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How being a lifelong learner helps you design great schools

June 27, 2016

By Laura Flannery Sachtleben

Creating a culture of learning through a Research and Benchmarking program helps foster expertise in educational design firm-wide

The world around us is changing and becoming more complex, and in response, so are the needs of our learning environments. Educational facilities need to support educational models as they evolve, while being adaptable to support trends of the future. When planning and designing an educational facility, there are a myriad of decisions that must be made. Given the life of most school buildings, many of those decisions will impact the learning environment for the next 50 years. Making the right decision is important, so how do you know if you are heading in the right direction? Knowledge is the key, and research is how we get there.

Expertise is not static. It requires a culture of learning that is constantly seeking knowledge. As a principal at Stantec working in our education sector, I know that our group’s in-depth knowledge of education design comes from not only our wealth of experience, but also our culture of continual learning. This culture of learning is supported and fed by our Research and Benchmarking program (R+B), in which we research, analyze, and understand a wide array of comprehensive, multidisciplinary data, so that we can use it to design buildings that support changing instructional models. 

Our research not only provides data to support the design decisions of the educators with whom we work, but also feeds our design process so we continually improve how we design these facilities. The constant flow and exchange of knowledge within our organization ensures that expertise extends beyond the individual to impart knowledge to the larger group, thus building our collective expertise. This team approach makes us all better!

How does it work? Research that produces relative and valuable information takes rigor and it takes a commitment. At Stantec, we spend $1 million annually on internal research grants, and dedicate over 3,000 man hours each year to our R+B Practice. The R+B group provides data to further our expertise and support our projects. We obtain this data through case study analysis, fact-finding, opinion seeking, and benchmarking, so that we see first-hand what’s happening at schools and universities across the globe. I can’t stress how much we’ve learned just by touring facilities, meeting with staff and students, and conducting interviews with user groups. All of this information is synthesized then analyzed so we can implement best practices and emerging trends into our planning and design process. It also enables the educators we work with to learn from the successes and challenges of others and to move forward with proven solutions. 

Flexibility is the key. In order to maintain relevance, the R+B program is fluid and flexible. The focus of the research fluctuates with the changing needs and focus of the educational environment. Our program consists of groups of professionals, who represent various disciplines and geographies, and are collectively dedicated to a specific building topic. The topics range from innovative learning environments, to student life, to sustainability. The professionals and topics are diverse, which allows us to collect the brightest ideas from across multiple markets, resulting in a larger, multifaceted collection of information that ultimately improves our designs. 

Why should you encourage your design team to examine trends and best practices? Our research efforts have provided data to help shape our educational clients’ visions on a number of important projects. They had the benefit of proven solutions at their fingertips, which not only saved time and money, but helped them to advance their goal of enhancing the student’s academic experience. It’s a value-add to clients, and one that they all should come to expect from their professional consultants.

  • Laura Flannery Sachtleben

    Laura has been dedicated to educational design for the past 13 years and is committed to innovation in education through continual research and discovery.

    Contact Laura Flannery
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