a lounge might have. The area should be equipped with WIFI that works well and has download speeds in the MB range even with multiple users. I would love to have an area with individual karels or desks where, if one wanted to do quiet, private work, it could be done. I'd also like to see some common areas, somewhat removed from the quiet zone, for group discussions or planning meetings. It would be nice if there was a space for professional journals or articles. I guess I'm describing our school library on a smaller scale. Come to think of it, that would be a pretty legit template.

Hong said:
I really like the lighting where I am working this summer. There is so much natural light coming in from the skylights. I was going to write about this in a later blog but as I was eating in the cafeteria on Monday I realized that there are real live trees and plants growing inside the building.

What kind of shape is the room? Rectangular or oval? I am not sure which would be better but from working in a cubicle again I really wish some people could make their private phone calls in private. That is, I don't want to hear what they are discussing. So some small offices or areas where people can make their private phone calls would be appreciated.

What kind of center piece for the room? Well, if we were aiming for some of kind community feel or the possibility of working together on common problems, some kind of mobile furniture so that different configurations can be made to fit what we are discussing or working on.

Of course a SmartBoard so we can record and not have to transcribe the work we do sometimes in the faculty room. Is this a futuristic room? Well, if the floor is magnetized and the furniture is too, how about saving some room configurations so that the room automatically can re-arrange itself at the beginning or end when a group comes in to their liking. Ever feel tired of moving those student desks at the end of a day.

How about those egg-shape chairs for a quick nap? Or, privacy to read a book? Or, maybe an auto-sanitizer type recliner that cleans off itself after you take a snooze.

Oh, yes, I forgot... two to three copy machines please!

Mary said:
1. The biggest ones are air conditioning (that works) and located close to the classroom.

2. Workroom should be separate from the staff lunch room - Most schools I have been at the “workroom” was in the staff lunch room. When a meeting or party was held in there you feel really awkward going in and making that needed copy.

3. It should have a door – so when we get loud or are talking about the administration, district, student or parent we will not be over heard.

4. Separate workrooms by grade level - Right now I am at a newer school so we have separate workrooms by grade level. This means that fifth and sixth-grade teachers share a workroom, 4th & 3rd are together, and 2nd& 1st. This to me is the ideal and maybe the wave of the future. Most schools have their resource materials in the media center or library. With the funding cuts we might not have these after next year. Where are we going to store these valuable resources without them “disappearing”? My school is actually thinking of boxing up the media center resources and putting them in storage. This is due to the last time we went through this, and the resulting loss of so many items.

5. It should be stocked – with pen, pencils, whiteout, staplers, paperclips, paper (the works)